We live in a fantastic time of epic challenges. We face dazzlingly difficult problems that are worth living, and dying, for. Existential threats to our civilization such as the climate catastrophe and an ongoing mass extinction of animals and plants. We live in a time of unrivaled opportunity for large and small heroic deeds.
Still, many of us choose to put their energy into a pointless office job to afford to buy stuff that we do not need. Even more people spend a large part of their day stressing about large mortgages on large houses. Far too many of us work in destructive industries that impoverish our planet and our children’s future. I was stuck in that rut for twenty long years before I realized that I could live much better by doing good instead.
I left the office for good
My time in the office was fraught with stress and a low-intensity paranoia. I always had to be on my guard about what the Boss would think and say and want. Or even worse, the Vice President from the Head Office, who would show up at irregular intervals and half-listen to convoluted presentations. About half of the working time was spent doing things that were completely pointless and administrating various administrative systems. The annual ritual of “employee performance evaluations” was a psychological torture to determine who the boss liked the most. When I was a manager myself, I tried to do it differently, but the fear was deep rooted in the personnel. Furthermore, during my managerial periods, I had even more unnecessary work at short notice. Sometimes to prepare budget numbers that weren’t used or presentations that no one really wanted to see. We had endless boring management team meetings where most things had already been decided in advance. During 20 years, I worked for three different multinational world-leading companies and it was the same everywhere. Of course it’s sometimes fun at work, with friendly and smart colleagues and occasional intellectually challenging tasks. The office is also equipped with ingenious systems for psychological rewards: money, prestige and attention. The HR professionals use the latest insights from psychology research to entice us to work more and sacrifice most of our own values to increase shareholder value. They tickle our egos and pat our backs whenever they find appropriate. And discreetly threaten us with punishments, to instill fear and obedience.
I was sold the myth, like most children, that the meaning of life was to study hard to get a good degree and a “good job” (ie well paid job), and then live “in comfort” by having a big house and an expensive car and going on yearly luxury vacations. (“Tick off the list”, as my friend Thomas says, i.e. full society’s implicit expectations of us.)
Slowly it dawned on me how pointless it was and after several years of small steps of weaning, I was able to put an end to the meaningless consumer life and jump headlong into my own adventure as a real value creator. And I felt so much better!
Do good, feel better
This book describes how great it is to do good, and the better the better.
We start with why and how “doing good” makes our own lifes better. Then we look at some of the biggest challenges of our time, which all embody unique opportunities for meaningful pursuits for all of us. Then we pay a visit to eight white, middle-aged men who have chosen to go their own way, against the current. They have all chosen to change their career paths from the superficial, industrial philosophy of growth to work on a better future for society and for the planet. And their lives blossomed!
To conclude, I share experiences from my own journey, from a well-groomed but anxious career chaser to a well-rooted organic tree grower.
I hope that you too will be inspired to increase your own handprint. Feel free to try and feel how beautiful it is!
Do you recognize this? Do you wallow in cubicle misery or do you roll up your sleeves? What gives you hope and strength?
[featured photo by Eberhard Gottgesteiger/Unsplash]