This is the 50th post published on White-Collar Purvana, and what you’re thinking is true: there has never been a more unflattering portmanteau than that one. In any case, this seems like an appropriate moment at which to pause for some reflection on this journey of…well…non-stop reflection.
Observance of your average milestone moment would be the sort of look-how-far-we’ve-come hindsight that you’re probably expecting right now. And sure, I think all of that applies in this case: this site’s archives make historical record of my journey (so far) from anonymous corporate curmudgeon to emancipated idealist to preoccupied pragmatist. But at this largely arbitrary moment, instead of reminiscing about where I’ve been, I’d prefer to take stock of some lessons – two, in particular – that I’ve learned, as a means of looking forward.
Lesson 1: Only one thing’s for certain.
A while back, I watched a documentary called Capitalizing Happiness (which I would recommend, in case you’re wondering) that focused on the work and inspiring ethics of an ultra successful Brazilian entrepreneur. In it, on the subject of his experiences in business, the entrepreneur – Ricardo Semler is his name – made a comment that stuck with me: the only thing for certain is that things won’t go the way you expect them to. And from where I sit now, how true I’ve found that to be.
See, at the outset of my project, I had this crystal-clear vision of how things were going to go. It covered all aspects of the project, from the specifics of the service I’d offer to the makeup of the eventual client base to the culture I’d one day seek to create among staff. In retrospect, of course that vision was crystal-clear; it had to be, in order to give me the confidence to make the leap in its pursuit. But as much as I pride myself on an ability to anticipate and solve problems, even what’s transpired to date has been a pretty even blend of things I expected to happen and things I didn’t. All of what I was so sure about, up front, has evolved: the intended service offering, the target market – even elements of the ethos of the business.
Two things are notable about this evolution: the first is that has been categorically for the better; the second is that, in many cases, it hasn’t even been my idea that sparked the development. I’ve found myself to be almost just along for the ride, keeping my eyes and ears open, talking to people of all different backgrounds who have all sorts of ideas and observations, and being receptive to anything that comes out of that process. I’ve learned to have not just the humility to be open to new ideas, but to go one step further and pay active attention to things in my environment that might lead me down a new – if only slightly – path of discovery. In this way, I’m actually learning about my own venture as I go. Pretty cool.
Not that it’s not important to have an idea of where I intend to steer the project. But if you ask me now – versus if you asked me three months ago – I recognize that my current direction is only informed by all the experiences I’ve had to this point, and is necessarily not yet reflective of all the learning that’s to come.
Lesson 2: The best journeys have no destination.
Since starting this project, I’ve met and chatted with a variety of folks who devoted their lives and livelihoods to meaningful pursuits long before I did. And every time, I’ve left feeling notably energized by the experience. But you know what I’ve never heard any of those people say?…That they’re working toward a single, quantifiable objective.
I mean, sure, we’d all like to witness the total eradication of cancer, starvation and many other ills of the world, but the practical reality of these pursuits is that gauging success/failure in binary terms would be a great way to wind up dejected.
These people with whom I’ve spoken have a seemingly endless supply of passion and energy for their work, never for a moment giving the impression that they’ve contemplated slowing down or giving up (save for possibly retiring at the end of a long and fulfilling career). And while I don’t think it would be accurate to suggest that the people in question don’t care about measurable outcomes, I would guess that no manner of measurable outcome (good or bad) would be enough to dampen their energy. In most cases, I suspect that disappointment begets resolve and accomplishment begets newfound motivation. Whether by necessity or by consequence, it seems that those who take up the work of contributing beyond themselves are compelled to do so for the long haul.
For my part, in starting this journey, I gave myself a deadline. There were practical reasons for that (finite resources) and poetic ones (dramatic tension). The worst version of my contemplation of that deadline, though, went something like this: if I fail to become self-sustaining before my economic resources run out, then I can go back to the comfortable corporate life and collect a relatively easy paycheck because “hey, I tried.”
That sort of reason is called ‘moral licensing‘ and it’s a cop-out. But moral issues aside, that scenario supposes that I’m going to somehow feel better about myself and renewed corporate pursuits because of a temporary effort put into building a meaningful livelihood… First of all, that (the feeling better) is never gonna happen, and second – if I give up that easily, there wasn’t much point in “trying” in the first place.
No, my friends, I don’t have a deadline. I have a direction and a journey and maybe even – for practical reasons – an eventual need to alter the course of my livelihood, but I certainly don’t have a timer counting me down to a moment at which I’ll be somehow okay with compromising my values (which are strengthening, at that). Whether I ‘succeed’ or ‘fail’ in this venture, I will always have the choice as to what I do next. Gone is the notion of meaningful work as the ultimate destination – replaced, instead, with the extremely clichéd and equally sincere appreciation of the journey itself.
So to my old friend, white-collar purgatory, I bid a humble farewell. I learned a lot from you and for that I’m grateful, but I’m afraid I’m not coming back. I don’t know exactly where I’m going, but I’ll be sure to send a postcard.