Your home for exploring philosophy with an emphasis on Buddhism and Stoicism. Part of this exploration will be taking on some of the more important issues that we are facing and providing alternatives to this Orwellian society.
Not to be confused with the movie “The Matrix” staring Keanu Reeves. I’m referring to the corporate matrix that many us spend much of our life toiling away. Having worked for corporations for over 40 years I have experienced very good organizations, average organizations, and well really messed up ones. Generally there are certain relationships that exist between a characteristic and the functioning of a corporation. In my experience most smaller companies are less dysfunctional and the larger companies are more dysfunctional. This is not a hard fast rule, but there does seem to be a correlation between the size of an organization and its level of dysfunction. You might also draw a correlation between the age of a corporation and level of dysfunction, but many corporations try to re-invent themselves periodically so this doesn’t always hold true. An example is McDonald’s that was founded in 1940 and Google founded in 1998. McDonald’s has been around 58 more years, but one might say it is no more dysfunctional than Google. Another correlation can exist based on the type of industry / sector that a business is categorized. For instance a insurance company will not survive unless it is very efficient versus a technology company that may have higher margins, which sometimes encourages reckless behavior from a business perspective.
Over time as a company grows, it begins to implement an increasing number of processes and controls. In my experience many of these processes have not been vetted against the simple equation comparing the ongoing cost of the process versus the value it provides the organization. This kind of process creep exists in almost all businesses, as the company seeks to create greater control over the workforce. Often times the corporation does not want to leave decision making to employees but instead implements a process that it hopes controls costs or improves compliance in some way. Examples of this include simple contract changes that require three levels of approval, instead of just empowering the first level manager to approve the change, or having painful promotion processes that require committee’s to make the decision instead of an employee’s manager.
When a company is initially created, it will depend on people to make decisions, and does things in a lean fashion, but as it becomes larger it begins to hire more and more employee’s, many that do not contribute to the bottom line (cost management or revenue generation). My experience is that lots of new roles are created for what I call bullshit jobs, essentially non essential work. Well if you have a lot of time on your hands, then you begin creating your own organization and start building new processes. Unfortunately the people in these bullshit jobs don’t understand process design and the cost versus value equation. Over the course of 20 years or so there is a process for everything and each of them has a corresponding burden that is foisted on the employee, and competes for their time, which initially was dedicated to their primary job functions. A couple things begin to occur, the first being the employee becomes more and more dissatisfied with their role as they must adhere to this overload of processes that they are asked to perform. The second thing that happens is they have less time to devote to their core job functions and the company must hire yet more employees to do the work and becomes even more inefficient. Remember some of this occurs because it is human nature to build your own little empires, thus adding more bullshit jobs and people to do those jobs, which then makes it more difficult to pursue the real goals of the company. All this results in less autonomy for the employee and an erosion of job satisfaction.
The point of all this is that there are corporations and there are people that work for them. Eventually the goals of the corporation and the employees begins to diverge in kind of a Grand Canyon way. If you need any evidence of this look at the layoffs at Microsoft, Meta, Amazon, Salesforce, and on and on. Either in anticipation or as a reaction to some sort of slow down in the economy, a recession if you will, these companies have slashed in some cases pretty high percentages of their workforce. The thinking was something like this. Well we better proactively cut costs in the event our sales decline or our cost of goods sold increases. A corporation does not possess human qualities like compassion, loyalty, empathy, love, or pain. This dichotomy between the corporation and employees is the world we live in. Actually this is really not something new and has been going on for the past 50+ years, probably becoming more common in the 60’s and 70’s as we began to offshore manufacturing decimating cities like Detroit Michigan and Cleveland Ohio. This trend continued throughout the Midwest and the rest of the United States. All for lower costs, resulting in higher profits and cheaper products.
If this is the current state of the matrix then you have to ask yourself, do I want to play this game? Finally you come to realize that the rationale thought you have cultivated all these years, makes it almost impossible to continue living in the matrix. Some of you may escape, but for the majority the matrix will lure you back offering riches that you can’t seem to walk away from. You have then resigned yourself to this life, convincing yourself it really isn’t so bad, but in your heart you know you have made the wrong choice. Money or Freedom?
