The Perfect Stranger

In my career I have seen many people struggling to get out of a job what they invest in it. Most of us devote more than time and energy. Our heart and soul goes into it. We breathe our job 24 hours a day.

While we might not exactly radiate pure joy every Monday morning, we chose to pursue this work-life praxis during the best part of our life. It allows most of us to pay the bills, live a normal life and care for the little things in life, like our parents professed. Even if the job is soulless and stifles our very existence, we religiously stick to this pattern as we believe there is no alternative to lead a satisfying, let alone prosperous life.

We dream of more.  More money, to make our life extra-ordinary, more meaning, to quench our soul. We’re convinced that one day, we’ll have a career that not only gives us fulfillment — money, meaning, flow, freedom — but that also has a definitive goal or a clear purpose. Making getting up in the morning a piece of cake.

When we find that job or career, it becomes a big thing. It drives and motivates our life to the point where it defines us. The job or career becomes our identity. We are our job and the job is us. Our dream has become true: we have traded up from money to meaning! Happiness is within our grasp. We have made it. Every second of the day, we’re convinced we’re animating our values in our working life, allowing us to enjoy the little things, as we have the big thing. As we are the big thing. Because the big thing defines the little things.

Is this the dream we need to pursue? Do we need to pursue money and trade it up for meaning?

Rather than hoping to create a harmonious union between the pursuit of money and meaning, we might have better luck trying to combine values with talents. This is not my idea, nor is it recent: Aristotle advised ‘Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.’ Maximizing our talents and holding true to our values makes us great nurses or exceptional gardeners, web designers or shepherds, musicians or waiters. Exploring our talents to address true needs will most likely result in a more fulfilling and harmonious work-life than any other ambition or motivator.

Still I’d like to add something to this. It is a fundamental need of every mammal on this earth. It’s something we do naturally as children. Namely play. Chateaubriand wrote over a century ago that become a master in the art of living, you cannot draw a sharp distinction between work and play, labor and leisure. A master of life hardly knows which is which. He or she simply pursues his or her vision of excellence through whatever he or she is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he or she is working or playing. To themselves, they always appear to be doing both.

Getting up this morning, I decided to play. You’re reading the result. Because in the depths of winter, I finally realize that within me lies an invincible summer. I’m just making sure I’m not a perfect stranger to myself.



3 replies
  1. Katya
    Katya says:

    pursuing a dream and know what matters most in life is a skill to develop for many professionals. So very true we often spin the wheel as squirrels without too much thinking if that’s the right wheel to spin 🙂 Thanks Lieven, very well said!


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