How Love And Money Are Killing Your Life

love money ruining lifeI spent the last two years working on a new business. Some of it, I enjoyed. Most of it, I didn’t.

I enjoyed the teaching. I enjoyed thinking about what to teach. I enjoyed sharing ideas. I enjoyed helping people.

Even though the business was teaching people ideas, this became a small fraction of what I did.

So what did I do instead? Tech. Lots of tech. Setting up websites. Setting up email lists. Wrestling with technology because, often, it doesn’t quite work. There’s always some bug to fix.

Marketing. Tons of hideous, hideous marketing. Writing sales pages. Ugggh. Recording sales videos. Writing follow up marketing emails.

All this was dull and draining. None of it lit a fire in me. I’ve written before about tasks that we want to fast forward. Well this is why I wrote it.

Worse still, some of it felt icky. I was learning this stuff from books and courses. So I was following what others said was the “right” way to do it. But some of it didn’t feel like me. Some of it felt like I was the cheesy, white teethed guy from TV shopping channels.

Then there was the advertising. Who’d have thought this would take so long? Tweaking this, adding that. Playing around with this market sector or the other. Analysing data. Can you believe it? I’m a creative! Why would a creative want to wrestle technology and analyse data?

I wanted to create stuff. Courses. Blog posts. Podcasts. Songs. Records. Even plays.

So why did I do all this? Not because I enjoyed it. But for an end goal. This was the way for my business to be successful. Once it was, I could then focus on the fun stuff. If there was any dull stuff left to do, I could outsource it.

But for now, I had to do this to get that. I was chasing the reward.

Sensible enough, you might think. Except, guess what. The business failed.

Those who experienced my teaching got a lot out of it. I got glowing testimonials. I saw people use my ideas to better their lives.

But I didn’t get enough customers. I tweaked and tested, but that toil I hated brought insignificant results. My marketing failed. My advertising cost money rather than raised it.

I learned a lot during those two years. But I hadn’t enjoyed myself much. I also had nothing to show for it.

I could have had fun creating stuff for two years. I may still have no success at the end of it. But I’d have the end results of my creativity. I’d have had fun. My soul would be full. I’d have been me for two years.

I had postponed me instead. Jam tomorrow. That old trick.

I remember watching Jim Carrey talk about his father. Like his son, he had been a clown, a funnyman. But he sacrificed himself to do “the right thing”, and swap himself for a salaried job as an accountant. He gave years of his life to the company, and then they let him go.

“I learned many great lessons from my father” said Jim. “Not the least of which was that you could fail at what you don’t want. So you might as well take a chance at doing what you love.”

Two years on, I am Jim Carrey’s father.

Sadly, Jim’s father and I are not alone. The world taught us to chase extrinsic rewards. So we do.

Parents bribe children with goodies or approval. Schools focus on grades, rather than nurturing passion for the subject itself. Jobs have performance related pay and the dangle of that promotion.

If you do this, you’ll get that.

As Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote: “The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.”

Two months ago, I had a tantrum. I was sick of goals. I was sick of being bent out of shape by extrinsic motivations. The constant feeling of striving was making me ill.

When we are striving, we are not in the now. We are time travelling. We are swapping the now for the future. Now is not enough.

Striving is the nemesis of mindfulness. Mindfulness is about focusing on the present moment. If mindfulness is psychologically healing, striving makes us sick. The same striving we have been trained into.

I began to notice all the things I do for the wrong reasons. Things I do, not for me or my own intrinsic pleasure and curiosity, but for some outside reward. I became sensitive to the power of my fears about external stuff.

I noticed how I was scared to release a song I’d recorded, because I had paying fans waiting for it. It scared me that I would disappoint them. I pictured them hearing the song and hating it.

I noticed how I was doing certain work for no other reason than someone was paying me to. I asked myself whether I would be doing that work if I was already rich. The answer was a fierce no.

I noticed how fearful I am of poverty, and how much that tugs many of my decisions and actions into false directions.

I noticed all the things I do in the hope of approval from others. I want people to like and love me. Who doesn’t?

I decided to walk away.

I stopped doing everything.

I accepted that my business was dead. I continued to service existing customers. After all, that was the bit I liked – teaching and sharing ideas. But I stopped trying to get new ones. I stopped working on anything else.

I thought “Fuck it.” (Sorry for the language, but it’s what I told myself.)

I decided that I was going to do nothing unless it sparked a joy in me.

I was going to pretend that I was already rich. You may remember this post that everyone clicked on because they thought I’d won the lottery.

I was burnt out. So I quit the world of outside rewards.

Here’s what I did instead.

I read. A lot.

Not books about how my life was wrong and how I needed to do it different. Not about sales or marketing or any of that stuff. I just followed my curiosity.

I blogged a lot more.

I started a podcast.

I quit gigging.

I nurtured my curiosity. I decided to enjoy now. I made a bet with the Universe that I would be more likely to succeed by being fully me than bending myself out of shape.

And if I failed? Well I might fail anyhow. The last two years proved that. I can end up in the poorhouse whether I follow the thread of my passion, or whether I do all the stuff I hate.

At least this way, I’ll enjoy the ride there.

The weird thing that happened is that I ended up writing another course. It is being beta tested at the moment.

By getting in touch with my curiosity, I was better able to hear my own whispers and follow them.

By blogging and podcasting and reading and thinking, I was able to connect with my thoughts and myself. I found that I was giving myself advice on my blog. I even took some of it.

So instead of taking 16 months to write, like the last one did, it took a week.

Why? Because I refused to do anything that I hated. So all the tech stuff was gone. I did it simple. I asked myself the question: “What would this look like if it was easy?” And I did it that way.

If a task involved doing stuff I didn’t like, I found another way to do it. Even if it was scruffy and imperfect. As long as I was enjoying it and still delivering the value I wanted to. I stopped getting hung up on how perfect it was. Beta testing it designed out some of that fear.

I don’t want to see the life I’m currently living as just the thing that stands in the way of something else later. I want it to be about now.

Attachment to outcomes kill that. For two years I devoted my life to an end goal that didn’t happen.  I failed anyway.

I read a blog by James Altucher. He spoke about not caring, and how not caring has helped him. It struck a chord. He was advocating what I was doing. It was reassuring.

He said that whenever he cared about outcomes, he failed. Whenever he stopped caring, he succeeded.

It’s hard to stop caring about who likes me, who approves of me, and where my next rent cheque will come from.

Who wants to be friendless, loveless and penniless?

In our society, being penniless seems to be the most despised of all crimes. The punishment for being poor is to be starved of food, shelter and medicine. Who wouldn’t focus on getting money in such a world?

I’m reading a book at the moment. It’s called Punished By Rewards by Alfie Kohn. It’s packed with studies that show that James is right. When we focus on external rewards, creative people do less work, do it less well, and don’t enjoy it while we do it.

But how to unpick that attachment? How can we design out the powerful lure of those external rewards? How do I engineer it so that I don’t get pulled away by caring about money or whether someone likes me?

I don’t yet know the answer. But I know that the striving to get love, approval, and money is what ruins life. Worse still, it makes it less likely that we get it.

So I’ll be saying more on this topic as I think more about it. I’ll devise some experiments to trick my focus onto what is alive inside me, not what is external. Do you have any tricks you use? Or any ideas?  Send them to me. After all, it’s a matter of life or living death.

Alun Parry is Director of The Liverpool Psychotherapy Practice

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