In the next installment “Escaping The Matrix” I would like to make a case for choosing freedom.
Most of us are nowhere as happy or successful as we might be. Something is holding us back from achieving what we want in terms of relationships, life style, spirituality, professional growth, or a number of other things we might be seeking. You probably have guessed by now, but much of what I write about is my own struggles and imperfections. While these might seem personal to me, they are not mine alone, and my hope is that some of the solutions I found will work for you too.
Before I go on and on about how to identify and eradicate some of the things that are holding you back, I need to mention the following:
There will be no change in your life until you change. You are 100% responsible for yourself. Stop blaming your circumstances on outside events. Much of the fucked up things that have occurred in your life were based on shitty decisions or habits. Of course there are terrible things that have happened to you that were out of control, but they only account for a small percentage of the shit you have endured. I know this is tough love, but most of the pain you have in your life has been self inflicted.
Let’s look at some of the behaviors that are holding you back:
Unhealthy Habits: I put this as the first item in this list as it has such a huge impact on how you feel and think. This might include smoking, drinking (sorry this fucks up a lot of people), drugs, lack of exercise, and in the United States an unhealthy diet. All of these shitty habits alter the mind and the body and will not only slow progress, but may destroy your life.
Laziness: Yes you dream about doing stuff, but when it comes down to taking action you make up some lame excuse such as I’m tired or it’s just too much effort to learn that new language, or study for a certification, or apply for a new job. You can make up all the excuses in the world and settle for your current reality, but underneath it all your just too fucking lazy to do anything about your situation. I’m going to be brutally honest here, because I am as guilty as the next person in this regard. If you are too lazy to do what is required to advance your life, then stop complaining or wishing for a different outcome. Don’t say it is too hard or I don’t understand what to do, just accept you are fucking lazy and move on.
Attitude: I know this is hard to believe, but you might just have a somewhat negative attitude towards life and people in general. You may be harboring a huge ego, envying other people’s success, or have anger issues. If you think your smarter than everyone else you’re immediately going to compare your level of happiness or achievement to others. All the bullshit you see on the news is negative for the most part, and my advice is quit watching that shit. Your attitude will improve, but only if you address the rest of the stuff on this list. Drop the comparison with other people, the envy, the overblown ego, and the way you react negatively to every little stupid thing that happens.
Bored: You are bored to death, because you do the same thing everyday. You make all kinds of excuses like well I live in this boring town and my job is boring. No one not even Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa could tolerate the boring life you have created for yourself. You settle for this boring existence because it has become a habit. This boredom with your life, relationships, career, or whatever has a huge impact on your motivation and ability to move forward. It’s like some bad movie that repeats itself day after day. Nothing materially changes, you are just repeating the same behavior and the only thing you have to look forward to is stagnation.
Living in the Future: Are you someone who is constantly planning and trying to figure out what will happen one, two, three, or ten years from now? How is that working out for you? It’s not that a little planning is bad, but when it comes at the cost of not living in the present, then it is just an obsession. People that live in the future on a consistent basis, are thinking that the future will be better than the present. You see it all the time. When I retire I will be happy and carefree, or when I get that new job, or start my own business my life will be fulfilling. Take it from someone who plans the future for a living (Project Manager), it is no way to live your life. If you can’t be happy now, then do something about it, but you can rest assured that the future will be just as challenging as the present.
I’ll Do It Later: I’ll do it later is the mantra for many of us. Take it step further, and doing it later can totally mess up your life. We apply this “do it later shit” to everything. I’ll quit drinking after my vacation, or take that class in the Fall, and you can go on and on deferring things that would help you grow as a person because you think that the future is guaranteed, which of course it is not. Time is guaranteed to no one, and the do it later thing is often due to a lack of priority or thinking you need to fill your life with a wide array of activities. If you know you need to do something that will propel your life forward then make it a priority, otherwise it’s just another goal that you are likely to never achieve.
