This topic inspired by the melancholy musings of Tyler Harrington
There is a word used throughout the Commonwealth (or perhaps just in the UK and Australia) that has been on my mind as I’ve discussed my economic and career “woes” over the last month: whinging (think win-jing). Defined by Google as “complaining persistently and in a peevish or irritating way,” my concern is that whinging is the word that could best describe how I’ve talked about what I’ve seen in my economic life and my career search. “Persistent” is certainly accurate; “peevish or irritating” is the descriptor I’d like to avoid.
For as much as I try to reign it in, complaining can be something of a past-time for me. It’s easy to talk and talk about things that aren’t right with the world (or with things I think aren’t right with the world), especially when those things affect me personally. When it comes to a job or income, the consistent presence of these topics in the front of my mind leads me to discuss (or complain about) them more frequently than other topics.
I know, however, that I’m not the only one to talk about economic issues. I spent roughly half of a recent trip from Denver to Colorado Springs in conversation about the topic; the question about jobs or about what a person does is one of the earliest things we ask of people we meet; the economy itself is one of, if not the most important factors when people determine who they will vote for. It seems that I’m not the only person to have money and job issues on the front of their mind.
The problem for me with thinking so much about the job I’m doing or the money I’m making (or not making) is in the temptation to connect my value to my economic status. This isn’t a difficult temptation to follow through on; in a culture obsessed with “keeping up with the Jonses,” and with the need to pay for basic necessities, what we do and how much we make can easily become the primary value of a value-driven life. We can give greater value to those who have more, make more, have a “cooler,” more powerful job, many times without even thinking about these thoughts or actions. On the other side of the coin, we can begin to de-value ourselves if we are not meeting whatever standards we think should be standard. Suddenly, what other people may see as “whinging” about our “station,” we see as a major value-driven issue that is the center and focus of our life.
Unfortunately, choosing not to focus on money is not an option for many of us. The fact that we do need money to pay for necessities keeps the need for it in the front of our minds. Additionally, many of us have done work necessary to advance our position, but still find ourselves lower than what our training or experience would suggest we should be or are able to do. The conjunction of these and more factors can leave us confused with what exactly it is we should “do,” especially when signals from the culture and from people we consider successful suggest that our self-starter, take it for yourself culture clashes with what we’ve been able to achieve. Between the amount of hard work we’ve put in and the number of people telling us all we need is hard work to achieve our success, we begin to believe that our side of the success equation is the one that is lacking, leading to questions about what our value actually is.
Understanding that there is a difference between focus and deriving value becomes the key. Separating those to thoughts is much more difficult than just knowing that we should. We can’t remove ourselves from the culture and the world we live in easily enough to separate the thoughts just by wanting to. The need is to understand that focusing on the issues of money and jobs can (and probably should) be done, as this ultimately pushes us in our need to survive. The trick is in understanding what it is that gives us value. Understanding where our existential value actually lies can allow the focus on other issues to be need-driven instead of want- or value-driven, providing a realistic expectation of the role that money and a career actually plays in life.
What “need-driven” means is also impacted by where we place our value. We certainly need things like food, water, clothing, and shelter, but these needs have potential to become wants. Misplaced value in economic status can lead to the next bigger thing or the next better or best thing. Funding that can lead to a focus on earning more money, taking jobs we don’t want to fund a lifestyle and purchases that, if we’re honest, we don’t always really want. Understanding we don’t want something may only happen in hindsight, but it still often happens. Wanting more and more often leads to getting more and more. When the “more and more” is material, we eventually acknowledge a hollowness that we may not understand. The hollowness that we end up feeling is indicative of how we have misplaced our value, and a chance to re-orient ourselves..
So what is it that gives us our value? The Sunday school answer of God or Jesus is true, but rings hollow for many. Telling others that their ultimate reward will be found in heaven while keeping them oppressed or not caring for their needs in this life has been an unfortunate hallmark of Christian history (to say the least). And yet, drawing our value from the image of God created in us is where our value does lie. Understanding how that manifests becomes the key to understanding our value, as well as the value of others. More than just feeling better about ourselves, this will lead us into more fully realizing who we are and who we’re supposed to be.