The Road Ahead

I cannot say that this week has been one for calm, enriching thoughts in one’s head — at least, not if you want to talk about subjects that are clear, well-defined, and have answers.   A beginning, a middle, and an end, like an 80s sitcom where everything gets wrapped up by the end of the show in a neat, satiny bow complete with hugs and family moments.

That was not this week.

I am plagued.    Assailed by my thoughts, whipped by my doubts, slapped by the unknown, and terrorized by the future as it looms over me, cackling in the way that it does.   It enjoys the idea that I don’t know how to deal with it, I think.

Professionally, Myself is found adrift in the sea of uncertainty, floating from idea to thought, trying to nail down what I’m supposed to hold onto tightly and what I am to release.   How can I determine a direction to go when there’s so many and I have no idea if they’ll pan out or be a big, giant flop?   How do I know what effort to expend, what portion of my life to burn on my career, if every fire I’ve lit to date has done nothing but fizzle?

I’m a little rowboat, jostling amongst the multitudes of so many other, larger ships, gazing at them in awe and, at the same time, in curiosity — how did they get where they are, and why does the effort they expended seem so much less than my own?   Whereupon I instantly feel that my flounderings are nothing more than a drowning man’s floggings and I am simply ineffective — and much more worthless than I think.

I grew up being encouraged in my development — strongly — by those who loved me.   In many ways I appreciate it, but in so many, I regret it as well, for if I am all that everyone imagined, why do I feel like I am nowhere at all, and Sisyphus’ mountain rises high above me, and the rock is so large?

Stagnation is my nemesis, but he is a clever, tricky fellow.    He’s almost impossible to see, difficult to detect, and a swarthy opponent to fight.   Paired with him, in a tag team, is the Unconcentrator, the king of all things flighty and unreliable, impossible to pin down and equally hard to wring out anything of worth.    They circle me, swords drawn, and I am armed only with this keyboard.    I cannot fight them both; I cannot avoid their thrusts.   Is the best strategy to go out as a martyr….or to lay down the sword and let what slices come?

And then I sit back and try to wedge this circle-shaped block into a triangular hole in the great Table of Life — for, in the end, I do not want to say that I have contributed nothing.   That I have not somehow reached my old age, time has run out, and I have left no mark upon the world as a whole.   I fear more than anything of reaching retirement — reaching the age of inability — and finding that the life I lived was nothing more than a fart in the wind, like so many lives that have lived over the past thousands of years.   Ineffective.  Unimportant.  Non-influential.   Unnoticeable.   Forgettable.

That doesn’t mean I know what would fulfill that criteria.   Of course I don’t — that’s just the shards on the tips of the cat-o-nine.

Many times I step back and look and go, “Bah!   You’ve got years and years ahead of you to figure this out….honestly, why the bellyaching?   You’re only 34, for Constantinople’s sake!”   And then the dark tide flows in and the truth hits:   You’re 34.   You’re almost halfway done.   And you’ve done…..what, exactly?

Moreover, I cannot guess the chess game that I am playing, and fear grips me as I consider the board before me, the huge myriad of factors that I must answer to, make decisions about, and try to reason with.   I can only see one, maybe two moves ahead, but beyond that my vision fades, the lens is fogged, the ball grows dark as ink.   How can I possibly anticipate the moves made today that will put me in check tomorrow, let alone 10 or 20 years from now?  What if I sacrifice a piece and then sit there, weeping for lost rooks that can never be retrieved, when I hit 50?

I wish not to be a mere statistic — a mere blip on the radar, alive for 80 years, influential in the short term but, by the century’s flip, dead, forgotten, and good riddance.   There are so many blips, like a sea of candles in a hurricane.   Are we destined to ultimately be nothing?

Or am I only getting started?

Or am I already done?

Bueller?

 

 

Not My Word

I recently passed this link about “one word for 2012” on to Her Highness, who wrote on her own perspective on her blog.

Her style, full-bore.   Totally Carly down to the fibrous filaments of life.

