The Thrill of Working

excerpted from this article (see link):

[ ]  But at some point, for many people, the thrill of working even the most interesting job may come to an end.

At that magical and terrifying point in a job, your mind starts to race. If you’re sandwiched between a wall of debt and the cliff of an expensive lifestyle that you locked in for yourself back when the job seemed fun, the joyless job can be quite scary. You’ve got no options, but you need the money, so you have no choice but to continue the dance.

If you’ve thought ahead and set yourself up with just a bit more freedom  – skills in other areas, friends in other companies or industries, or savings that will get you through a year or more of unemployment – the feeling is somewhat different.  Now the realization that your job sucks can serve as more of just a kick in the butt. Motivation to start looking around, stretch your wings, and embark on a challenge of finding new employment – a challenge that will benefit you anyway.

The ultimate situation, however, is to be working for the sheer joy of it to begin with. You’re learning and staying challenged at all times, because if you fail to do that, there is no pretending that you are not a complete fool for taking that job when you didn’t need the money. You can afford to set your standards higher, which in turn may actually make you work harder.

Would a financially independent person really sit all day in a cubicle and surf mindless websites while answering the odd email and pretending to work? NO! She’d either get some really good and meaningful stuff done, or she’d go home and read a book while dipping her feet in the swimming pool. There’s no need for in-between fakeypants work when you are working for the joy of work itself.

So that’s my answer to all the commenters on other websites that say, “But I don’t need to save for early retirement – I love my job so I’ll never need to quit!”. I’m glad that you are so confident, because loving your work is a great thing. But do you really want to lock yourself in by maintaining financial dependence on your job? Wouldn’t you rather be forced to love your job even more, by having the option of the feet-in-the-pool novel reading always looming over your head, keeping you honest with both yourself and your coworkers?  [ ]  

 

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Marriage Myths

excerpted from this article (see link):

[ ]  Many of the traditional reasons why a man gets married are a myth.

“I won’t die alone”
Wrong. The simple fact is that one spouse WILL die alone. Visit the hospital and go to the terminally ill or cardiac departments. Few people have the time to sit with an ill relative all day and all night. Yes, you may get visitors, but they aren’t having the same thoughts as you are. You’re contemplating your mortality, while they’re wondering what food the hospital cafeteria offers. In the end, even with a loving and supportive family, most of us will leave this world alone, unless you both die simultaneously in an accident of some kind. Your spouse may die fifteen years before you, or you may be in the hospital for your last year. Ultimately, we all die alone. Married or not.

“I won’t grow old alone”
Not necessarily. A marriage can self-destruct at any time. Your partner may initiate divorce at age 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, 65 or 70. Many married people end up in the same position (alone) as if they had never married at all. Now they enter their twilight years broke, as a result of being stripped of half or more of their life’s assets, losing half their retirement and pension funds, and being assessed alimony payments. [ ]

Men are led to believe that not marrying implies only one destiny; that of a solitary monk in a cave, a shunned loner. However, life is not so black and white. Not marrying does not mean you cannot continue to date or have meaningful relationships throughout your life. There are plenty of single people in all age brackets. A bad marriage can be the loneliest of institutions, because most of your emotional outlet and companionship is concentrated into one person who gives back nothing in emotion, affection or support. Young men in their 20′s and 30′s should be more aware of the alternatives that exist in life. They should be aware that marriage is a choice, and is not the only path life has to offer. An informed decision is less likely to be one that is later regretted.

“I’ll get regular sex”
Not from Modern, Western Women. Access to regular sex is the oldest and the most frequently cited reason to marry. Many men now know that Modern, Western Women frequently stop having sex after just a short time of being married. There are plenty of “sexless” marriages. Talk to a few married couples that are honest about their relationship. One or both partners may stop wanting sex after kids, or the sex may be as infrequent as once a year or once every six months, or the wife may only have sex when she wants the husband to buy her something, take her somewhere, or remodel the house. Read the honest opinions of married men on the Internet. Most Western, Married Men will have more sex with their Western Wives in the first six months of their marriage than they will in the next 40 years. Lastly, it remains to be seen whether sex with one exclusive partner for forty years or more is even a natural act, or just a man-made convention. In many Western Nations, the wife is no longer required to have sex with her husband. She can deny him at any time, for any length of time. She can, if she wishes, deny him sex forever and there is nothing that he can do about it. [ ]

Marriage is hardly a guarantee of regular sex, as many people are led to believe.

