Finding satisfaction in life: breaking the “Once I…” rationalisation

Earlier this year, a friend of mine from Portland decided to do something pretty remarkable. He bought a van (that’s not the remarkable bit). It’s a long white one with no windows down the sides. Kind of like those ones in the movies where 17 balaclava-clad dudes jump out of the back to kidnap some non-balaclava-clad dude. If this thing was parked outside your house, you’d be tempted to call the cops without any real basis whatsoever for doing so…

My buddy, let’s call him Van, spent months working on his kidnap-machine, kitting it out for living in (and kidnapping) – walls, floor, a fan, a bed, a cell, a disco ball… the works (sans cell and disco ball – I made those bits up, he’s not a kidnapper, nor is he a long-lost member of the Bee Gees).

The work he put into this kidnapping-disco-machine was immense. Then, one day he decided to quit his job as an Engineering equipment salesman to drive off in the van, taking it wherever the breeze blew him.

He’d built himself an entirely new home in more ways than one. This, I think, is the remarkable bit.

He’s been on the road for over a month now. Recently we had a Skype session and I asked him the plethora of ‘van-life’ questions I’d stockpiled: Have you had any difficulties finding places to park it overnight for sleeping? Have you felt unsafe at any point for any reason? What happens if you need to pee at night and the boogie-man is outside? How many people have you kidnapped? When’s the next disco party? Can I come? What about the boogie-man? I heard he can boogie.

We spent quite a bit of time on these questions and understandably so: his life is fucking exciting at the moment!

However, we did talk briefly about me. This is the only thing I’m an expert on and that’s definitely pushing it to say…but, it’s what I’m going to write about.

Van asked me what I was up to now I was back in New Zealand. Before we get into that, a little bit of context first…

Van met me at an interesting time in my life, when I was a travelling professional poker player. Van did not know anything of pre-USA Mark – he didn’t know anything about the suit-wearing list-ticking ninja. He met and came to know track-pant wearing, follows-a-stiff-breeze-where-it-takes-him Mark.

I told Van I’d decided to take a job in New Zealand. A twelve-month contract as I’d found poker to be a far too mentally and emotionally taxing way to earn a living/support myself. Van asked me whether I viewed my new job as a “means to an end”.

Interesting question.

Firstly, what is a “means to an end”?

Wikipedia defines “a means to an end” as a thing that is not valued or important in itself but is useful in achieving an aim”.

I suppose, in some respects, you could say the job I’ve taken is a means to an end. I mean, the job is great and all, but to say it’s my purpose in life would be a stretch. It’s a numbers-based job. I love excel as much as the next guy (is there really a ‘next guy’…??), but if offered a choice, I wouldn’t choose to do eight-plus hours of the shit every day. There are certain practical considerations as to why I choose to do so… well, only one really: I’m an adult. Mum no longer flies a Spoon-Air cargo ship loaded with food into my mouth.

That is to say, the job is useful in achieving an aim. The aim being to support myself: to pilot the Spoon-Air cargo ship myself. The thing about playing a card game for a living is you never know when you’ll get paid, or for that matter, how much – sometimes Spoon-Air is working round the clock, sometimes the plane sits on the runway for days on end, and on rare occasions the plane blows up.

Suffice to say, the mere fact I know exactly when the Spoon-Air cargo ship will land and what’s on board (i.e. when and how much I’ll be getting paid every month from this new job) takes a great deal of stress away… it’s a much less stressful way to support myself, in theory.

This brings me onto my second point… if I’m doing something as a “means to an end”, then I must be doing something. That is, I must be behaving in a certain way. If you’re anything like me, you might rationalise behaviour (i.e. “I went to the store because I needed food for dinner”). For something I’m doing to be considered a “means to an end”, I think it must be rationalised as such.

Rationalisation is:

the action of attempting to explain or justify behaviour or an attitude with logical reasons, even if these are not appropriate.

I guess looking at the above you could rationalise my job as a “means to an end”… I mean, I’ve taken a job I’m not overly passionate about (i.e. a thing I don’t find particularly important) in order to support myself (i.e. in order to achieve an aim).

Let’s take a step back here for a second to look over some prior rationalisations I’ve made in my life:

  • While studying at University, I remember saying to myself: Once I… get my University degree, then I’ll be able to get a job and then I’ll be able to contribute to the world.
  • While at my previous job, I remember saying to myself: Once I… get promoted, then I’ll get the respect I deserve and be able to contribute more.
  • After being promoted, I remember saying to myself: Once I… get married, then I’ll be able to contribute to something other than my own bank account.
  • Toward the end of my relationship, when the shizzle (shit) was hitting the fizzle (fan…or is it fazzle?), I remember saying the scariest thing of all to myself: Once I… have kids, then things will get better…

I call these “Once I…” rationalisations.

The basic premise of a Once I…rationalisation is an attribution of one’s dissatisfaction in life to some kind of lacking. That is, one attributes their dissatisfaction in life to something which needs to change. Or in other words, personal satisfaction is contingent upon some future occurrence.

