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The Pleasure Is the Treasure

by Alan Fox 1 Comment
The Pleasure Is the Treasure

In numbers we trust, mostly numbers with a dollar sign in front of them.  Isn’t that the American way?  The value of a bank account, a stock portfolio, or a house is our badge of success.  The value of a friendship is subjective, intangible, and difficult to measure.  (Caveat: everything you own, including the balance in your bank account and the clothes on your back, will one day “belong” either to someone else, or to no one.)

Numbers are objective.  Numbers are easy to understand.  We can search the internet for the cheapest airline ticket, the best “deal” on an electronic device, or to discover the average wage earned by others in our industry.

For many years I valued physical things more than intangibles.  A new pair of shoes was worth more than a vacation that left me with just photos and memories.  Unlike a new shoe, an “experience” could not be reused or resold. I preferred a Dodger souvenir ball cap over being at the ball game (unless someone else paid for my ticket).

In my thirties I began a transition.  I didn’t yet value events for their own sake, but I did start to attach numbers to experiences.

“That movie was a nine for me.  How was it for you?”  Or, “I’m at 80% for eating dinner at the Mexican restaurant.  If you rate the French café higher I’d be happy to go there.”

This was my way of trying to measure the comparative value of an experience, or a shared experience.  I feel comfortable with numbers, so the expression, “I really enjoyed our evening together” left me uncertain.  But the statement, “that was a ten,” gave me confidence.

Today, I have changed entirely and I find pleasure in experience.  Most “things” are now a burden.  My father, who died a year ago, was thrifty.  He always bought the cheapest theater seats available.  That was great for his checking account, but I prefer to sit in the front row and experience life up close and personal – both my life and yours.

When I contemplate my garden today I’m fulfilled.  In the past my enjoyment was always tempered by the thought, “But I won’t be able to see this beautiful garden forever, so why enjoy it now.” Gazing at my garden meant suffering potential loss.

But a few months ago, while noticing the return of Spring to the trees and flowers that surround my home, I understood how my thinking has evolved. It is true that I may not be able to enjoy this garden during future Springs.  All the more reason to appreciate the blossoms fully and in the moment.

Don’t fall in love, as I did, with bank accounts or tangibles.  They don’t love you back, and every single one of them is on an inevitable march to the junk heap, together with each of us.

This leaves me valuing my garden, my memories, and experiences with my friends and family more than ever.

Truly, the Treasure is the Pleasure.

Alan

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Find Your Niche and Occupy It

by Alan Fox 1 Comment
Find Your Niche and Occupy It

Each Tuesday morning since 2013 I’ve published a new blog post. In several early entries I referred to “finding your niche” in life, which I will explore today in greater detail.

Some people love their work and continue doing it throughout their lives.  Will and Ariel Durant were awarded the Pulitzer Price for General Nonfiction in 1928.  Then they published The Story of Civilization, an eleven volume work created over a forty year span – between 1935 and 1975.  Clearly Will and Ariel shared a passion for historical research and writing.

I know several others who, like the Durants, have found their niche in life. Two are close friends — a yoga teacher, and a tenured university professor. Another runs his own business.  (That would be me.)

There are three magical elements to finding your niche.

First, pay attention to what you really like to do.  As Mark Twain wrote, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

One of my teenage grandsons loves sports.  Since he will never be a top athlete, he is determined to become a great sports agent.  More power to him.

Second, pick an activity that you’re good at.  For several years my brother David was the Real Estate Commissioner for the state of California.  After that he earned a Master’s Degree in Counseling.

The day of his graduation David said to me, “Alan, I don’t want to sit in my office all day long, listening while people tell me their problems.”

“David, you’ve studied counseling for three years.  What did you think therapists do?”

“I’ve decided to teach other MFCC candidates how to pass the written and oral exams.”

My brother found his niche. He’d discovered something he really liked and he was also very good at. An insightful teacher, he successfully helped his many clients to pass their exams.  Our father, a former studio musician, became one of the best wind instrument teachers in the world, and continued to teach until he was 104.