NOT my style.

But.

I got thinking in the shower (my thinking place), and while you KNOW this is not my style, it got me thinking anyway. (DAMMIT!) So. *IF* I had to pick a word for 2012 (which is not to say that I am, because, you know, it isn’t my style in the least), it would have to be….

CONCENTRATION

I’m having huge amounts of issues with concentration, both in my professional and personal lives. Issues with performing as well as I can on the job because of fleeting concentration, errors with not fully handling my personal life experiences because I’m not 100% there.

Issues with not being as healthy as I should be because I can’t fix my concentration upon doing what’s good for my body because I don’t stick with that which I should. Problems with feeding my mind in the way it begs to be because I don’t concentrate on challenging it in the right ways.

Owing my son more concentration than I’m giving him, although I do feel like I’m trying my best in this area above all others.   But you know, there’s always room for improvement.

So. This is NOT my word for 2012. But if I had a word, that very well may be it.

But it’s not. Just so we’re clear.

 

What We Spend on Food

I am slowly but surely (during meager lunch hours, when I can) meandering my way through Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, an investigative book dealing with the food industry today and how it is — and isn’t — something we need to aspire to.   He is exploring where our food comes from, why it comes from there (vs. other sources), the methods and reasoning behind them for growing, harvesting, packaging, and marketing the food, and attempts to answer the question, “In this modern world, with so many food choices and choices of where that food comes from, how do we properly choose our food?”

I’d like to share a particularly poignant passage that I read today, as it got me thinking:

As a society we Americans spend only a fraction of our disposable income feeding ourselves — about a tenth, down from a fifth in the 1950s.   Americans today spend less on food, as a percentage of disposable income, than any other industrialized nation, and probably less than any people in the history of the world.   This suggestion that there are many of us who could afford to spend more on food if we chose to.   After all, it isn’t only the elite who in recent years have found an extra fifty or one hundred dollars each month to spend on cell phones (now owned by more than half the U.S. population, children included) or television, which close to 90 percent of all U.S. households now pay for.   Another formerly free good that more than half of us happily pay for today is water.   So is the unwillingness to pay more for food really a matter of affordability or priority?

Omnivore's DilemmaI have wondered about this for a long time, because the fact is, we DO spend an awful lot more on things other than food, and we get really upset when the price of, say, ground beef goes up 30 cents, even though its been birthed, grown, finished, slaughtered, clean, cut, ground, and shaped into a convenient package for us, all for a few bucks per pound.   Bananas are up?  Oh lord!   Never mind the fact that they just got done traveling a few thousand miles to your grocery store, mostly unharmed.

I think part of it is price habit.    As adults, we all have a list of prices in our heads for, say, milk, bananas, meat, bread, and cheese.    Deviate much from those defined levels and we get all put out.   We like our traditions, in a sense.

I also think that we, as consumers, don’t really know what we should be paying for food — so we pay what the majority of the market says we should pay.    Maybe we should be paying $10/lb for good meat, but if the majority of the market says, “We have perfectly fine meat over here and it’s only $3/lb” and everyone ELSE has it for $3/lb, your mind tends to think that $10/lb meat must be exorbitant!  Ritzy.   Overpriced.

And finally, we look at things like food as constant necessities and, much like toilet paper, we haaaaate paying more than we must for something that we have to buy All. The. Time.  Most people feel like they spend the great majority of their time sleeping and eating, let alone having to go into a grocery store and buy food.   Paying more than you think is fair, or what everyone else is paying, simply grates on one’s nerves when you have to do it over and over.    It’s bad enough paying for $3.60/gallon gas, must we break the bank for food, too?

And yet……YET….we probably have our priorities out of whack, like so many other things.   We spend an awful lot of hours in our beds to not be shelling out top dollar for the best mattress money can buy, given that we spend on average almost 122 DAYS out of a year in bed!  That’s a full 1/3 of the year in bed and we still think $1000 for a mattress is akin to slavery.

