By Ben Schooley
Dearest EXPLORE reader,
“There we were, a shipping clerk and a janitor discussing theories in aesthetics while all about us men drawing 10 times our salaries were lost out on the limb reaching for rotten fruit. What does this say for the American way of life?”
– Charles Bukowski
Bukowski is one of my favorite poets and authors and I’ve written of him before in here. The guy was an absolute trainwreck of a human, and he was perfectly comfortable with that descriptor. He accepted it and perhaps even reveled in it. He made no money until he became a famous author at age 50, he drank wildly, was a known womanizer, and had this particular habit of exposing himself in public. Cool guy, huh? No. But he also had a most beautiful way of writing and describing emotions in ways that made the words catch on fire on the paper. I definitely do NOT have this talent, nor will I ever, nor do I really aspire for it.
However, I do love the act of unpacking my thoughts on paper in ways that, if I do it right, might touch the reader in some way. Make you laugh. Smile. Sad. Happy. Whatever. I don’t really care. If I’ve touched you at some point over the past 15 years of this column, then I’ve done my job. Even if all I’ve done is piss you off. I’ll take that, too.So I try to write.
But what I really do is sell advertising space in this publication and a few others that I publish. THAT is what pays my bills and keeps a roof over my head. I have to do cold calls and marketing emails and shake hands and convince business owners that people read EXPLORE and that if they advertise with me, we will present their business to many new potential customers.
It’s honest work, I stand behind my magazines, and it’s provided ok for me for a long time.
But it’s not what wakes me up in the morning.
I don’t dream of spreadsheets. I don’t have beautiful business plans. I don’t have a marketing department. I don’t demand growth GROWTH GROWTH for my company. My focus is typically not on the business at all.
What wakes me up in the middle of the night are the……words. The thoughts. The things that I want to convey. The great “hook” I came up with in the middle of the night that I can use for a future article. The ways to describe something in an eloquent way. The lesson I’ve learned that I think would be engaging for the reader. I’d give anything to be a “real writer” and be paid simply for what I produce, rather than having to saddle the words with the advertisers, but thus is the nature of my work. I love my clients and value them immensely, but wouldn’t we all really love to just focus on our FAVORITE parts of our work? Yeah, me too.
I love the above quote by Bukowski because it is so damn true.
One of the great mysteries of humanity is what is driving each of us internally and where an individual’s knowledge and passion lies. I’m a lowly advertising sales guy by trade. But I really want to talk to you about philosophy, and my problems with organized religion, and about heartache, and about how my possessions mean nothing to me and I really want to strum guitars on a Caribbean beach for the rest of my life. You might be an accountant that is quite successful but you’re studying painting and are fascinated by techniques and the masters and their use of light and art’s importance in our digital society. And you, dear reader, are probably no different with your occupation vs your passions.
The person I truly pity is the one that honestly only seeks “success”. To be rich. To have the big house. To have the amazing retirement. What a wretched existence. What an empty and loathsome way of life to focus oneself on simply the physical.
And we all know plenty of people exactly like this. NOTHING matters but “achieving the goal”. Family is sacrificed. Relationships can be wrecked. Their health. Their very sanity. But by God, they achieved the goal, thus it was all worth it.
I have never understood things like that, though I’ll admit that I assumed that earlier in my life this mentality was necessary to be productive in society. And in some ways, it is. You’ll make good money. You will probably get the big house. And you might even own the Ferrari. But friends, the price tag you pay is well beyond the item’s VALUE.
And THAT lesson is one that many never learn.
In our quote above, the shipping clerk and the janitor are discussing REAL things. The managers and the rich businessmen are clamoring for the golden apple. Who is happy? Who is growing? Who is learning?
WHO IS LIVING?
Want to know what a “midlife crisis” actually is? I’ll tell ya, and I’ll do so without a shred of psychological training or expertise. A midlife crisis is the moment when a person (both men and women) have achieved all of those goals that they have set out for, they have taken a look around, and they realize two things: 1. There’s nothing else to strive for, and 2. The things they sought were worthless and did not make them happy.
That’s it. When this happens, people go nuts as they realize they just burned 60% of their lives seeking something that they convinced themselves would satisfy their hearts. And then it didn’t.
And that’s such a tragedy of monumental proportions. Because what is more valuable than TIME? And to realize you’ve wasted it…is a tragedy.
All of you reading this are initially going to say “Well, I know what’s important to me and I live everyday appreciating my family and my health and my children!” And I’m sure you do. I don’t know you. I used to say the same thing. But what I was really doing was trying to reach all of my goals so that my family would be happy with me and their lives would be happy and we’d all love one another even more. I had good intentions, but I was lying. I was lying because I put 1000x the effort into achieving my goals as I did into enjoying the important things in life. The long hours. The missed vacations. The sacrifices. The years I lost.
All so I could reach the golden apple.
Where are you at in this conversation? Still hustling for that extra 0 in your retirement account? Or are you downsizing so you can RV across the country? Are you awake this weekend stressing about your 2021 tax bill? Or are you sitting with your kids on the back deck and talking about massively important topics? I know that there’s a time and place for our responsibilities and the things that we must focus our time, but I think down deep you’ll agree with me that there’s also a balance for when those “things” stop being “things” and become the central parts of your life.
Don’t let that happen.
The “prize” is NEVER worth the cost.
Ask me how I know.
Welcome to March. Temperatures are warming, life is moving forward, and I hope that you feed a dumb duck by the river, have a pint at Free Roam, and EXPLORE your life. And I hope that you can identify what’s important, even through the noise of our lives.