Optimistic Fatalism and my conversation with Leonard

 "I really do not like what I do but I am 10 years from retirement……."

"Gotta go with the flow."

"I just want to see if I make partner. I should be a partner by now, they owe me……"

"It is what it is."

"My values and my employer's values are diverging, but I'll figure out what I want to do later in my career….."

"Lucky to have what I have."

According to my unscientific survey, surrendering to the status quo starts earlier and younger. Settling sooner for what you can get and shelving what you wanted. I had a millennial call herself an "optimistic fatalist". "I really hope I am wrong, but I am not going to do what I want."  It depresses me.

I am constantly and irritatingly asked:

When do you move on to the next thing? At what point do I give up on my dreams? 

After one of my workshops I was pursued by an executive who sat at my lunch table. I'll call him Leonard. After listening to the small talk he blurted out some thoughts that were clearly percolating for awhile.

"So John, I get your message–do what you want and even love. I get it. I wish I could do it, I wish it was possible. You know most people just can't do that. People take the jobs they can get and they put up with the toxic worlds they enter to make a living. Having a job you love is a fantasy."

You can fail at what you don't want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love. Jim Carrey

"Leonard. Thanks for speaking up and challenging my words. I do not want to make any of this sound easy or simple. It isn't. Taking control of your life takes courage. Just to be clear, I was not suggesting that finding a job you love will be THE answer. But finding work you love, you believe in, that fulfills you is not a fantasy. It is achievable and doable. Of course, if you need a job to eat and survive, then you need a job and your tolerance for inhospitable environments is much higher. But I am talking about me and you. We are sitting in this nice hotel chatting about our futures. We are over educated and have choices. There are amazing things that people will pay you to do that may be more fulfilling and fun. But I was also talking about building a life you love. A portfolio of things that represent your passions, interests and dreams. That procrastinating these decisions into some sort of sequence of steps and chapters is crazy. There is little chance that one job will provide you all of the fulfillment of your life. But you will spend way too much time working, so how do we make it the best job, a job you care about, as the hub and build out great spokes from there. No one like us has to put up with a toxic job. Does that make sense?

Yin yang
Yeah, but I really thought you were just talking about a dream job, Leonard replied.

No. A dream life. A lot of people struggle with so-called "work-life" balance. This is a myth and a harmful way of thinking. People seek balance because something in their lives is not as good as other parts. What if all parts were good? What if you designed your life to give you the fulfillment, flexibility, and the time to "balance" your life? Wouldn't that be a better life? 

Leonard nodded, "I know people(most people say they have a "friend";) who are really unhappy and they just can't leave their jobs."

I hear a lot of people who want to blame everyone but themselves about the predicament they are in. Again, these are first world people with advanced degrees and great resumes. They have convinced themselves they are stuck–stuck like sea squirts.

Sea squirts are odd slinky-like marine life that swim in schools to find a rock or piece of coral to make home. They permanently affix themselves to the rock. Then they do something really odd, they individually eat their own vertebrae and brains. Because when you are stuck on a rock you don't need a backbone or a mind! 

I meet a lot of really smart sea squirts! No backbone to stand up for themselves and their lives. Who get shackled to a narrative of high consumption and higher expectations that makes them fall behind in their credit and their careers.  Sea squirts Bluebell

Just like moving from pensions and defined contribution retirement plans to 401K's , we have to run our own financial AND life portfolios. 

There is a materialistic and financial delusion that we need so much stuff. And that stuff puts us in debt and that starts the vicious cycle of compromises and postponed plans. We get burrowed and cemented into a rut that imprisons us. We want more and accept less.

By the way, all setting a pattern of optimistic fatalism for our kids.

Yet I watch a growing number of people emerge from the fog and break out of their cells of expectations by following their hearts. Huge changes underway where people are making choices about priorities, downsized lifestyles, and upsized lives. Finding work they love. In the four pay cuts I took for jobs that gave me a more flexible life, I never regretted it. 

I recently met a chef, who now has four restaurants. He was defense contractor engineer who was very well paid. He went to these gourmet dinners with wine pairings made by a friend. He loved these meals and quit his job to become a chef at 45. He would have made more money and had a bigger retirement fund, but he chose his heart over his financial plan.

When you're doing something you love and are drawn to it, you want to do it all the time. – Ra Paulette 

Or the financial planner who volunteered for the Special Olympics and now is a neuropsychologist. Or the night club owner who decided to give his excess food to the homeless and now manages a social enterprise that does just that. 

People who have built happier and more meaningful lives around something that moved them.

What moves you? What is important to you that isn't getting your attention? Build it into your portfolio. Design a life that makes space for it.

 Be reckless when it comes to affairs of the heart.

What I really mean … is be passionate, fall madly in love with life. Be passionate about some part of the natural and/or human worlds and take risks on its behalf, no matter how vulnerable they make you. No one ever died saying, “I’m sure glad for the self-centered, self-serving and self-protective life I lived.”

Offer yourself to the world — your energies, your gifts, your visions, your heart — with open-hearted generosity. But understand that when you live that way you will soon learn how little you know and how easy it is to fail.

Clinging to what you already know and do well is the path to an unlived life. So, cultivate beginner’s mind, walk straight into your not-knowing, and take the risk of failing and falling again and again, then getting up again and again to learn — that’s the path to a life lived large, in service of love, truth, and justice. Parker Palmer

We have to wake up from the delusion that choice is a fantasy, clear the fog and take control!

Does this make sense Leonard? Now what? 

Thanks for reading. John

 

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8 thoughts on “Optimistic Fatalism and my conversation with Leonard”

  1. I love this, John. Thanks for posting. I got to hear Viktor Frankl speak when I was in high school. It had such an impact on me.

  2. Mary
    Wow would have loved to hear him speak. His work continues to yield such insights for me. Thanks for the comment. I tried to be gentler to “Leonard” than I really was. 🙂 It was quite the table conversation….. Cheers John

  3. You have hit it on the head. I was “lucky enough” to have 8 different jobs during my lifetime and each one brought me new challenges and rewards. Several of these were for lower financial payment but they all added to my store of experience and ability to engage with the world. Thanks for trying to get people to look at their own lives more openly.. My best, Harry

  4. Thank Dr Lierberman!
    You are a great example to cure Leonard’s ills 🙂 Those of us who gravitate to the work are poor compensation negotiators! And you can make a good living as well. Thanks for reading and for being a role model for all of us. John

  5. Thanks Michelle
    More than a few would say my ego needs to go on a crash diet! 🙂 But the souls need our attention and that can not be put off. Engaging ourselves spiritually in what we do and how we do it yields the greatest return. Thanks. John

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