“I’ll have someone to cook and clean for me”
Not necessarily.  [ ]  Today’s woman is empowered by not performing the traditional housewife duties, regardless of whether she is working or not. If a husband asks that his wife perform traditional household duties because she is not working, he will often be labeled sexist, abusive or controlling, even if he is doing his “traditional role” of paying all the bills, providing for his family, and performing the traditional manly duties of vehicle repairs, maintaining the lawn and house upkeep.

“I have to be married to have kids”
Not anymore. Her ovaries do not physically need a [marriage] contract [ ] in order to be fertilised by your sperm. Cro-Magnon man had children long before lawyers invented marriage contracts. Often, you do not need to be married in order to share health benefits. You do not need to be married to designate your partner on a life insurance policy. [ ]  It is ironic that responsible parents who raise a healthy family, but never actually sign marriage paperwork, get less respect than divorced parents or married parents who are ineffective, inattentive or incompetent.

-Having a lifelong, faithful, committed relationship has nothing to do with being “married”.
-Owning a beautiful dream home together has nothing to do with being “married”.
-Rearing healthy, happy, and successful children has nothing to do with being “married”.
-Building a family and life together has nothing to do with being “married”.
-Growing old together has nothing to do with being “married”.

[ ]  You do need to be married in order to throw an extravagant four-hour party, and share the same last name.

You do need to be married in order to involve the state and government in your romantic affairs.

You do need to be married in order give away half of everything you own.

Besides that, marriage does nothing more than introduce lawyers and social workers into your life. These are people that otherwise would have nothing to do with your life or your relationship.

Men need to stop and ask themselves:

“Why exactly am I getting married? What exactly does marriage mean to me in today’s world? What is the benefit to me to get married?”

It is no longer a lifelong commitment, because it can be reversed overnight on her unilateral whim.

Marriage was originally created as a way for families to merge land, property, political power and influence; perhaps people should return to viewing it as just that and nothing more. The rest of it is fake modern TV Fantasy and Tabloid Gossip and Hype polluting the minds of today’s impressionable youth, and a way to keep the multi-billion-per-year wedding industry chugging along. Perhaps the only criteria should be to ask oneself: “How excited am I for us to merge our finances and assets?” When all the fluff and hype are boiled away, that may be the only remaining reality. Spend a day in divorce court, and you’ll see exactly what is real and tangible and lasting about marriage. [ ]  The rest are myths, lies, bold unsubstantiated promises, and maybes. “For better or for worse…”

The Western Divorce rate is 43%. It is higher in some parts of the world such as California, Great Britain and Australia. [ ]  Consider the number of people who are in a bad marriage, but elect to stay; Men who don’t want to lose 50%, women who know they can’t support themselves alone. Next, think of how many more couples stay together just for the sake of the kids. Of these “forced marriages”, consider how many of these marriages involve infidelity, no sex, or sleeping in separate beds or separate rooms. I estimate the percentage of happy and monogamous marriages to be under 5%. Are these odds you would take in a business venture, investment or loan? Most of the risk-averse population would not. Yet they seek this exception to the rule everyday through marriage.

Ninja

excerpted from this article (see link)

Imagining guys running around in black pajamas and swords, disappearing in a puff of smoke? Well let’s start with a proper… non Hollywood idea of what the Ninja were… or are… and then see what we can learn from them.

Today we have this image of the Ninja as evil assassins sneaking around Japanese castles and killing under cover of night. What most people don’t know is that the Ninja were simple farmers, priests and shopkeepers who were forced out of Japanese society and hunted by their own government. They were the ultimate survivors. In fact the word Ninja in old fashioned Japanese translates to “the person who overcomes”.

