What do people want?! Happiness. Such a vague thing which can mean, pretty much, anything. For some is plenty of food and a place to sleep, for others is a Mercedes or peer recognition. “Know thyself!” is the commandment written in the pronaos of Temple of Apollo in Delphi. “An unexamined life is not worth living” goes Socrates to extremes. I would gladly give up examining my life and others, finding similarities and discrepancies, if only I could find happiness. But, then, how can I find happiness if I don’t know what it means to me and how can I achieve it, if it’s ever achievable.
A huge part of happiness is made of satisfaction. In my case (although it could be possible in other cases as well). Well, how can one be satisfied?! What is satisfaction?! A dictionary said “the fulfillment of desire”. Step by step, generalizing, then pulling back to particular, being a very unsatisfied young man, raised by people who were never satisfied with his performances, I reached a simple law which I will share with you. To me the satisfaction is given by this simple concept: “Always get more than what you give”. It applies to anything – from job, to personal relationships, to all the earthly things.
I used to be a person who was unhappy in the professional life. Accompanying me to Canada was this completely wrong mentality that I was coming to the land of Capitalism, where the more you give, the better you are professionally, the better you are seen, people respect you and cherish you, your voice is listened and a pat on the back will calm your ego. I used to spend nights learning and testing new things, getting professional certifications, never saying “NO” to anybody, going well beyond the call of duty. I thought that was the way to professional satisfaction, to this forever elusive happiness. I ended up, every time, frustrated – people still saw me as the “tinkering guy”, I was never happy – overworked it is difficult to be a happy person, always on the run, always in a rush, and I made quite a few time the list of laid off people, while the “office plant” would stay behind and get a paycheque. I was getting infuriated when projects I tested for weeks, for which I prepared perfectly, were being sunk in the conference room by people who didn’t know much, didn’t care much but had “concerns” which weren’t even very well articulated.
A moment came in 2007, when I worked for Wells Fargo, when this truth was revealed to me. For 2 months I worked hard, asked for work, fought a well-established system. I was coming from a startup where I had wore every hat, from sys admin, to security expert, from dba to helpdesk etc. After a few kafkian scenes, I gave up and I said “If they are upset on me for working too much, let see them upset over me not doing anything”. I started making excuses (very good ones) for not doing my job, start postponing. I was pretty much by the pool all day, doing nothing but replying to 2-3 emails. I didn’t react when a full-time employee (I was a contractor) stole my work and presented it, in my presence, as his work. I stopped caring and I kept on being paid a humongous salary for this attitude. I thought that soon it will come to an end. To my surprise, after a month, in the daily team meetings, I start being… praised. Yes! “Andi is a solid member of our team”, “Good job” (for almost nothing) and so on. It hit me! It wasn’t them – it was me. I was trying to invest too much, making many people look bad.
In short, here are the two solutions to satisfaction – either you invest a LOT and then you will expect a LOT (and this almost never happens) or – the sane and better way – you invest only as much as it is required and any reward is welcome and makes you happy. Since then, I dropped the towel. I kept my mouth shut, I gave 20-30% of what I knew I could give and when “shit happened”, I took it in stride, thinking about how much undeserved money I got.
Unfortunately, shortly after this lesson of life, I had another one. Yes, it doesn’t rain, it pours! My wife asked for a separation. I found myself in the dating world. I said to myself “OK, that applies only to professional relationships, not to personal ones” and, like a teenager, I start locking onto every good woman I could find (believe me – while there might seem plenty out there, there aren’t as many as you think; just like good men). Every time, I gave lots and lots. I didn’t keep any resource behind, what good it would have done to me?! I thought that giving would have enticed the other person into giving as well. After all, I had been, in my first youth, a person who had been taking. Taking and taking and never saying “Thank you!”. It caught up with me and I was set to change my ways. Unfortunately, when one gives a lot, people take it for granted. The more you give, the more you are asked to give. After all, you volunteered to give so much. What is the cost for you, emotional, financial – doesn’t matter, because they do deserve it, isn’t it?!
It would have been great and maybe it would have worked, should I have been naturally an altruist. Unfortunately, I am a selfish person and after giving a while, I start asking myself “Am I getting my investment’s worth?!”. I got it… for a while. And then, instead of keeping the wheel of giving spinning (I give you, you give me), I found myself giving and getting aloof “Thanks”. I felt cheated and I spoke up. I was told that I have been unfair for asking something back. That I should keep silent and don’t ask for anything in return. The giving had come to be taken for granted and I established the precendent: “You give, I take!”. No, no, no – I give if you think of giving back. And no, dont throw a smile or a good pet on the head now and then! And no, good sex doesn’t make up for everything!
I had broken my own rule. I invested a lot and asked for a lot in return. People are NOT capable of doing this. Everyone wants to take more than they give.
I remember something else somebody said. When prepared by a catholic priest for marriage, she was asked “What do you expect from this marriage?”. She said “I want to be happy. I want peace. I want prosperity” etc. The priest listened to her and then proceeded to explain that marriage is not for yourself, is the dedication to your partner. I loved this story because I really believe that this should be the way to a wonderful relationship. Giving and receiving. I know – an article on BBC said that counting who does what is the way to ruin. But then again, a too great imbalance is not to be desired. I have witnessed couples based on: “I take, you give” and I know that would never work with me.
I am a selfish person fighting hard its selfish part. I deserve something in return 🙂