Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Purpose and Passion

I've mentioned these two motivators a number of times before. But, the other day, while working on the details of the upcoming Veteran Speakers Retreat that I've coordinated for the past twelve years and this being my last year, something struck me about these two words and what they represent. So, some thoughts have been mulling around in my head and here they are.

Living free is both a philosophy of living and a lifestyle. But, some people get the wrong idea about living free. Some people think it means living for free, as in not being productive and living off someone else. Others think that it means being homeless, dumpster diving and scrounging for food, wearing used clothes and sleeping on park benches or in hobo villages. Still others may think it involves some kind of criminal enterprise such as being a con artist, Ponzi scheme operator or even a pickpocket. In reality, living free means none of these things.

Living free simply means that one has opened his or her mind (remember the mind is like that parachute, it only works when it's open) to possibilities for a lifestyle that is other than what is considered in contemporary society as traditional or mainstream. The living free philosophy has nothing to do with dictating where someone lives, what kind of housing or shelter someone chooses to live in, how they choose to dress (fashion/style) and acquire their apparel, what kind of diet they choose and enjoy and, perhaps, one of the most important facets of living free is how someone generates the resources (earn a living, if you will) to support whatever their chosen lifestyle is.

The Pre-conditioned Mainstream

Everyone comes from somewhere. Now, isn't that a profound thought? But, it's necessary to make that statement to understand why and how most people make the choices and decisions that determine how they will ultimately life their lives. The range is pretty wide when you think about it. Let's not consider individuals whose origins are from a society in other countries on other continents and possibly even underdeveloped or primitive tribal societies (and yes, there are still primitive tribal societies in the 21st Century).

As societies go, the United States is very young. It's only 237 years old if you use the Declaration of Independence in 1776 as the beginning of the U.S. Actually, the real beginning of the U.S. officially began operating as the United States of America under the oldest operating constitutional government in the world on March 4, 1789. So, in reality, the U.S. is only 224 years old. However, European colonization began as early as 1492 for the Spanish and 1497 for the British with the landing of John Cabot. So, those earlier ventures to North America extend the beginnings of what ultimately became modern society in the U.S. to about 516 years ago. Of course, the Norse Vikings reached parts of northeastern Canada as early as 1000. We'll not include that period for my purposes in this article. And for practicality, we'll just say that the foundation for the U.S. society began in the 1700's along with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

Now, why is this significant? Very simply it's because Western Europe countries are considered by most historians to be the most advanced, civilized societies of the time. For some reason, most of the earlier advanced societies in the Middle East and northern Africa as well as Asian societies like China and Japan, didn't keep up with the advances in Western Europe. I was in awe when I walked across the Charles Bridge (originally called The Stone Bridge) in Prague, Czech Republic and realized it was built between 1357 and the early 1400's (before "Columbus sailed the ocean blue") and it replaced a bridge that had been built between 1158 and 1172. The only structures we have in the U.S. that truly date back that long or longer are the Pueblo Villages in New Mexico. They date back 1,000 or more years. But, these were not considered an advanced or developed society. So, that brings us back to our migrating ancestors from Western Europe and the British Isles, of course.

I make this distinction because this was the basis for how our advanced society developed in the U.S. Since the U.S. was basically a frontier, the pioneers had the opportunity to begin the society with the contemporary lifestyle of the western European countries and the British Empire. Additionally, the U.S. was in its birthing stage as the Industrial Revolution was dramatically changing all of society forever. Although most early U.S. cities were modeled after western European cities, most of the western European cities were terribly antiquated and simply continued to function as they had for hundreds to even a thousand years or more. Even today, when you visit "so-called" modern Europe, most of the cities are centered on the antique buildings, streets and infrastructure. Newer, more modern forms of architecture exist in the outer suburbs and as replacements for the portions of major cities destroyed by the modern warfare of the 20th Century.  

The Industrial Revolution Alters Lifestyle 

The Industrial Revolution began around the mid 1700's in England and spread rapidly through Western Europe and the emerging society that would become the United States in the later 18th Century. I won't go into details of the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution; you can study that yourself if you're interested. But, the Industrial Revolution is pretty much the catalyst for what we consider our modern, mainstream, traditional lifestyle. The reason, in my opinion, that the U.S. became the world leader in industrialization and eventually, the Information Age, is because the U.S. didn't have to restructure and rebuild the old societies, cities, manufacturing processes and mindsets of a population steeped in antiquity. The people who migrated to the U.S. were pioneers. They were a hearty stock who wanted to build a new life and ultimately a new society and nation. Individually, they all came seeking some kind of freedom and they were willing to do whatever it took to accomplish that goal. A huge number died in that process, but the passion for freedom and autonomy won out. They had a purpose and the passion to fulfill that purpose. 

