Why You Should Want This Year To Be A Tough One

New Years is great because it's the one time of the year when goal-setting is universally on the table for debate. Everyone has their opinions or their ideas. And sharing them isn't weird.

You know the trouble, though. With New Years comes new resolutions. And too many. Our eyes are big and our hearts are open.

And by February, most are gone.

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Connect the Dots, See the Picture

Should we really be trying to create jobs? My guess it that the system is probably broken if we don't have something for all these people to do. The common assumption is to discover a void and fill it. But what do we all need besides the basics? We're advanced animals in need of food, water, clothing, shelter, and air. Some don't even have that, but as it goes, progress pushes us forward.

It's easy to see a job as a prescription plan to get what you want in life, but behind the scenes a job is the primary way to contribute to society. It is the new survival guide: contribute and you're valuable enough to survive. Currency is mixed up somewhere in that. It's not quite as simple as hunting prey and living near a waterhole anymore. We need to negotiate. The irony of the situation is that the business world revolves around competition as everything is getting easier to do. If we all needs jobs to create competition in the markets, there has to be tons of bullshit out there. Do we really need hundreds of restaurants, delis, and clothing stores? Dollar stores? No. Despite what you've been told, variety is not the spice of life when it comes to products. It is the cure for seven billion people to distract themselves from their contributions. If we're focused on consumption and not valuable contribution, we're not going to all be satisfied by iPhones and the Internet. We end up craving options. Hell, there are seven billion of us running around. The beauty is in the cracks, though. Something like a smartphone is a clue to our future. With the capacity to consolidate the phone with a calculator, calendar, GPS system, high-definition camera, alarm clock, and more, jobs are headed to the grave, stared down by efficiency. All this means there is less for us all to create in a currency based system. We're seeing too many people, not enough stuff. We're getting down to the core.

There is this idea floating around that the world needs competition to motivate us all out of bed. I don't know about you but the first thought on my mind in the morning is not to battle my next-door neighbor for sales trophies. I don't believe everyone wants to kick back, day in and day out. Sure, we all want vacations, who wouldn't? The motivation doesn't come from an inherent need to be lazy though, it comes from the anticipation of achieving something larger than us. We want that island getaway or even quiet morning to sleep in because it is so often denied. It's the carrot at the end of the stick. Or it could just mean that we're not motivated to do things that suck. We're not connecting with anyone if we're sitting behind a counter or in a cubicle. We're just shuffling papers and folding clothes. There is no heart in driving business. 

Downshifting to part-time junk removal, I'm staring down the staircase at my next step and I'm torn. I feel impatient and weak and pretentious sometimes because I don't want a job. Who really wants to work hard for eight hours a day? Very few people I know. Who wants to fight for a company they really don't believe in? Not me. Most of us are too good for our silly jobs, even if we consider the product or service we're providing. Sure, I've gotten tons of praise and admiration for helping people organize and clean their spaces, but it's not enough for me. We aren't helping people realize they have too much stuff. We're all slowly hoarding and I'm just contributing a temporary service as a distraction. It's the pressure of a system that needs me to contribute. The real problem is we need to contribute more. I want to contribute more.

From the moment strangers scoop us up outside the womb, we're thrown into a world where we zip around and bounce off one another. Sometimes we make connections, sometimes we make sparks. What we contribute to this world means nothing without other people. Whether we contribute or compete, the essence is the connection. It is the foundation for a new theory I've been mulling over. I'm starting to wonder if we're all just animals tricking ourselves that we're meant to do more than our biology tells us, more than our struggle to reproduce. But as the human race grew and boiled over the pot, we slowly saw progress. Our connections with one another made the collective smarter than the average chimp and we started pumping out cell phones and Internet and hot showers. It's not the product of one superhuman man, it's a collective effort. Dozens of lab technicians stood in white coats next to Edison, working to create the light bulb. Who knows which one of them said good morning to Edison on the right day to make something click?