Early in Japanese history a Samurai General named Daisuke Togakure lost a battle; and as was tradition in Japan his master ordered him to kill himself and ordered that his family be stripped of all title and land. Instead this Samurai General chose to survive. He fled his home with his family and went to live in the wilderness. Now an outcast being hunted by his own government he was forced to re-invent his understanding of combat. Togakure met up with some Chinese immigrants who had fled the massive wars going on in China. Their knowledge of battle tactics, medicine and technology from all over the Asian main continent helped Togakure form what would become one of the earliest and oldest traditions of the Ninja. (This is just a rough and quick version of the oral history of the founding if this tradition) There are many other traditions of Ninjutsu but they all are similar in that they contain a philosophy of life which values surviving and overcoming or “persevering” and which leads to a simple life style with a very alternative method of self defense. The philosophy of the Ninja stood in opposition of the Bushido code of the Samurai which contained a strong class structure, and espoused suicide as a noble and honorable ideal. To the Samurai the Ninja were dishonorable, evil creatures who had no right to live… the Ninja just wanted to be left alone to live their lives as they saw fit. [ ]

As a person who has studied and practiced this tradition for several years now I have found some great principles which are a guide I use in life and in my preparations to continue life. In all of my training and all of my study of the Ninja culture as it existed hundreds of years ago and as it exists today I have found five principles that seem to apply to the Ninjas secret to not only survive but to thrive. [ ]

Principle #1: Strong and clean spirit
[ ]  The Ninja speak of attaining an unfettered mind; that you should know who you are at your deepest core. Life should be spent learning, knowing and practicing what you are. This done in everyday life gives an unfettered mind and leads to good decision making under even the worst situations. [ ]

Principle #2: Utility.
While the Samurai prided themselves on beautiful swords passed down through their family for generations and body armor decorated with family crests and religious icons the Ninja often used little more than modified farming implements as weapons. This was in part because of the ban on civilians owning or carrying swords… (we can learn a lesson here) but also because of the principle of utility. To the Ninja they were not mere weapons, but rather everything was a tool. A Ninja didn’t pride himself on a fancy sword; instead he would make a sword which like all of his tools served more than one purpose. His other commonly used weapons were converted farming implements. [ ]  Sure the Ninja would have never turned down a fancy ray skin and ivory Katana, but he would usually be found with a much cruder instrument. [ ]

Principle #3: Simplicity.
As I said earlier the Ninja were mostly farmers and merchants, but they could be found in all levels and aspects of life. There were even some Ninja amongst the ruling class of Japan at one time. What was common amongst them was that they strove to live a simple life. Both historic and modern Ninja rarely had lavish homes or castles. Rarely were known to frequent parties and social events. Instead they lived simple lives enjoying the things in life which were of true value. Simplicity permeated all aspect of their life. Often a diet of simple, healthy home grown food was eaten. With this simplicity in lifestyle one also becomes more in tuned to your own environment, able to notice small changes in weather and even understand nature on a closer level. Rarely did the Ninja draw attention to themselves. Instead of going off to become famous warriors and have grand adventures most Ninja lived quiet lives in their villages and trained diligently in their fighting arts; not for glory, but simply as a means to protect them and their families from the outside world. [ ]

Principle #4: Community and Self-Reliance.
Contrary to what some may argue community and self reliance are not mutually exclusive ideas. The Ninja were experts at having a community OF self reliance. The Ninja often lived in very close nit villages and towns where they worked and trained together so as to provide everything they needed and thus insulate themselves from the rest of Japan. [ ]

Principle #5: Fluidity.
Absolutely essential to the fighting style and even day to day life of the Ninja is the principle of fluidity. The Ninja fighting style involves five principle ways or feelings of combat. Each one represents an element of existence and grants almost a personality to your movement and technique. Examples are fire, a strong hot burst of energy cutting through an opponent or earth, the stable and immovable feeling of power. The five elements (earth, wind, fire, water, and the void) are not in themselves all powerful; it is the Ninjas ability to transition from one to the other and combine them in response to any situation which is essential. This fluidity was not just expressed in the elemental forms of combat, but instead is the fundamental difference between the Samurai and the Ninja. The Samurai followed set in stone techniques and movements. Memorize enough movements and you will have one for every situation. The Ninja started when they had to adapt and abandon old ways; this flexibility allowed them to meet all situations and adapt their techniques to any situation. A fundamental idea in the Ninja philosophy is not to have expectations of what will happen, but instead to be ready for and deal with whatever comes. Work towards your goals but adapt to the outcomes as they happen, don’t get caught in a frustrating loop of things not going your way and reacting with the same effort every time. [ ]  We should have basic tools which will work in any situation. Tools which serve multiple purposes and can be adapted to anything we need.  [ ]

WATER: Just as water feeds life and contains a power in both its ability to draw away from and crash back onto anything, to slowly erode a mountain, feed the tallest tree; we need the essentials of life. [ ]