Risk Aversion: Most of us live our life as safely as possible. We are risk adverse and it’s that very attitude that is holding us back. Risk makes us uncomfortable, it conjures up fears of failure and pain. It’s so much easier to just stay the course then it is to leave your comfort zone. I can’t tell you how many people I know that hate their jobs, but won’t go look for something else, or how many people that want to start a business, but feel the risk is just too high for them. In your mind you know that only by taking risks will you be rewarded, but our propensity for safety and the known, wins out most of the time. There is a huge correlation between risk and reward, and being risk adverse is just holding you back.
Focused on Money: Viewing the world through a financial lens, while a motivator for some can become an addiction for others. The typical millionaire compares themselves to billionaires and is never happy with how much wealth they have acquired. We constantly trade time for money, happiness for money, even morality for money. What if you have 3 million dollars, but fear starting that business or retiring because there may be a lull in adding money to your account balance. Do you see where I’m going with this? You sacrifice starting that business or taking some time off because of this obsession with money. This kind of feeds into the risk aversion equation and you might be actually limiting the possible financial gains. In any case, one must ask themselves how much is enough?
Lack of Execution: You are a great dreamer and have created a meticulous plan laying out all your goals. That’s wonderful, but there is something lacking here and that is execution. Instead you flip flop and change your mind just when it is time to start working on that goal. You took so much time in the planning phase that you talked yourself out of doing the actual work to achieve the goal. Sound familiar?
Priorities: I saved this one for last because it probably kills more dreams than most of the others combined. You have 24 hours in a day, some of that time is spent sleeping, eating, working, relaxing, or doing something else. At the end of the day you look back and say, shit I didn’t get that one thing done that was important to me. I did a bunch of other useless crap that someone else wanted done, but what I needed to get done in support of my goals was left undone. You are stuck in the urgent for someone else versus what is the highest priority paradigm. You are really living on the opposite end of the spectrum from “The Living in the Future” problem. You just field issues, react, and end up getting 20 things done, and everyone thinks your so productive. In this case you are not really planning your day, week, months, but instead let everyone else highjack your agenda. In fact you become so busy with all the meetings, chaos, and unscheduled work that you don’t even have time to think.
So those 10 things stated above are likely holding you back and if you think really hard about it you may have even more to add to this list. There is no easy answer to eliminating these obstacles that are preventing you from making progress in your life. Why do you think so few people are successful? I’m not talking about how big a pile of money they have, but more about what they have accomplished in their life and more importantly their level of contentment. Whatever way you measure success, those people that have achieved a lot of it systematically removed impediments, took chances, planned and executed, ruthlessly prioritized their days, and spent the majority of their time getting things done versus sitting on the couch.
There is a big difference between being intentional and taking responsibility for your life, versus just letting life happen to you. Listen, I’m not Fyodor Dostoevsky, Jeff Bezos, the Dali Lama, Mother Teresa, Bill Gates, or Elon Musk, and worse yet I have experienced or am currently experiencing all the impediments above, but here is the thing at least I am aware of it. I’m not kidding myself and realize there is lots of room for improvement. You might be thinking that you don’t have the capacity to change or eliminate all of these impediments. Stop bullshitting yourself; you know dam well that you can change and if you look real hard you have lots of examples of things you have overcome in the past. That’s the first step in the process, that you must begin believing again in your ability to change.
Now the second thing to start believing is that you have understood that nothing will improve for you by staying the current course. You must truly understand that only by making changes in your life will you begin getting traction towards your goals. If you don’t believe that change is necessary, well then you are fucked. Go ahead keep on your current path, but leave your expectations at the door.
Sometimes the things that are holding you back are related. I would first look at unhealthy habits as they often contribute to laziness, attitude, doing things later, or even lack of execution. You can’t tear down the whole thing at once, but if you start chipping away at one or two of these things that are holding you back, great things begin happening. Sometimes your ability to change is correlated with the amount of disgust with your current situation. We humans can tolerate a lot of shit and it often takes some kind of seminal moment to get us off our ass and do something about it. If you are still reading this it would be my guess that seminal moment has already happened and you want something better for yourself.
Remember with each passing day another opportunity will have come and gone. Failure to act and address these things that are holding you back will keep you exactly where you are. Don’t wait for tomorrow to start implementing change in your life. I wish I could give you some magic formula for success, but all I know is that it requires you to change. Most of the time making a change in your life is because you just can’t stand the status quo anymore. Use that to inspire you to begin building a better future for youself.
