OOOOHHH YYYEEAAAHHHH….finally a chart that depicts exactly what I think about this topic. This should be a standard thing taught in high school and probably colleges too. We are far too hung up on job […]
OOOOHHH YYYEEAAAHHHH….finally a chart that depicts exactly what I think about this topic. This should be a standard thing taught in high school and probably colleges too. We are far too hung up on job titles, positions, possessions, and the like, and viewing life in this mode changes the approach dramatically. Ironically, lots of people come to this conclusion at some point, usually later in life. So why not save the headaches and heartache along the way and start out thinking more appropriately about what we want out of life? Seems like a much better approach to me.
Like I always say, I have made these mistakes and I am speaking from experience, so here we go…..
I was in love with the idea that I was a Pro Racquetball Player and you weren’t. And by “You”, I mean everyone else. It was my differentiator. I thought it made me special. Clawing and scratching my way into the Top 20 in the world was a monumental task, and one of the main fuels for that journey was that I got to introduce myself as: Darrin-Schenck-Pro-Racquetball-Player. Most people had no idea that A. there was a Pro Racquetball Tour and B. that it was a dog and pony show masquerading as a real sport. I furthered the façade, talking about the US Open Racquetball Championships on the Tennis Channel, and eventually on ESPN. I tried my best to boost the status of the sport which in turn elevated my own status accordingly. It was all about the perception of my place in the world.
The reality I was unhappy throughout most of my racquetball career. I feel like I had this thought process of “I made this choice, and I made sacrifices to make this happen, and I am going to make it no matter what”. I had unbending intent about this, and it almost ruined me in a way. I put entirely too much pressure on myself to reach my goals, and prove to everyone that I was right and they were wrong. They were wrong about me not making it to the top, that it would derail my college plans (their college plans) and I would be poor in the process and that I would be way behind in starting my working career so much later and there would be disadvantage to this. I didn’t handle the pressure of this very well. I pushed through all of it, trying to pack it down deep enough to not bother me. It did, and it manifested itself in anger most of the time. I should have retired at least a year before I did.
When I finally did reach my breaking point, I was completely lost. I had no back up plan, and I was broke. I spent more money than I ever was close to making, chasing the dream I had committed to so long ago. It took me a good six months to get my feet under me again, and head down a different path that separated me from Darrin-Schenck-Pro-Racquetball-Player. That had been my identity for far too long, and I needed to rediscover who I was as a person as part of my retirement from the sport.
My work career has been a wide and varied path, and I never settled into one particular thing. I did some form of sales or account management for several different companies in several different fields. In some ways, this was what taught me to not wrap my identity up in a job title or position. I was always the “new guy” and therefore knew less about what I was doing than everyone else. By leaving a job after about 2.5 years on average, I never reached a comfort level with that role. It was very similar to my racquetball career in the sense that I never felt like I was the expert at anything, and that I had to always let others stand in the spotlight.
Fast forward to today, and I have learned a lot more and grown quite a bit. I have been in my current role for the past eight years, and been with the company since inception. My title has been the same since day one: VP of Sales. In our first two years, we didn’t have a clue what we were doing, in years three and four we struggled to stay afloat. I took a 50% pay cut, as did the rest of the management team, to keep the company going. Finally by year five we landed our first major deal and partnership, and the industry finally started to notice us. Now I walk into a presentation for a Fortune 500 company with the confidence of someone who has a back stage pass. I present our services to the biggest companies in the US, and win far more often than any of my head to head competitors. I am finally the one standing in the spotlight. I am playing the matches on the showcase court, with the cameras rolling.
Having been through this humbling experience, I do my best to introduce myself as “Darrin”. I don’t tack on my last name and my job title in effort to impress someone. I have finally learned how much more impact something that others consider a differentiator makes when they discuss it later on versus me force-feeding it to them. This is a clear sign of confidence in who I am overall; I don’t need to outshine everyone when I walk into the room. I am happy to sit in the back and take it all in, and then walk up on stage when it is my turn to do so. I don’t need to sit at the head table with the CEO, a side table with the rest of the crew is fine by me and usually more fun anyway.
So when you see the second chart above, this is how I live my life now. I am far more focused on the quality of my life instead of the perception that others have of it. I drive a car that most would consider “less cool” than I did when I was making $30,000 a year in my first job post-racquetball. I don’t own a custom suit, and I don’t wear a big expensive watch. I avoid the typical status symbols that so many (including my former self) get sucked into. I focus on doing things that make me happy and setting up my future to be as financially easy as possible. I want to have options of when to retire, where to live, to travel and have other great experiences. Financial freedom affords a lot of choices, and that is my definition of rich. I don’t need millions in the bank and to travel only by private jet. I don’t want to party in Vegas in a cabana at a $1000 a day, I want to fly fish in Montana with my Dad. My focus is now on doing what I want, not what I think others will think is cool.
The chart at the top is about how to structure a life of happiness. Focusing on the right things, and particular inward instead of outward, you have a good shot at achieving a happy life. If you are wrapped up in the trappings of success and your perceived image, you are easily impacted by the opinion of others. When you really have your life tightened up, running smoothly and are enjoying the life you have now, you are winning. It doesn’t matter WHAT your address is, or what car you drove to get there. Putting energy and effort into things like your mental well-being, your health and other areas that are not tied to your bank account will certainly be in your best interest.
Please learn from my mistakes. Many people get sucked into the “hedonic treadmill” lifestyle, and they pay a heavy price until they learn to pull the plug and jump off the machine. Stop allowing social media, movies and worse of all “reality TV” to be the measuring stick you judge yourself and the world by. It is a path to moral and financial bankruptcy in most cases. Live below your means, invest for your future, and set yourself up for a life based on the second chart, not the first. If your self image is tied too closely to your job and your external trappings of success, you are vulnerable. Getting fired would be devastating, and it would crumble your world. If you have a job and a balanced life, you are far more resilient and adaptable. In my opinion, that is the way to go.