So here’s a rather deep question – what gives our life meaning?
Where did we find meaning?
Grizzly Mom and I have been struggling with this question a lot since we both quit our respective jobs in Big Tech and Big Law. One of the first things we realized when embarking down this path is just how much we attach our identities to our jobs. Think for a second about the conversations you have with someone outside a very intimate circle of friends/family? What’s the first thing you often ask or volunteer? The job you’re currently holding. Did you see that so-and-so just made partner? Did you hear about the promotion X just got? Did you see that Y just landed a plum leadership position at super-cool-startup?
There are many re-enforcing mechanisms. You have updates on Facebook and LinkedIn telling you just how successful former classmates have been. What new career pinnacles they’ve reached. We hear and read the same narratives repeated constantly on both conventional and alternative news sources. Some CEO/Visionary/Hard-charger has just created some new revolution that will change everything. They’ve just made another huge pot of money to swim through or closed some new deal that will make them and everyone around them fabulously wealthy. When Grizzly Mom and I were still out in San Francisco, we realized that this type of talk was all around us. An inescapable buzz – the discussion of money, careers, prestige.
If you listened to this constant chatter you would draw an unmistakable conclusion. Our reason for existence is wrapped up in our careers and our money. Your purpose in life is to design some nifty new app, get your company a few million more in profits, save your client from some new lawsuit for something horrible they did, or save enough that you can leave everything behind. Listen for just a little bit and you’d think that these things define us, make us who we are.
Where have we struggled?
However, as we’ve embarked on this path to freedom, we’ve struggled with something. We wanted to run away from what is without a doubt a toxic culture. We wanted to find new ways to define ourselves beyond jobs, careers, promotions, and money. However, a curious thing happened along the way. As we pulled away we realized that we actually did care about some of the elements of our previous lives. There were some things we were proud of and happy about. Good work that we did, interesting problems that we solved, smart people we were proud to call friends and colleagues.
The first thing we had to realize is that some of this stuff is actually okay. Some of those things that so fascinate everyone actually ARE interesting. You actually can find a great deal of meaning in helping a great company or helping a deserving client with an interesting legal problem. Both of us have found ourselves drawn back into our respective areas of expertise, not because they’re oppressive black holes – but because they’re actually interesting!
Grizzly Mom is doing legal work. I’m helping startups here in Kansas City. We enjoy it! We want to do more of it, and we probably will. We may even get to the point where it turns into – gasp! – a job.
Like so many things in life, the key simply seems to be that ever elusive thing: balance. We do believe the culture in places like Silicon Vally and Big Law are toxic. But not because the elements that compose them are inherently toxic. Chocolate cake is delicious, and I highly recommend you eat some. But if all you do is cram chocolate cake into your mouth 24 hours a day, you will die. We and so many of the people in our old lives were cramming chocolate cake into our mouths 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And we were dying.
But eating nothing but broccoli is also not a good way to live. A diet of bland high fiber vegetables robs you of something as surely as a diet consisting of nothing but cake does. As we continue to walk down this new path, for us finding that balance is the most critical point. How do we define meaning for ourselves that weaves together both who we were in our old lives and who we are in this new world? We’ll let you know as we find out.