"In judging our progress as individuals we tend to focus on external factors such as one's social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education... but internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one's development as a human being: honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, purity, generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve your fellow men -- qualities within the reach of every soul and the foundation of spiritual life."Nelson Mandela
Someone recently recognised me at a party and said "Hey aren't you the guy I saw in that advert?" When I confirmed the suspicion, another person then asked me whether I am now an actor. Before I could respond, a relative butted in saying that I am more of a TV presenter – 'Check him out on DSTV Channel 190' she beamed. In certain circles, people refer to me as a magazine editor while you could catch me on a Tuesday wearing a tight suit-matching tie accompanied by a calculator effectively fulfilling the role of an accountant. I frequently act as MC at friend's weddings or at big occasions like the Kenyan President's Joburg visit. And most recently, I have been on TV and radio giving interviews as the founder and project manager for the inaugural South African Professional Services Awards.
I am not an actor, I am not an event-organiser, I am not a TV presenter, I am not an editor, I am not an MC and I am definitely not a chartered accountant. While I perform these roles, I refuse to let just one of them define me. It is the concept of the portfolio life – see http://www.theguardian.com/business/2005/nov/10/economicdispatch.money .
Portfolio life was a term coined by the business guru Charles Handy in his book The Age of Unreason in 1989. Mr Handy explained the concept as "a portfolio of activities - some we do for money, some for interest, some for pleasure, some for a cause... the different bits fit together to form a balanced whole greater than the parts".
"Being unlimited is about having a role which suits your talents best, rather than somebody's else's job spec." The book recounts several examples of people who have made the successful transition to a portfolio life. The authors acknowledge that the portfolio life is not for everyone. There is a premium on networking and self-promotion, and portfolio workers have to be ultra-organised as they usually have to keep several balls in the air. Plus, pay can be irregular. They admit that their incomes have dropped since leaving a set career, but they feel amply compensated by the increased independence and greater control over their own lives.
The idea of irregular pay has been my experience, occasionally painful but extremely rewarding when a lumpsum hits my bank account. Which brings me to the question of money and how elevated the pay check has been made in the assessment of this existence. The fact that your expenses are charged on a monthly basis doesn't mean that your income has to be. If you have never played the game 'Cash flow' or read 'Before You Quit Your Job' by Robert Kiyosaki, stick to employment before walking out of the rat race. It is a practical summary of how to do it – eliminate debt, create passive income and you are good to go.
It is amazing how much we sacrifice in our pursuit of money. It is the modern man's priority and regardless of how much one has made, the compulsion to outdo the Jones' is one we cannot deny. When you visit your peer's new house, do you begin looking around estimating the square metreage and comparing it to your own? When they get a new car, do you and your spouse begin thinking it is time to upgrade? When they post a recent success on Facebook like say, they won a huge contract with this or that blue chip company, does a feeling of envy and self-consciousness inevitably creep in?
I recently went to a party at a different friend's place. He was hosting the launch of a new business venture to supply internet to a large area of Johannesburg. It was a grand occasion although a few of those present were giving half-hearted claps as speeches were made. Some even refused to dish out a mere R50 to buy the internet airtime samples a salesman was selling at the party saying that they never travel to that area anyway. This they did as they queued up at the home's mini-bar for another tot of whisky and chomped down the remains of a fine carcass that had been spinning off a spit-braai.
Then last week a friend announced that he was leaving SA for Kenya after having been offered partnership at one of the Big 4 audit firms. A fine elevation at such a young age, something one should envy.
This is where one needs to be careful not to be a hater. Do not sit with your spouse and begin talking down the progress of others as a means to make yourself feel better about your own situation. You should be kneeling and praying every night for the good fortune of the people you know. At the very least, their progress is bound to benefit you – their friend – rather than the progress of others who are strangers to you.
By this guy succeeding in his internet venture, you stand to benefit by association even if it is by his ability to throw regular parties at which you can down whisky without limitation. Having a friend at one of the finest corporate entities in Kenya opens up doors that you may not be aware of right now. You may one day wish to become a supplier of good or services to the entity or forward him the CV of your nephew who is looking for an accounting internship. There is a saying that 'your network is your networth', the stronger it gets, the stronger you become. Rather such friends than having pals who are doing badly and keep whatsapping you for loans. Whether you like it or not, that area needs an internet supplier, that corporate entity needs a new partner – rather someone you know than one you don't. Celebrate the Jones' rather than trying to keep up with them.
We also focus too much on money as a measure of self-worth. I love this quote: "In judging our progress as individuals we tend to focus on external factors such as one's social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education... but internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one's development as a human being: honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, purity, generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve your fellow men -- qualities within the reach of every soul and the foundation of spiritual life."Nelson Mandela
There are extremely wealthy people living out depressing toxic relationships or occasioned by permanent worry from children experiencing addiction. There are also other experiences of God's will, fate or bad luck that make you envy them even less. I prefer the life of my grand-father, modest but comfortable, who lived well into his 80's hanging out with his great grandkids than a super-wealthy and famous Steve Jobs whose money was not enough to push him past 56. On your next birthday, celebrate a year of good health much more than a season of big bucks.
Don't get me wrong, I do not begrudge monetary success. Like every human being I long for it. It makes life much easier and enables one to make a difference. But it is amazing how obsessed we are with the ching ching. Mark Gungor said men amuse him – they work so hard to make money, ignoring their wives in doing so. As a consequence, their wives leave them and take away much of the money they were working so hard to earn. "Your family wants your presence much more than they like your presents".
Another thing I have discovered is that there is a point in your monetary success that additional wealth does not result in additional comfort or luxury. If you had all the money in the world how much more superior will the bed you sleep in, the food you eat and the car you drive be? In my case I sincerely doubt that it will increase my bed-time peace of mind or my appetite or my current experience in getting from point A to B.
So many black people, men in particular, are dying before 55 due to stress related causes. Man is so busy working for money to improve his life and in so doing loses it completely. In my circles, many have all the time in the world to spend a whole day networking at the golf course but lack the time to see a doctor for a check up, visit a marriage counsellor or take the wife on a date or attend a church service.
Les Brown said "the richest place on earth is a cemetery, you fill find that there are books that were never written. There are songs that were never sung. There are ideas that were never acted upon—dreams that were long forgotten. If one were to die today, then what ideas and what aspirations would die with him or her? And the immediate contingencies that relied on the survival of such a reverie would eventually perish with the evanescing dream".
Prioritising money can be very counter-productive. I doubt we would do what we are doing now if we only had months to live. Steve Jobs told college students that every morning he would look in the mirror and ask himself, "what if today was the last day of my life, would I do what I am about to do?" With that he would change his day (and life) accordingly. A great philosophy for someone who ended up dying so young but leaving a lasting legacy, making a difference outside the rat race.
What would you do differently if today was your last day. You would probably not worry about keeping your job. You would do something bold, something less money-oriented and worthwhile. You would probably prioritise health, relationships and good values over an augmentation of that bank account to outdo them bloody Jones'.
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