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I think we can all agree that there is much suffering in the world. I have yet to find someone that doesn’t feel this to be true. However, as a practitioner of the Dhamma, it is important to realize the cause of suffering. Why are we suffering? Once we understand the causes of our suffering we are in a better position to address the causes. You already know there is the potential to end suffering by walking the Noble Eightfold Path. I like to look at suffering not just from Buddhist definitions, but also from a personal perspective. I would hazard to guess that most of the things I consider the causes of suffering are pretty universal and will resonate with you.
Suffering is caused by:
Craving – It’s pretty obvious that all those things you crave only bring suffering in the end. You might be craving material things, sex, alcohol, drugs, money, status, or any number of stupid things. Time spent craving something inherently brings you pain, feelings of unease, a focus on the future, and dissatisfaction with what you have. For most of us, craving is the #1 cause of suffering and encompasses other causes.
Ego – For me, this means a sense of self that craves recognition because I have some inflated view of myself. We all want to be special, but a life that is driven by ego will forever feel disappointing. We create an image of ourselves based on what we do for a living or how talented we think we are. This is a false self, one we create for this world we live in, not our true nature.
Envy – To some degree, we are envious of others because we crave what they have. We perceive their life to be better than our own. Envy often manifests itself in resentment. We resent that the others have it so much better than we do. They are more successful, have more money, are more attractive, have more leisure time, and the list goes on and on. Instead of being grateful for the small things in life we are envious of someone or some group of people and this causes suffering.
Death and Aging – We realize that someday we or someone we care about will die and leave this earth. This fact alone causes us to suffer, knowing that our time is limited and that we have wasted much of it. As we age we experience pain and the inability to do what we did when we were young and healthy, thus causing more suffering. Sometimes it just comes down to the underlying fear of death that hovers over us every day of our life.
Attachment – “If you observe yourself and others then you will see that people crave for pleasant experiences, crave for material things, and crave for eternal life. We are attached to sensual pleasures, wealth and power but also to ideas, views, opinion, and beliefs. Taken together, the four types of attachment are the main problems that Buddhists need to understand. The four types of attachment are 1) sense objects, 2) opinions and views, 3) rites and rituals, and 4) self-hood.” Buddhism seeks to break this attachment to these things and ideas.
There are possibly dozens of other causes of suffering, but recognizing that any of these causes may be the root of your dissatisfaction is really a good thing. Without understanding the cause of suffering all the meditation in the world will not lead to its cessation. This is maybe the most fundamental truth that Buddhism seeks to address. Life is suffering, there are causes, there is a solution, and the end of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path.
You will never change your behaviour by changing the way you think until you realize what are the primary causes of your own suffering. These defilements or taints you suffer from must ultimately be addressed and eradicated. There is no Nibbana for someone that does not address their issues with ego, craving, envy, and their own mortality. In my next post, I will make a case for moving your thinking from ego and craving to service, which is another key tenant of Buddhism.
I think this quote is self-evident and I don’t want to elaborate endlessly on its meaning. You and I and every other homo sapien spend their time thinking about what I need to do next. It wouldn’t take too much convincing to say we all live in the future.
Here is the thing, living in the future burdened by a to-do list a mile long and an endless striving for one or more goals, leaves us forever unsatisfied. We have checked out of the present moment, trading it for the next achievement. We all live in this materialistic, goal-oriented, society that says you are never enough, and you need to work on yourself. Being unsatisfied with who we are has spawned the self-improvement industry where millions of dollars are spent by us in the hope that we can change ourselves to become a better version of ourselves.
My response to all this self-improvement bullshit is as follows:
You are not broken – You are a human being with unique talents and skills. Don’t let other people tell you that there is something wrong with you.
You don’t need to work on your weaknesses – I really hate that shit when people spend so much of their time focusing on their weaknesses. It’s such a fucked up approach to your life. I mean you will never overcome all your weaknesses, instead, we should focus on our strengths. Do you know why they want you to focus on your weaknesses? To sell you more shit and this focus on what I’m not good at leaves you feeling inadequate.