Are we simply just really, really screwed up?

Of course, I’m not advocating spending $30 per person, per meal, 3x a day.   But is it the first thing we should skimp on when the budget is tight?   Should we be so quick to pass up that organic chicken in favor of the Walmart bulk-pack Trough Pack™ of chicken breasts, just to save a buck or two?   Need we feel so guilty when we buy local and pay twice the price?

Instead, should we be focusing on how healthy the food is for us, what chemicals and compounds were used on or in it, how it was raised, what sort of people in what sort of conditions harvested and prepared it, and….god forbid the audacity of it, how it tastes??

Far be it from me to be a food snob, or a tree-hugging environmentalist, or a food industry fear monger, but, at the same time, I wonder:   Are we being smart about this?

Business Purposes

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about business and its purpose not only in the world but in my own life, and musing about how it influences me and my environment right now — and how I would like it to be present in my life.   Given things like the current crappy state of the economy, world financial system problems and issues, and protests such as the Occupy movement and just general discontent about how business, finance, and industry relates to us as a people, I don’t think the reflection exercise is misplaced at all.

I think we can all agree that business is necessary.   Not only from a make-a-living standpoint, but to generate the various things we need — or want — to survive.   But where that business falls in terms of its motivations, goals, and means is on a wide spectrum between two points:   Pure Philanthropy and Pure Greed — you do it for the betterment of the world, or you do it for the money, or as more often happens — a combination of the two.

This, then, has been the key point that I have been thinking about:   What combination of the two makes me happiest and most fulfilled?

Business & Everything in BetweenIt surely isn’t Pure Philanthropy — I am not employed because I feel a sense of having to better the world with my work; at least, not in a pure sense.   But even more so, I don’t ever envision myself working for a primarily-philanthropic business where the goal is to “do good things” vs. anything else.    This is because I have enough things of my own goals and volitions that I would happily accomplish if I didn’t have to earn a living.   Since I must do the latter, if it ever comes down to, “don’t work or work for a social benefit company”, I’ll probably opt for staying home and completing my own goals.

This is not to say that I’m incharitable — it’s simply to say that I don’t ever see myself being able to have the time and availability to engage in such purely unselfish activities with my time and efforts.    But, I do see myself volunteering in my free time for such things, and I think that’s where my contributions will emerge from.

On the reverse, I could never be simply money-grubbing.   There’s no soul in it, no conviction, no trust, no heart.    When your only god is the almighty dollar, your means become whatever they must to get it, no matter the associated non-monetary costs.    I won’t sacrifice my family, friends, sense of goodness, heart, mind, soul to the cause.    Those with the most toys don’t win, they just end up with a playroom full of toys and nobody to share them with.

That all being said, I don’t work for my health.  (Indeed, my health suffers rather greatly from having to work!)  I work because money, like it or not, makes the world go around, provides for almost everything in this post-industrial world, and is a necessary evil for so very many reasons.   So while I’m not a whore to the system, I am still planning on trying my best to earn as much as I can, advance my career as far as it can go, and to rise in the ranks of the business world so I can get the funding to accomplish everything I’d like to be and do.    I worry all the time that I’m not doing enough, fast enough, good enough, big enough, and the top of my career is looming ahead of me and that downhill slide to retirement is getting ever closer.   I fear it so much it makes me ache at night sometimes, simply because I know that I only get one shot at doing this the right way and I hate the idea of pulling out at 70 and saying that I had a mediocre run of it.

So, I don’t think either side of the equation is fundamentally evil — I have to be doing a job where I am earning money and being successful and I also have to be doing something that ultimately creates something of worth for the world as a whole, even if it’s a limited audience.   There are times when it’s perfectly fine to say, “Let’s to X because X will generate us a metric buttload of money.”   Likewise, I need to always be looking at the things I’m doing and say, “Is this really worth the money?   Will I hate myself in the morning/5 years/later?”

The balance must, ultimately, be struck.   Money, life, and everything in between.

Where does that line fall for you?