Inspiration keeps coming back to me as a calling to contribute. Jason Silva probably said it best when he explained, "Inspiration can be a very lonely experience. It happens in our heads and then the goal of every artist is to somehow communicate that ecstatic vision in song or in writing or in poem or in film, to let you know how it felt to be in our heads during that moment in which we connected the dots. That experience of revelatory ecstasy is what we're trying to transmute and so inspiration tends to be ephemeral and fleeting and part of my attempt is to eternalize or immortalize or hold it in stasis. I think that's something humans beings have always done." We want other people to connect so deeply they can explore our brains themselves. We want endless, seamless connection. 

We like to think we're more than animals and we think therefore we are. The truth doesn't matter as long as we believe what we do. We make our own truth. If our minds tell us we can create everything we see then anything is possible. And if anything is possible, I'm starting to think I'd like to write full-time. I don't know how and I don't know when, but I do. After all, it's like Chuck Palahniuk said in his novel, Diary, "We all die. The goal isn't to live forever, the goal is to create something that will."

How to Die Working

So many Japanese people are dropping dead from their jobs, the Japanese have a name for it: karoshi. Literally, karoshi breaks down to the characters for "exceed" + "work, labor" + "death". Overtime without pay has become the norm with some posting 80-hour (!) weeks, off the books to circumvent the the rules put in place to officially curb it. Competition has red-lined in the small country and the new workforce, in their late 20's, are dying from heart attacks and strokes. 

Halfway around the world, I'm sitting here dumbstruck. What's going on? We have something as amazing as the Internet existing in this world, and people are still dying just to find a job and people are dying on the job. Technology was supposed to be Our Savior, instead it has made it the new normal to work harder and longer, and normal has become anything but that. We need change and it's not just more jobs, it's more important jobs.

The Model T job is done. Retirement is long gone and benefits become the new gamble. Giving your life to a company is no longer enough because there is no stability in an ever-swirling world. The big question ends up becomes: What can we do?

My mind was racing over all of this, Japanese karoshi and American unemployment, in 7-11 yesterday. As I put together the materials for my coffee, I spied on the Optimum representative pitching his plan to the manager on duty. He was playing the Buddy card, as good salesmen think they should do, and explaining how Optimum could match Verizon on service and beat them on price. They shook hands without a deal, and the Optimum guy walked behind me as I was bringing my coffee to the counter. I was so distracted by how ugly and shallow the conversation was that I walked right out the door, coffee in hand, without paying! I noticed the moment I stepped out into the open and went back in to pay, befuddled and embarrassed.

While Daniel Pink would tell you to sell is human (in his new book, ahem, To Sell is Human), the new era of communication is showing us that sales can't be slimy anymore. The 7-11 manager doesn't care to be persuaded about Optimum, he can find the prices and service right online. Transparency has freed us from shady or slimy deals. And without the sincerity to truly believe in what you're selling, more and more jobs are becoming hollow shells of what the world needs. What we do need is passion, we need Life, not people playing roles about one service or another, dropping dead just to keep up with the Joneses.

We're racing to make ourselves act like technology. You cannot be as cheap and as quick as our Robot Future. (Seth Godin calls it The Race to the Bottom.) You don't want to be. You want to be irreplaceable, undeniable, alive. 

Yes, it's much worse for the Japanese dying in the streets than the gross transaction I witnessed at 7-11, but I think the bigger picture is important here. We need some new thinking about work. It is no longer a spot to fill to feed your family or your video game addiction, it is not a moving, working piece of the machine. Just like our technology, our world has become a cloud, flowing and ever-morphing. Work has to be something of true value, there is no more timeclock punch-card. As Jason Silva puts it, "Maybe we need to look at new narratives for how to live our lives in our search to become cosmic heroes." (Silva talks here.) There is no alternative, it's the new American Horror Story. When they take away the shit jobs with fast food robots and automated call centers, what do you do? Start moving people. Fix their troubles. Lift the world up.

We shouldn't be dying for our work, we should be coming alive with it. Find it for yourself and enjoy what Alan Watts called the "real secret of life -- to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play."