Once upon a time, I was ambitious. I wanted to achieve, to accomplish. My goal was, primarily, to succeed. Not just to succeed, but, even more important, to be seen to succeed.
The last few years have seen a reorganization of my priorities. I no longer really care about succeeding. And while I still have – and suspect I always will have – a hankering to be seen as successful, as smart, as good – the “how I’m seen” part of my motivation has receded somewhat. Or maybe more than somewhat. I don’t so much crave recognition any more. I still need to believe in my “success,” defined increasingly in terms of compassion and kindness, more than any external measure. But I’m much more content simply to be, rather than to do.
This was brought home for me recently at the gym, where the gym owner’s big TV (it’s a small gym, with a large screen dominating the workout space) was tuned during my workout to what he called “real estate porn,” loving extended shots of spectacular houses, in spectacular settings, decorated spectacularly.
I should say, I live in a nice house. It’s old – in a beautiful way. The details are impressive. The ceilings are high. It’s a space that inevitably elicits oohs and ahs on first impression. But it’s not spectacular. It’s not jaw-dropping. In the neighborhood in which we live, it’s probably in the 60th percentile or so of objective beauty (if such a concept is meaningful). We have nice stuff. But not fancy stuff. Our home is cluttered. Filled with books, and magazines, and laptops, and phones. And chargers. And shoes, and socks. And homework, and, not infrequently, candy wrappers. Our “art” is not much different from the “art” I had in my twenties – nice posters in nice frames. Photos. Mementos. Tchotchkes. A thief in our house would take the laptops, and wouldn’t find much else of interest.
This is fine by me. I don’t crave nicer things, fancier things, prettier things. We don’t own a car. We don’t have a second home. I don’t envy my friends with fancy cars, with second homes. The opposite, in fact: those things seem to me like burdens. More space to maintain, repairs to make, clutter to tidy, time to spend not where I want to be, but traveling back and forth.
None of this has anything to do with money. I’ve been dually fortunate – I’ve never worried a lot about money, and I’ve never really needed to. (I generally believe that worry about money isn’t particularly correlated with wealth, once food and housing are comfortably assured. But I recognize that my belief is held from a position of relative material comfort.)
But back to the real estate porn: as we watched the extended close-ups of architectural details, the panoramas of great rooms, of great views, my primary response was… “Meh.”
The gym owner’s hard-on for the fancy properties, the great views, was unmistakable. “That’s what motivates me,” he said. “I want THAT!”
Well, I don’t want that.
I want what I have. Maybe a little less.
I’m a lucky guy.