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Work/Life: If Money Can’t Buy Happiness (Unless its $1.5m), Try Happiness

When people ask me what I do, I use to fumble around trying to describe my dilettantish existence. Nowadays, I say I ride a bike for a living. Before an image of a female Lance Armstrong enters their head, I quickly add that I don’t ride fast; sometimes I don’t ride at all. I tell them I had a couple of “real jobs” before which paid way better.

When people ask me what I do, I use to fumble around trying to describe my dilettantish existence. Nowadays, I say I ride a bike for a living.

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Before an image of a female Lance Armstrong enters their head, I quickly add that I don’t ride fast; sometimes I don’t ride at all. I tell them I had a couple of “real jobs” before which paid way better.

They dismiss the money issue. They say they want my job, despite having a superior retirement plan (and while straddling the Pradas of high end bicycle brands). They might not actually take my job if offered, but a sense of “something not quite jiving” with their current life is apparent.

I googled ‘money and happiness’ on the FC website. According to this 2003 article, $1.5 million net worth is the magic figure where people’s feelings of happiness go from nowhere to nirvana in nanoseconds.

Since a handful of us may not be able to rustle up that amount in our lifetimes, can we still be happy without having to eat beans and move to the boonies where rent is cheap? Even if “stuck in a job we hate”?

Assuming you’re not grafted to an extremely expensive lifestyle (hello? Have I lost 98% of readers already?) I believe so. And I’m not talking about doing daily affirmations, gratitude prayers or joining a calligraphy class to keep your mind off the political pratt at the office who got you moved to cubicle without a window.

I’m talking about letting happiness buy happiness. Knowing what makes you happy will unlock the guerilla career seeker in you, because you’ll be coming from the place that floats your boat – not someone else’s. It’s a powerful place.

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What’s a Real Job?

In my book, it’s one that someone else wrote the duty statement for. The fundamentals of a real job are already written down in books. Since we’re all born with roughly the same size and shape of brain, you can study those books and join the ranks of the also-read, receive a certificate, then get in line for a place in society where there is a duty statement printed out, laid on the desk where you will sit for most of the time.

This is a good life, but it can be very stressful. You face stiff competition: there’s a population of diploma-carrying also-reads jammed against your door, and they’re as good or better than you at your shtick. To this day I can’t quite work out how I passed that Computer Science Artifical Intelligence exam …

Now and then you see the best of the rest in action: they sail through the work day and drop anchor at a reasonable hour, while you chug along in the swell and pull in at 7,8,9pm. They’re happy because they’re “comfortably challenged”, which I assert is the ideal mental state when on the job, because:

Uncomfortably challenged = stress and an untimely death.
Comfortably unchallenged = numb and stagnant; has a strange habit of morphing into uncomfortably unchallenged over time.

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That person you envy seems to be in the right place at the right time of their lives, don’t they? They’re moving forward with a clear mind, healthy body, a holy grail in sight and a path leading right to it. Of course they have their issues too, but you’re not really interested in that. They might even earn less than you … but so what. They’re having more fun that you. You want what they’ve got.

Here’s how to swing it.

Take the swing less swung: start with an atypical kidhood

Charlie Bell was the late CEO of McDonalds. Ignore, if you can, that he sold fast food and probably died because of it; focus (if you can) on the example:

He never studied those books at a university. He started flipping burgers, and ended up CEO. If you Google him, you’ll see he was definitely a smart kid. “He was ready to tell us how the place should have been run from 15 onwards” (April 21, 2004). Bell was often arrogant and upfront about his ambition, but in a charming, irreverent Australian way. Ritchie saw not a ranting fool but a potential leader. (from Answers.com).

Charlie knew from an early age what made him happy – and had no problem freely expressing it. Of course, youth was on his side – people cut kids slack for being young and undiplomatic. As we age we worry excessively about ‘what people think’ and ‘getting people bent out of shape’ and anyone and everyone’s primed to be offended.

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Here’s news: People are going to think what they’re going to think. Overthinking their unthinking will not make you happy and you will suffer. Don’t get suckered into living this way. Unless you can really stand and accept the heat, move away from those environments. They can make you ill.

Another observation about Charlie: being the smart fish in a “dumb” pond (and I use quotes with intent: there are smart people flipping burgers at Mc Donald’s; however, most of them expect to move to what society perceives as a “smarter” options).

If he had gone to law school or engineering school or med school, he would have had to compete with academically smart people all the way through college and into the workplace – just like the rest of us. How many of you know how much fun that wasn’t? (former straight High Distinction students can stop reading here).

So if your child exhibits the kind of outspoken streetsmart that Charlie did, consider following his example.

One of the smartest kids I ever met who had a well balanced personality to boot, was a 9-year old traveling the third world with his mother on a low budget. His education consisted of a box of encyclopedias, nature, and exposure to people living extraordinary lives. He was an experienced horseman and birding guide, able to identify over 300 birds of the country. He could converse politely and intelligently on many topics. That’s out-of-home schooling with a difference.

I have a friend who was drained by a language school business he ran, having several degrees in the arts and education. His marriage fell apart and she took the beloved dogs. Finally he took an electrician’s course, earns a regular $100 an hour and rides his bike whenever he wants.

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The corporate world is not captained exclusively by college educated white collars. It’s commandeered by people who’ve never worn one and are well qualified to tell you where you can stick your damn collar. Like Charlie RIP, Steve Jobs, and an Irish tycoon I mentioned in an earlier post who said “I’ve never studied any books or been to any courses, all my success comes from making decisions quickly and being a man of my word.” Plus many others you will never meet but have a serene smile on their faces most of the time.

So you missed the boat on being a child prodigy and you don’t want to fix fuses? You can still join the hunt for a high-happiness paying job in your field. All it takes is a different strategy based around happiness.

Next week:
Write your own Duty Statement: one that makes you happy and your boss ecstatic

The Galfromdownunder, Customer Evangelist for Bike Friday, is sitting in bed blogging for FastCompany on a Monday afternoon eating home made rice paper rolls and watching the sun set over London Terrace. Don’t tell her boss.

About the author

Lynette Chiang is an award-winning copywriter, brand evangelist, social media community manager, filmmaker, solo world bicycle adventurer and inventor of useful things. Her work has been featured in Forbes, Harvard University curriculums, the New York Times Book Review, FastCompany and the relationship marketing business press.

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