EARTH: Strong foundations in faith and community allow us to stand like a rock against the corruption and destruction around us. [ ]

FIRE: Fire is our arms, our brute force through firepower.
[ ]  The Ninja as with all people of Japan were disarmed by the ruling elites, however the Ninja refused to comply, instead they fought back. [ ]  Fire comes in a burst of violence, heat and action. It is emotional, but not un-controlled. Fire also represents our passion, the passion which makes us act. It is the burning sense of right and wrong which protects our very soul from the corruption of the world. [ ]

WIND: Wind leaves us aloof, it represents the lighthearted sense of security preparedness gives us. [ ]  The feeling of being un-touchable effects your very movement and every aspect of life. Being self reliant, with your own business and self sustaining property gives you this confidence and allows you to take stands politically and economically without fear of losing your job or being evicted from your home if you oppose the powers at be.

THE VOID: This is often a difficult concept. [ ]  The void is the sense that anything can and will happen. On one hand it is the knowledge of all potential dangers and the ability to handle them. On the other hand it is the ability to react with anything, having every tool in your toolbox so that you can react and adapt in any way necessary. [ ]  Where the void can help is in the idea of not being an idea. Not being anything in particular, be void of form. Don’t fit a stereotype . . . . [ ]


Non-Profit Reality

more reality from Meyerhofer:

You’re different. You disdain the crass blandishments of biglaw. You have a soul. Let the giant firms seduce your naïve classmates with their shameless wheedling. You’re made of sterner stuff.

[ ]  That’s why you’re taking the high road, escaping the pervasive cynicism and greed. You’ve got your sights set on a not-for-profit institution, dedicated to the promise of a better tomorrow.

[ ]  Let’s talk about the the not-for-profit track – its ups, downs and in-betweens.

Right off the bat, we have to discuss salary. I know – you want to escape all that – the obsession with filthy lucre. But there’s a stark reality you must grasp before reporting for duty at a not-for-profit: You will earn bupkis.

[ ]  This aforesaid stark reality also explains one of the dirty little secrets of the not-for-profit world: It’s a magnet for rich kids. If Mom and Dad have already paid off the $200k you blew on an undergraduate degree and law school, then bought you the cutest little one-bedroom in Chelsea and a brand new Prius…well, the logical next step is to save the world. It’ll be fun!

Not-for-profits are bursting at the seams with eager-beaver trust-afarians – and it doesn’t stop there. Sometimes Mom and Dad (and their friends) sit on the board. Sometimes the charismatic founder and Executive Director is a grinning, twenty-something former college lacrosse star, just back from Burning Man. You can’t hold it against him if he wants to donate a snippet of grandaddy’s styrofoam factory fortune to making the world a better place. But his white-boy dread locks and penchant for calling you “bro” in the hallway make you wince.

I’m merely acknowledging a reality. It can grate a bit, in the not-for-profit world, if you’re not in possession of a trust fund. It can feel disempowering when the Director of the One Love Institute for International Human Rights flies business class to a conference in Burkina Faso on theories of poverty and doesn’t appear to grasp that her plane ticket could feed a village there for a year. It doesn’t help when, upon her return, as she’s hopping a flight to her family’s cottage on Martha’s Vineyard, she gushes about how she adores Coney Island – a topic you awkwardly brought up because that’s where you go to the beach, via subway.

The situation might not rise to the level of “class warfare,” but working with rich kids can grow annoying – and make almost anything other than working for rich kids start to seem not so bad.

Yes, your friends in biglaw are tormented by sadistic partners and slave night and day to do the bidding of plutocrats. Yes, they despise their lives.

On the other hand, associates in biglaw can afford to take cabs, have dry cleaning done, eat out in grown-up restaurants, and buy grown-up clothes. You can’t.

[ ] First, not-for-profit jobs are hard to snag. It doesn’t seem like they should be. These outfits pay next to nothing, and beggars can’t be choosers. [ ]  But the dynamics changed after the crash of ’08. Now half the profession is out of work [ ]. Even a $45k not-for-profit job looks good, juxtaposed against living on the street.

Second, even if you can find a not-for-profit job, you have to manage to keep it, and not-for-profits rarely provide steady, reliable employment. [ ]  Over and above the issue of nasty office politics (i.e., it’s easy to get fired), there’s another factor: Not-for-profits are typically funded by grants, which run for a stated period. If the grant runs out, or the project is finished,  or there’s “mission drift,” or they decide to head in a different direction, or the weather turns rainy – you can wind up out of a job.