Unfortunately, over the next couple centuries human nature played both it's positive and good cards and it's negative and evil cards. Greed and corruption, two fairly dominant human traits played out. The middle class was carved out. The unions were formed. Public schools became the standard. Each of these influenced what has become the mainstream, traditional American lifestyle. Unfortunately, in my opinion, all of this has led to the demise of what was originally termed the "American Dream." The dream went from seeking freedom and opportunity to do and be anything and anyone you wanted to become to seeking security and measuring success by the amount of money and unnecessary stuff a person could accumulate (while also accumulating huge debts in the process) thus, relinquishing the personal freedom and many kinds of opportunities.

The "American Dream" was born out of the Declaration of Independence. However, as we all know, at that time we were not all "created equal." There was a large population of slaves (mostly black, but some white) who had no opportunity. Women had minimal property rights until the 20th Century. They also didn't have the right to vote or hold public office. They were primarily relegated to housekeeping and childcare work.

So, the, so-called, American Dream at the nation's birth wasn't equally shared and enjoyed by all members of the emerging new society. Many things have driven change in this country and the American Dream has changed and evolved right along. But, for those (primarily white men and especially those who were born into some position of influence) who chased that elusive dream, there were wonderful opportunities and fulfillment.

Certainly, while things are still not completely equal, there are many Black, Asian, Hispanic and those folks from other origins as well as women, who through purpose and passion have moved up the ladder and made significant achievements.

The Changed American Dream

But, as all of this has happened, the American Dream has changed as well. Many consider the American Dream to be dead or virtually impossible to realize any longer. That's probably because the fulfillment of the Dream is now equated with living in larger and larger, more costly housing and accumulating more and more stuff. In order to acquire all these trappings of, so-called, American Dream success, credit has been expanded. Most homes are mortgaged to the hilt. Cars are now either leased or have financing as long as six years. Plastic money (credit cards) has expanded, as has the accompanying debt, to astronomical levels. And advanced education costs so much as to leave many young people in huge amounts of debt as they start life out. Unfortunately, it appears that the original American Dream has been corrupted to being buried in debt by the accumulation of stuff. Those in poverty now can often actually live as well, and in some cases better, by living off the public dole financed by the, so-called, productive members of society, only numbering about 50% of the population. The old saying, "the rich get richer while the poor get poorer," seems to be fulfilled. We see a huge and growing gap between a, generally, very greedy wealthy class, a collapsing middle class and enlarging poverty class.

I was fortunate (or maybe not so, in some ways) to have earned two college degrees at a time when it was still affordable and I didn't have to face a life of unforgivable debt. But, I still remember many of the successful people of that time didn't have college degrees. A college education wasn't an absolute necessity for success. It could open some opportunities. There are many examples of college grads that ended up working for those who didn't hold college degrees. My father was one of those examples. He never earned any degrees, but parlayed a couple night school drafting classes into becoming an in demand non-degreed electrical/mechanical design engineer in the emerging aerospace industry with degreed engineers under his supervision.

Contemporary examples include the late Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Michael Dell and Mark Zuckerberg, among others, who are indisputably four of the most successful men in the world and don't have college degrees. And, don't forget Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Walt Disney (a high school dropout). The point here, again, is that they grabbed the literal meaning of the original American Dream. The trait and motivation they and so many others like them had was a defined purpose and the passion to achieve their dreams. This is true in all fields of endeavor.

A Welfare Society? Some Work To Support Those Who Don't!

Now, it is not and never has been my position to pass judgment on anyone. People are people. Some of us will achieve great accomplishments, realize great success and probably accumulate great wealth of some kind in the process. Others, will become the "worker bees," a term I never liked and still don't, but as in a beehive, these are the members of society who do all the day to day tasks of keeping the society (hive) functional and, in general, healthy. And then there are the less fortunate people. Some of them are just plain "bottom feeders." They contribute little, if anything, to the society and live off the productive members. There are also those who weren't dealt a very good hand in life. They may have physical and/or mental limitations. There are also those who have fallen from a better position in life to a lower or bottom rung for a variety of reasons. Some of the circumstances were of their own invention while other circumstances were just destiny.

The amazing thing is that there are many examples of people who grew up in abject poverty and despair through the circumstances of their birth, yet, they went on to carve out the stepping stones to a successful life. They discovered their talents. They may have been blessed with great athletic abilities or artistic or musical abilities. They may have had a superior intellectual ability and were able to impress the right people, thus, opening doors and opportunities for themselves. Skin color, ethnicity and gender didn't stand in their way. They found a purpose in their lives and they grew a burning passion to win that Olympic Gold Medal or work their way up through the military ranks to become a high level officer or kept inventing things until one of them captured the attention of the right people or wrote and/or performed music at every opportunity until someone who could open doors finally heard the person. There was no magic. There was no real secret. It simply took a defined purpose and then a burning passion to achieve and live the life the individual wanted.