The third and final element to finding your niche is to be persistent.  My fantasy when I was young was to discover one product, run one magazine ad, and in one month have sales of one million dollars with a margin of 50% so that I could retire on my half million dollar profit.

Fantasies aside, in real life I have found no short cuts to success.  Whether it’s running a business, becoming a writer, or investing in the stock market, success takes time, practice and perseverance.  After all, even Warren Buffet did not start out managing billions of dollars.

So while you have the time while hanging out at home, you might think about what you really like to do, what you are good at, and whether it is something at which you are eager to persevere.

Find your niche, or your new niche, and occupy it.

Good hunting.

Alan

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I Climb a Mountain

I Climb a Mountain

Yesterday, as I contemplated a tall stack of work on the desk of my home office, I thought, “I can never finish this.”

Then I remembered a story from my past. It’s one I’ve shared before in People Tools, but because it illustrates an important lesson, I believe it’s worth re-telling.

When I was thirty my good friend John talked me into doing something I had never done before, or since.  It was a three day backpacking trip, and on our journey I learned a significant life lesson that has remained with me for the past fifty years.

On the first day of our adventure we climbed a twisting trail which cut back and forth across a lovely brook strewn with slippery rocks.  My sleeping bag and spare clothing were on my back.  John, more experienced, carried everything else, including a small stove.

At sundown we reached our campsite and pitched our tents beside a deep blue lake in the high Sierras.  There were only a few bugs, and John assured me that no tarantulas lurked nearby, waiting to crawl into my sleeping bag while I slept.

Even though I was exhausted, I did not sleep well that night.  I wasn’t accustomed to the 9,000 foot altitude, and I had forgotten to ask John about black widows.  I woke often, gasping for breath.

The next morning, as we enjoyed breakfast, John pointed to a mountain peak.

“”That’s Army Pass,” he said.

‘Uh huh.”

“That’s where we’re going to climb today.”

“Excuse me, John.  Does ‘we’ include ‘me’?”

“Of course.  You’ll love it.”

It was time for a serious chat.

“John, that mountain is towering over us and its way up in the sky.  I’ve never hiked as much as I did yesterday, I didn’t sleep well, and I’m tired.  Why don’t you climb the mountain yourself, maybe even visit the leprechauns if you like. I’ll relax and enjoy the fresh scent of pines while I watch the little fishies swimming in the lake.”

“Alan, it’s an easy climb.  I’m sure you can make it.”

“To the top?  No, I can’t.”

“We can go at your pace.”

“What does that mean?”

“The trail has a lot of switchbacks.  We can walk slowly, and you can stop to rest whenever you want to.”

This was John’s version of the Godfather – an offer I couldn’t refuse.  But still, I asked for clarification.

“So if we’ve hiked for two hours, or even for only two minutes, we can stop and come back down if I like?

“Any time.”

“No penalty,”

“None at all.”

Damn!  I felt trapped.  Encouraged, but trapped.

“And I’ll carry lunch,” he said.  “So you don’t have to carry a thing.”

“Yeah, except myself!”

We started out.  I set a very slow pace.  The switchbacks weren’t too steep, and I only needed to stop to rest after every other one.  John kept talking and reminding me to admire the scenery as we climbed.

We left at nine am.  Shortly before noon, walking a little ahead of me, John said, “We’re at the top.”

And we were.  I had actually climbed a mountain in fewer than three hours.  Well, not all of the mountain.  We started from the lake, which itself was pretty high.  But I felt a huge sense of achievement. I had accomplished something I never thought possible, something I wouldn’t even have tried without John’s encouragement and offer to let me walk at my own pace.

I reflect back on that experience often, especially when I face a task which seems insurmountable, as I did yesterday.

I’ll bet that in your life you’ve climbed a few mountains of your own. Perhaps you’ve been joined by an encouraging friend.

We climb a mountain every day.  Hopefully, each day we remind ourselves to enjoy the view.

Alan

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