I Stopped Working for a Minute and Started Thinking

Like many middle-class Americans, I grew up with the American Dream. In my family, we were taught that if we worked hard and were honest and frugal, the world would reward us. So I worked hard in school, and I worked hard to support myself when I graduated. I worked nights and weekends. I worked when my friends were playing. I kept waiting for the reward part to kick in. But where was it? Maybe I wasn't working hard enough, so I worked harder and I worried. I hired business consultants to help me. They looked at my business and suggested that I pack it in and get a real job. So I worked even harder. I was like a rat in a wheel, running after a reward that was always out of reach.

Finally it began to dawn on me that my basic concept must somehow be flawed. The idea that my hard work and patience would eventually be rewarded with success by a world that was fair and had my best interests in mind must be a fantasy. The thought that I'd eventually arrive at a place where I'd never have to work hard again was just a huge, energy-sucking LIE. The whole idea was a set-up for entitlement and dissatisfaction. There's a famous saying in the entertainment business, “You're only as good as the last thing you've done.” I had always thought of it as a cattle prod, something to keep me from slowing down for a moment or risk being forgotten. But I realized that it really means that the world has an extremely short memory and that's a good thing. It doesn't mean that all effort is a waste of time. It simply means success isn't about working hard, it's about working smart. It's not the effort that counts it's the process. There's no scorecard out there except the one in my head.

So I stopped working for a minute and started thinking: What do I want? What do I enjoy doing? If I've got to work, I might as well enjoy it since there's no guarantee that suffering will pay off any better than pleasure. How can I create a business that allows me to spend my time doing something I enjoy and doesn't take over the rest of my life? I redirected my efforts and started having fun again. I traveled. I took weekends off. I slept in. I only took work I really wanted to do. Suddenly the world seemed better and easier. It was fun to go to work and everyone around me started to relax. Even my clients seemed like better people. And oddly, gradually my definition of success changed. Now my idea of success is getting to do what I love with people I enjoy everyday. There will always be new challenges. I know I'll never be through “paying” but I'll also never be through learning. And I hope to get to do both for the rest of my life. I don't believe in paying dues anymore.

Margo Chase
Principal Chase Design Group Los Angeles, CA