In my case, at University for example, I was dissatisfied with University itself – I honestly found it of little value or importance. I mean, all the information was on the internet anyways, why did I need to pay all this money for it?

However, I considered it a necessary step to achieving personal satisfaction because I believed personal satisfaction would be achieved by landing a successful job. And to get a successful job, I thought I needed a degree. Hence: Once I finished University, I’d be in a position to land a successful job, and she’d all be right mate!

She wasn’t mate.

She wasn’t because the old Once I… rationalisation was replaced by a new Once I… rationalisation. And once that Once I… rationalisation ran its course (i.e. Once I became disillusioned with my job) a new Once I… rationalisation emerged to replace it (i.e. Once I get married then I’ll feel satisfied).

Different forms of Once I…rationalisations were driving my behaviour. The types of behaviours it drove were, well, I think pretty much everything really… I’ve noticed Once I…rationalisations come in two broad forms: ‘big ticket’ and ‘small time’:

Examples of ‘big ticket’ Once I… rationalisations include:

  • “Once I…buy a house, then I’ll feel financially secure”
  • “Once I…get married, then I’ll feel complete”
  • “Once I…get a new job, then I’ll be much happier”

Examples of ‘small time’ Once I… rationalisations include:

  • “Once I…get the groceries for dinner, then I’ll feel prepared”
  • “Once I…get my car serviced, then I won’t worry so much”
  • “Once I…have done the vacuuming, then I can relax”

The Once I…rationalisation is essentially a way of justifying behaviour as a “means to an end”. If you’ve ever said something along the lines of, “yeah, but it’s just a means to an end”, it’s possible you’re indulging in a form of Once I…rationalisation. The means is some kind of occurrence or happening. The end is always some form of personal satisfaction.

Do you view eating a sandwich as a means to an end? If you’re like me, probably not. You feel hungry, and so you eat. I struggle to view ‘small time’ things such as eating a sandwich as a “means to an end”, because they’re so insignificant and happen so frequently, but make no mistake, they most certainly are. Eating a sandwich is the means to satisfying your hunger.

I’ve noticed one major difference between ‘big ticket’ and ‘small time’ Once I… rationalisations. The difference lies in the expectations I’ve placed upon their respective abilities to satisfy me.

Let’s stick with the sandwich analogy to explain. If you’re anything like me, when I eat a sandwich, say for lunch, I’m aware this is only going to temporarily satisfy me – come dinner time, I’ll be hungry again. I don’t expect a ‘small time’ Once I… rationalisation, such as ‘Once I…eat this sandwich my hunger will be satisfied’, to permanently satisfy my hunger. I think we can all agree, that would be stupid.

However, I have in the past, for whatever reason, expected ‘big ticket’ Once I… rationalisations to satisfy me, and permanently so.

This is what I think my friend Van was asking me about.

His question: “did I view my new job as a means to an end” presupposes there is an end to be had. The only true ending is death. And even that’s kind of up for debate in certain circles.

I think his question was actually more this: did I think that Once I… started this job I’d be satisfied?

Well, no. No, I didn’t.

Just as I don’t expect my sandwich to permanently satisfy my hunger (if the past is anything to go by, my hunger will usually come back around 6pm), I don’t have expectations my new job is going to provide me with any form of lasting satisfaction. The job may provide some forms of regular personal satisfaction – it’s fun to work with others towards a common goal; it provides daily social interaction; I may learn some cool new stuff; it’s a new challenge. But it, sure as the Pope shits in Vatican City, can’t provide permanent satisfaction.

I don’t expect ‘small time’ things (i.e. eating a sandwich) to permanently satisfy me, so why would I expect ‘big ticket’ things (i.e. taking a new job) to be any different?

That’s plain stupid.

Personal satisfaction is not something to be derived from the outside world. That is to say, the world is not here to satisfy you. It’s here for, well, I don’t really know why it’s here…it just is.

And that being the case, why would I look to it for something it cannot provide? Why would I look to it for permanent satisfaction when it cannot provide such a thing? It’s like thinking you’ve lost the keys to your car, looking everywhere for them other than inside the car, before realising they’re sitting right there in the ignition. The whole looking for the keys part seems a bit of a pointless endeavour to me. Just drive.

In terms of this new job, well, I’m aware it will be challenging. The nature of the job is such that I’ll likely be bombarded with a list of things to do. This list is likely to be never-ending: once something is scratched off, another something will jump right back on there to replace it. It will be hard not to indulge in Once I…rationalisations in such an environment – for example, ‘Once I… finish this spreadsheet, then I’ll feel less stressed’.

But I guess that’s Future-Mark’s barrel of monkeys to deal with (poor bastard)…for now, I’ll stick to answering Van’s question: do I view this job as a “means to an end”?

No.

If I eat a sandwich, at some point the sandwich will end. This job is the same, at some point the job will end, and to be honest at that point I don’t think I’ll really give much of a fuck.

Why?

Because I don’t really give much of a fuck when my sandwich is finished either.

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