I won't discuss the bottom feeders or those who use their abilities to go into criminal enterprises that create pain and harm others to their own advantage. They are, unfortunately, ever present. But, also fortunately, the worst of them seem to be a very tiny percentage of the population of most societies. There are, also, those who are conditioned by their parents (if they even know who they are) or other influences to beat the system. When you teach someone how to fish or hunt or grow food, they can eat for a lifetime. When you simply give them handouts, they learn to stand there and wait for the next handout. Their purpose in life becomes to be the best at doing nothing productive and expecting handouts. Their passion becomes to manipulate the system so they live the best they can while doing nothing productive in return. In the animal kingdom we would call this leeching off a host.

Rewarding Non-productivity

Unfortunately, when you reward this behavior by making it easier and easier to be on the dole, as it appears has happened in western Europe, England and the U.S., this segment of society grows and lives off the segment of society that will eventually diminishes in size as they realize they are being fleeced. In the U.S., current estimates are that 15% of the population receives SNAP (food stamp) benefits each month. This doesn't include the myriad of other local, state and federal programs that support those unable or unwilling to support themselves.

Now, believe me, I'm not a person who wants to see any of our children or even our adults who are disadvantaged for a period of time be undernourished or starve. However, where there is no "payment" in return in the form of doing something productive for the community, state or country, where is the incentive to have any purpose or passion to achieve on your own?

Channeling Purpose and Productivity

So, not to belabor an issue that's a political hot potato, I have to wonder what we can do in this country to inspire and motivate people to want to find a real purpose in their life and to light a burning passion to go after that purpose. In my case, I've been an entrepreneur all my life. I've created several businesses and along with those businesses I created jobs and work for other people either as employees, contractors or suppliers. I've realized some of the rewards of being a productive member of society. And, I've reached a point after doing this for over 50 years where I decided to reevaluate my lifestyle, my needs, my wants, my purposes and my passions. Some consider me retired, but I don't recognize that word in my vocabulary. Others may think I'm living off the taxpayers because I draw my Social Security benefit - which I involuntarily had to contribute into for over 50 years along with my Medicare coverage that I contributed to for 48 years. I might add that I cannot live off the stipend I receive from Social Security in today's economy and I have to pay for portions of my medical care just as I had to before Medicare and I had regular health insurance.

But more than that, I NEED purpose in my life. I need a reason to get up each morning and plant my feet on the ground and get up and get moving. I also NEED something to be passionate about. Oh, sure, I could be like the extreme political liberals or conservatives and run around ranting and raving about something I can't change like what's right or wrong with our government (and please, don't tempt me). But, as I didn't stand in "peace vigils" with Student Peace Union during the Vietnam War era, because I was busy working on productive things that actually could make a difference, I don't waste my time on politics because there is no percentage in it.

So, here I am, 68 years young and I still have some unfulfilled purposes in my life. Hooray! I have some burning passions that need to be fanned. Yes! While they are entrepreneurial in nature, they are socially entrepreneurial. This means that while they have some basis in a business structure, the ultimate purpose, other than supplementing my small Social Security monthly stipend, is to further some things I'm passionate about. And, of course, these purposes and passions encompass my "living free" lifestyle and my yearning to freely wander as a location independent individual to explore and learn about this country and the world, to experience things I've yet to have the pleasure, experience or adventure of and to meet as many interesting and fascinating people representing Americana as I can. You'll learn more about these purposes and passions of mine in the near future and I'll be looking for input and, in some cases, assistance as I pursue them.     


Linda Sand said...

As a girl growing up in the 50s and 60s I was taught my role in life was to live off my husband's income. Fortunately, for me I married one who turned out to make a good income doing work he enjoyed. That allowed me to put my energies into our family and volunteer activities. Now that we are retired it allows me to travel. I am one of the lucky ones--living free.

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

Right on, Linda!

I don't think women have ever been given appropriate credit for the complex role of homemaker and mother. My hat is off to those who chose to make that their career and who enjoyed it. I don't have an less respect for women who have careers outside the home, I just don't know how they juggle everything to work at an outside job AND attempt to be a great homemaker and mother. I understand that the husbands/fathers supposedly are taking a greater role at home, but mostly what I see are harried, hassled people who don't have any quality time to truly enjoy family and home life. Of course, because people want the nice, big home, the nice cars, the designer clothes, etc., etc., there is no way to afford all that on a single income (heck! even back in the 60's my father, one step away from the vice-presidency of a division of a Fortune 500 Corporation, worked a second job in the evenings to make ends meet. You are one of the lucky ones and, dare I say, one of the smart ones, too.