In 2008 I bought my first nice car. It was a white Lexus, used, but only a year or two old, and it had very low mileage (the model shown above). I still have the car. It’s worked great over the years and I have no immediate plans to upgrade.
I remember distinctly how I felt when I took the car for a test drive. It was nicer than anything I had ever owned. The clunkers that got me through school did the job, but they never made me feel the way that this Lexus did. I remember feeling successful and confident when I looked at it. It felt great to pay for it with cash, and to know that it was mine, and that I had bought it using money that I earned in a business that I had started myself.
At the time, I was about a year into running my own law firm, so to be able to buy this car, with cash, meant something to me. It represented something. To me it was a symbol of my ability to succeed on my own. I kept it pristine, and I’d wash it every week – sometimes twice a week, to keep it shining even in the dirty, slushy Calgary winters.
I needed symbols of success, because at the time, there was a void in my inner self. I was not living an authentic life. Despite owning my own firm, I was doing work that had no meaning to me. So I had to find something to combat the void, and I turned to consumerism.
I bought the Lexus, I started to wear expensive clothes, I wanted to take my wife to fancy dinners, and on fancy trips. Every time I would spent, I would fill the void, I would remind myself that I was successful, and so I should be happy. But I wasn’t happy, and so the void would soon appear, and in order to fill it I had to find another symbol.
I think that all of us have experienced this void to some extent in our life, and I believe that it often occurs as a result of not doing the work that we know we are meant to do. People turn to different things to fill the void. Sometimes the things that we turn to are empowering – such as a hobby that helps us grow and progress as individuals. However, unfortunately other people (including myself at the time) turn to things that don’t ultimately satisfy – consumerism, TV, entertainment, mindless, daily surfing of the Internet, or the constant perusing of social media being some of the more common examples.
Over time the void became too much to bear for me, and I had to confront the brutal reality that I was living in a “shadow career”, and that I was hiding behind the symbols of success to mask my lack of fulfillment, and that “more stuff” wouldn’t ultimately satisfy me. In order to find fulfillment I had to find work that mattered to me.
It feels really good to do work that matters. It is something in my life that I am really grateful for. Now, each day I wake up and work until I’m tired, doing work that is personally meaningful. The wonderful thing is that the definition of “work that matters” is entirely subjective. That is what I love about it. What matters to me may not matter to you. What matters to you may not be as important to me. But what really matters is that everyone is doing the work that is meaningful to them. When that happens, we fill the void naturally, and for me personally, the more I started to do work that mattered, the less that I needed “stuff” to fill the void.
Today, while driving in my Lexus, I looked around and realized that the car was quite dirty. It could use a good vacuum, and the outside had a couple week’s coat of grime. I should probably take it to the car wash.