There is no future – I’m not saying don’t have any plans but stop sacrificing today for tomorrow. I know this goes against all the goal-setting maniacs that are always advocating that you achieve more, acquire more, be more. Do you really want to miss out on time with your friends or family so you can drive a BMW or live in a million-dollar home?
Enjoy what you are doing right now, focus on what you want to do, and stop looking to someone else to give you the answer to living a life of your dreams. If you can begin to love yourself just the way you are, things start looking better, and you begin to actually make more progress in your life because you are not thinking about how fucked up you are. You must begin to start shifting from thinking about the future to being totally engrossed in the present.
I find it ironic as companies search for talent to fill roles in their organizations they tout a culture of innovation and risk taking. It amuses me that leadership espouses these principles, but the reality is often a culture of conformity. We hire for cultural fit more than looking for individuality. We want to find people who believe the same things we believe, and act the way we want them to act. What most organizations want more than anything else is people that will fit in and not question the most recent management fad implemented in their companies. Gone are the minuscule privacy afforded by the cubicle and in its place we now have the open office. Note that anyone that actually did any real work would know that open offices are a joke.
Now this is awesome, sitting right across from someone all day.
It is no small miracle that employee’s search for solitude to work in a conference room or god forbid working at home. My guess is that any company that summons its workers to come to the office each day is losing anywhere from 25% to 50% in productivity and on top of that they are pissing off the workforce. Brilliant!
I predict that this conformity imposed by many employers will drive away the most intelligent people to somewhere else. Where will these individualist land; that is difficult to know. There is certainly a trend towards people leaving large corporations and striking out on their own, becoming self employed, but not everyone is inclined to do so. Is it possible that there are some intelligent enterprises that can allow an employee be an individual and work when and where they are most productive? Maybe but I wouldn’t look to an employer that has more than 1,000 employees and in most cases around 500 or less.
Asking people to conform to every rule or adhere mindlessly to every stupid process does have ramifications. Let’s just say you throw lots of money at your people so that they feel they really can’t leave because the golden handcuffs have them immobilized. The dirty little secret is that the primary incentive for them is financial, and the quality of the work suffers as the employee becomes increasingly resentful. Again brilliant!
Instead of a team of inspired individuals you now have a pack of financially driven robots that follow every command. Think of it, you got what you wanted, all your people fit in, follow your processes, and believe what you believe. One little problem is that all this conformity and culture fit has left you with a workforce of zombies where the only differences are gender or ethnicity. Good luck being innovative or dodging the next bullet that the business world has just around the corner.
If every day you have to hold your tongue, swallow hard, and kiss the ass of some moron then good. You now have a reason to do something better with your life. Quit fucking yourself over; you have one life and you don’t need to spend it subjugating yourself to someone or someplace that tries to turn you into something you are not.
I’ve written about various ways to foster more happiness in your life including yoga, meditation, expressing gratitude, and caring for your physical health. All of these things are wonderful ways to be more happy, but we still are not as happy as we could be. Most of us are trapped in thinking that happiness is something we defer until we retire, buy that new house, find a better job, create our own business, have a more fulfilling relationship with our significant other, or any other number of things we feel will make us happy.
Unfortunately this deferring of happiness based on some future event is robbing us of it in the present. I’m not advocating that you abandon your dreams or stop pursuing your goals, but thinking that these things will make you happier is a fallacy. Don’t let the things you want in the future delay the opportunity to be happy today. Each moment that you impose these walls around yourself that are blocking you from being happy in the now are time wasted. That expensive new car, home, or pile of money will only provide temporary happiness; find a way to enjoy today for that is all you are guaranteed. No one is assured of tomorrow, no matter what your age or health. How many years will you have wasted waiting for happiness? If I only had more money, a better job, a more attractive spouse, a bigger house, I could be truly happy. This self deception is stealing away the days, leaving you less available to those around you. Pursue your goals, but make it your purpose to be happy during the journey not the manifestation of these things.
“If you want to be happy, do not dwell in the past, do not worry about the future, focus on living fully in the present.”
― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Hear