“My Dad worked for 30 years for an insurance company, going in, day in and day out, giving his time and energy to someone else just to support us – his family. I don’t want to make that mistake” – so shared James Smith, the world’s fastest growing online personal trainer, last week in a major podcast interview.
I think I was in a majority of one of finding that comment offensive! (More on that in a moment).
James did add that if and when he has kids, he wants to be able to see more of them than his Dad saw of his own children. Well sure, wouldn’t any parent? But this is a problem nowadays – of expectations. It’s great to have the aim to work for yourself, ideally based on a passion, have a family and see the kids whenever you want while your ‘virtual business’ grows, and go on month long meditation retreats (not sure who looks after said kids when you do that, and why that is supposedly ‘ok’ but if you’re away from home because of a job that’s not ok – but anyway…), spend lots of time preparing nice healthy meals, and of course, hours each day on your self improvement. I mean, who wouldn’t want that?
But life can’t work like that for most people. And putting out those expectations through things like podcasts with millions of views and listeners is actually – I would argue – contributing to the mental health crisis, not helping it.
The reaction online to that particular podcast, as shown by the comments underneath, and the response of the interviewer (millionaire entrepreneur and latest Dragon’s Den addition Steven Bartlett), was to applaud this statement from James Smith (the “mistake” comment) and encourage others to look at life differently.
But I’m thinking… here’s a man (Jame’s Dad), who studied hard and then devoted himself to supporting his family in the best way he could, and gave the best part of his life to doing so – and here are millions of people (admittedly mostly millennial) calling that a ‘mistake’?
I felt sorry for whoever this man/father was (he’s no longer alive) and was glad he wouldn’t hear his son say this even if in his soul he agreed with it. By the way, James makes a living via instagram posts.
This is part of a wider sentiment filtering into the world we now live in: no, not that living via instagram is the way forward (though some people do that), but that being a responsible human being is not enough.
Nowadays you need to keep excelling, improving, and ideally be living on your own terms and not answering to anyone else in order to be considered a ‘success’ and lead a ‘happy’ life. You need to have work life balance or there’s shame attached to that if you don’t. (By the way, robust studies show that kids of parents who work are no less happier than kids of parents with a stay at home parent).
Now, it’s deemed you must have ‘interesting interests’ or you’re considered narrow or lowbrow. You need to have at least one USP that makes you stand out in the crowd, or you’re average or boring (unless you were born very good looking of course).
I added a comment under that podcast interview that included saying “actually, devoting yourself to a job to support your family is an honourable thing to do, I would not call that a mistake; plus, if everyone left ‘jobs’ just to pursue a passion or to work for themselves, I’m not sure the world would last very long – who is going to do ALL THOSE jobs?”.
I wanted to also add how eastern spiritual traditions speak of the value of ‘doing your duty’ and how ‘doing the right thing in life’ is what makes a good life. Yoga says this too. So that includes, looking after yourself and those around you, living with integrity, not neglecting your every day duties and living from a place not from ‘self’ serving, but ‘dharma’ – i.e. a much wider perspective of how what you think, say and do sends a vibration into the world.
Whether you are a teacher, banker, baker, entrepreneur, scientist, artist, factory worker or house wife/husband, is not the point: but your attitude within that role is, and accepting that life is made up of different cogs that keep the world turning and how we need all those different cogs in the world.
We do live in a world now where the opportunity to ‘make a living from a passion’ or ‘work for yourself’ has never been more possible than now. Not to mention, greater access to info, knowledge, training and resources than ever before because of the information and technological advances that have been made. Yet, stress is still the number one cause of illnesses and rates of depression and anxiety are higher than they have ever been since records of these states began. And the thing that keeps recurring when studies are made into why people feel unhappy is a ‘lack of belonging’. So where and how does ‘improving yourself’ fit into this picture?
Whatever your job or role in life (be that paid or unpaid), we are all being subjected to this idea that ‘enough’ is not enough. Even the wellbeing industry is complicit though those of us working in the wellbeing industry do tend to have good and well meaning intentions.
I am not saying we shouldn’t strive to improve or expand our interests and mind. Yes to all this. And if you have a passion, follow it! I have done that so I don’t want to be hypocritical here.
But the message that doing a job as an act of responsibility somehow makes for a less meaningful life needs to be dismantled.
What’s wrong with showing up, honouring your responsibilities and just living? For most of us in the world, that’s more than a full time job – that is life itself. The good news is that it brings into life and appreciation things like cooking a meal, sharing food, going for a walk, feeling the sun on your face, or simply climbing into bed which has clean, washed sheets.
When I do a little meditation at the end of the day, in bed at night, it’s usually a gratitude for something simple or just getting through the day.
Let’s not shame just living. There’s a lot to applaud in that.