Self Preservation


It seems like for many of us, we get into our thirties, have a job, a wife, children, house (with mortgage), cars (with car payments), insurance (and maybe braces or other major problems), leaky roofs, bad plumbing, grass to mow, appliances that go out – and we opt for self-preservation.

What do I mean by ‘self-preservation’? The desire to keep our heads above water, the desire to give up goals, to bypass any risk taking in our careers – to that we keeps the income going. We might decide to just ‘hang in there’ on our jobs. Sure – we’re making enough income to keep going. We’ll sacrifice challenges, even promotions as we know we need to keep food on the table and gas in the cars.

We look at our goal cards and affirmations in our billfolds and tear it up – and sigh, “That was just wishful thinking”. “That wasn’t going to happen”.

We compromise something deep inside us to keep going. We shut down in order to survive.

Does this have to be true? Do we have to put our dreams away for self-preservation?

Let’s think about this. We all know people that even in their thirties, forties, fifties plus keep going; maybe they jumped from company A to company B and took on new risks – and still make the home life fit in; maybe they found they could keep their goals and affirmations going.

I have a close friend that at age 42 quit his ‘job for life’ working for a major technology company to go with a start-up. He has a family and two children that he dearly loves; but he hated to be stuck in a ‘job for life’ position. He was to maintain a problem (that he was instrumental in creating in the first place); tweak it, improve it, but basically keep it running. The benefits of the major company were very good, he was up to 4 weeks of vacation; great health benefits, opportunity to travel for conferences and to be a part of this major company.

He said “no”. The start-up technology company is small – about ten people – and he is in the trenches, working on the architecture, doing coding, setting the parameters for a new project that could be a million (or billion) dollar idea – or could be a flop on the market. He has enough confidence in his skills that the products out of the start-up will be viable and he knows that the market adoption is not in his hands. Underneath, he also has the confidence that such the start-up fail, he’ll be able to land a new job and keep the income going.

He is putting in long hours, working on a very tight knit team (with ten people, it would have to be a tight-knit team). He has a passion for the project and company – a passion that was not present in his ‘job for life’ position.

I left a tenured full-professor position to take another position at another university. Some thought I was crazy – “Why are you giving up your ‘job for life’?” In the academic world, tenure basically means you cannot be fired (other than distinct moral / legal issues). To me “tenure” was a term – I valued my skills and ability with confidence and stated publically (and maybe even more importantly – privately) that if I was not doing the job (even if tenured), I needed to be fired. I ‘needed’ to have the challenge of a new experience and working my way back through the system to gain tenure at the new institution.

For you that might be stuck in the self-preservation situation, take a day (or a week) to reflect. Have you let your skills slip? Have you forgotten your passion? Do you still have goals and dreams? Or … have you given them up – as a compromise to keep a steady paycheck?

Continue your reflection with thinking about ‘In a perfect world, I would be doing ’. Take some long walks, get your brain and your heart into dreaming again.

Mark Twain wrote about consistency: “There are those who would mis-teach us that to stick in a rut is consistency–and a virtue; and that to climb out of the rut is inconsistency–and a vice.”

I remember a poster with a man asking “Am I in the groove or in a rut?”

What about you? Are you in a groove – moving ahead with passion – or stuck in a rut? Can you get your attitude, goals, image and self-talk adjusted – or are you going to just abandon goals in favor of self-preservation?

Posted by Bruce White

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