I Am Jack’s Wasted Life

“We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like.”

Tyler Durden in Fight Club

I re-read the following story a few nights ago. I was unable to track down the origin of this parable, so I repeat it here without citation.

A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, got together to visit their old university professor. Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life.

Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups – porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite – telling them to help themselves to the coffee.

When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said: “If you noticed, all the nice-looking expensive cups have been taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress.

Be assured that the cup itself adds no quality to the coffee. In most cases it is just more expensive and, in some cases, even hides what we drink. What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the best cups… And then you began eyeing each other’s cups.

Now consider this: Life is the coffee; the jobs, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain Life, and the type of cup we have does not define, nor change the quality of life we live.

I would like to talk about money. Money is an arbitrary store of value, not value itself. There are many other modalities of value in our lives: time, knowledge, experiences, and happiness just to name a few. Money is often the vehicle for trading one form of value for another. You might trade your time and knowledge for money, then trade that money for an experience.

Many people think the Bible says that money is the root of all evil. That is inaccurate. The Bible says that loving money is the root of all kinds of evil. Just like money is not the cause of evil, money is also not the cause of wealth. It is the effect. How we perceive and use money is a reflection of our values and intentions.

Money is neutral. It is a currency used to exchange experiences between two people. You make money creating experiences for others, then trade that money to receive experiences in return. The material things we buy are not just physical goods, they are experiences. Even when you buy food, you are buying away the experience of hunger and buying temporary health and happiness.

This exchange of experiences results in cycles being played out in our lives. If the experience we give (our job) to get money is negative and we use that money to purchase an opposite positive experience, we may find ourselves in one of three cycles…

Stress: If in our job or role we experience high pressure, or we feel threatened in some way (like being constantly criticized), we will tend to spend the money we receive on stress-relief to compensate.

Ego: If in our job or role we experience feeling powerless, insignificant or useless, we will tend to spend the money we receive on superficial status symbols trying to silence our insecurities.

Pain: If in our job or role we are hurt or injured­–physically, emotionally or psychologically–we will tend to spend the money we receive on pain relief (including alcohol, drugs and other diversions.)

All of these cycles prevent us from being truly wealthy, as the way we spend our money is simply compensating for how we earned it. True wealth occurs when the way we earn money and the way we spend money are aligned. Earning through positive experiences and spending on other positive experiences.

For the individual, this means seeing money not as the purpose of life, but rather as a tool to move life from place to place. A means to both give and receive positive experiences. Not about the accumulation of stuff but rather experiences. Not about the cup, but rather the coffee.

For an organization (like Kimray), this means creating an environment where people can trade in positive experiences. Work should be meaningful, valuing and healthy. As leaders we have the responsibility to help our team members find the positive experiences around them and create a cycle of trading positive for positive. If people are valued, cared for and cared about, they won’t need stuff (physical and emotional) to impress people they don’t like. Instead, they can become truly wealthy, not measured by the quantity of stuff, but by the quality of experiences they accumulate.

That is Jack’s life well spent.