I’ll never forget one day at work when I met with a co-worker in the staff room. She was complaining, the same way she had the day before, and the day before that. I listened, like I often did, or at least pretended to. It was the same mindless venting she was known for and quite frankly, I was tired of it.
I interrupted her mid-sentence, “If I gave you half a million shillings ($5000 roughly) right now, what would you do?”
She paused. And suddenly her eyes glazed over in suppressed excitement.
“Are you kidding me, I would go home and sleep!”
I’ve never forgotten that.
Her words may not even be remotely surprising to some people. I imagine there a lot of people who’d answer the same way she did.
But, to this day, the pity I felt for her in that moment still resonates in my mind. And after replaying that scene over and over again since, I’ve realized something very profound about how certain people think.
On that day, my coworker gave me a glimpse into her reality. She was working as a means to an end; as a way to ‘make money’, and the quicker she could make enough money to go home and ‘do nothing’, the better. Whatever job could make that happen, she was willing to do, no matter how discontented she felt.
That’s what she was really saying.
Poor Person’s mentality
At the beginning of this year I was broke. I was living in my parents’ home, I had no job prospects and for seemingly the first time, I felt poor. I wanted money. I wanted to move out of my parents’ home and start my own life — and money could make that happen.
So, unconsciously and blindly, I took a job working as a salesman… I hated it.It wasn’t that the job was hard, it wasn’t, I did really well my first month and they paid us really well too. Instead the reason I hated it was because it didn’t ‘feel right’. I had no desire to be like my bosses — or even my co-workers to be honest. I felt lost. I remember waking up every day trying to convince myself that a check at the end of the month was worth the sacrifice.
During that time, I had gone from making no money and being desperate for a job, to making good money and hating my job. It was as if the money didn’t help. It only made me realize what I really valued. It took the blinders off me per se.
When you are ‘poor’, you don’t think about what you’re passionate about, you don’t think about ‘career advancement’ or whether you even like your job; you just ‘work’. You ‘work’ to alleviate the pain of poverty (and that pain looks different for all kinds of people). To make enough money to feed yourself, pay your rent and keep the lights on — that’s all that matters.
But once you start making a bit of money in excess of your basic needs… something changes. You begin to look around and you begin to value other aspects of your ‘work’ that you may not have noticed before.
You begin to ask yourself “what’s really important to me?”, “Do I even enjoy my job?”, “is this where I want to be?”
Suddenly, money begins to ‘look’ a little different. Your needs change, and ‘money’ can’t really fulfill these new needs.
You begin to “value what you do for the money, even more than the money itself.” — Jane Hwango
I’ve come to realize that there is something even more elusive than money. We all search for it, whether subconsciously or knowingly. Some people call it ‘happiness’, ‘purpose’, but I like to refer to it as ‘fulfillment’.
A popular Greek myth, tells of a man named Sisyphus. Sisyphus was banished to a life of discontentment by the Greek Gods. He was to push a heavy boulder up a mountain and place it at the top. The problem was, every time he got to the top, the rock would stay there for a moment, before rolling back down the other side of the mountain. He did this over and over again; the rock continually rolled down and Sisyphus continually pushed it back up.
In this world, we are no different to Sisyphus.
We work, we travel, we buy things, all because we are seemingly getting closer to the top of the mountain. But unfortunately, when we finally get ‘there’… we grow discontent, unsatisfied, and the boulder falls back down the other side. We then go back down the mountain and habitually start all over, habitually picturing happiness and fulfillment at the top of the mountain.
The fact is, the fulfillment we search for — through, our possessions, our jobs, our lifestyle etc. is not at the top of some mountain that we can ‘arrive’ at. You can’t make ‘enough’ money to stay content and fulfilled. We, as humans are just not like that; even Warren Buffet has money problems.
Instead, what we find through our life experiences, is that fulfillment is but a feeling. Like happiness, it comes and it goes. Life becomes a journey of finding the things that bring you closer to the fulfillment and happiness you search for; without compromising all the other aspects of your life.
Fulfillment is not so much in the destination but in the path, itself.
Theodore Roosevelt once said; “the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”