[ ]  At this point it’s worth addressing an even profounder question. If you can actually pull off the feat of situating yourself in a not-for-profit and live with the attendant financial risks, what will you actually be doing there?

That’s easy. Protecting the rights of the little people – the prisoners and the disabled and the schoolchildren from poor neighborhoods, the international victims of international human rights whatchamacallit – those people. In other words, you will be doing big things. Big, change-the-world things. That’s the best part of working in not-for-profit. Instead of writing a brief defending evil, polluting, discriminating, harassing mega-corporations, you write a brief for the good guys. That means a lot.

Unfortunately, it also raises a potential pitfall of the not-for-profit world – stupid ideas. Even when you mean well, and are working for the good guys, when you’re trying to accomplish big things and change the future of humanity, it’s possible to go off the rails. Every so often – and if you’ve worked in not-for-profit-land you know what I’m talking about – you get saddled with a truly misguided project. Once it’s funded – once someone’s written the thousand page grant proposal and (against the odds) won the grant – the whole thing is frozen in concrete. Even if it kinda doesn’t really make any sense.

That’s when you find yourself opening the outreach center in the neighborhood that doesn’t really need an outreach center – or searching for plaintiffs to defend the rights of people who have more serious rights to worry about defending, or don’t need to go to court to defend them since they’d be better off protesting or meeting with the appropriate people and working out a deal (lawyers don’t work out deals – they sue people.)

You have to do what it says in the grant. You can’t go to your boss and say this isn’t working, it doesn’t make sense. You have to shut up and do it. She probably knows it doesn’t make sense, just like you – but grants are what makes the wheels go round. Maybe she’s not a trust fund baby either and that grant for a misguided project is paying her rent.

Another not-so-inspiring situation arrives when the ideas aren’t stupid, but the clients are corrupt and awful. When you’re a public defender working with street criminals you can’t expect to like each and every client. But there’s something about working for peanuts and putting in long hours to lend your voice to a struggle – then finding out the person you’re struggling for is annoying or stupid or in it for the money and exploiting you. It can be a turn-off, and it happens. Not all the time – but it can be useful to admit, it happens.

All of this stuff contributes to a key attribute of not-for-profits. For want of a better word, I’ll term it bitchiness. Not-for-profits have a reputation for being…bitchy. I don’t mean that in a sexist sense – the men at not-for-profits are bitchy too.

Why are not-for-profits often such damned unpleasant places to work? It might be because everyone there is hungry for attention. After all – if you work at a not-for-profit, you possess some not-inconsiderable claim to sainthood. You’re ignoring the temptations of biglaw, with its fatcat salaries and fancy offices and black cars home at night. You’re working hard for almost nothing – sacrificing all because you care about the little people. If the world were a just place, someone should hand you a plaque. At least they could feature you in the donor newsletter.  But they didn’t. And that pisses you off. Because that other guy at your level, who hasn’t been there as long, got in the newsletter. Which is why you hate him.

It can get to you, working for the good of the planet with no one paying attention. Your Executive Director is a community hero – the focus of a stream of accolades. But you’ve seen her in action, and everyone knows she’s a useless, spoiled princess…

Welcome to not-for-profit bitchery. It resides in a league all its own.

And don’t think the usual office bullshit – sexual harassment, competitiveness, interdepartmental chill – doesn’t exist at not-for-profits. It only grows more intense, and snippier, in these claustrophobic confines. [ ]

[ ]  Then there are the donors – the real bosses. I remember my summer at the Gay and Lesbian Rights Project at the ACLU, circa 1995. Word had it Barbara Streisand’s assistant phoned in each week for a lengthy personal update from the Executive Director.  Babs was paying the bills, so Babs got a personal update.  At least Yoko Ono and Phil Donahue laid low after cutting their checks.

Raising money is the raison d’etre for not-for-profits. Without the money, there is no institution – the cart is placed firmly in front of the horse. Everything – everything – becomes about appearances. If you do something impressive, you have to convert it into marketing materials and flood the airwaves with it to raise cash. If something doesn’t pan out – a project turns out to be useless or misguided – well, you still have to make it look impressive and heroic and world-changing. You have no choice. It’s that – or everyone’s out of a job.

Yes, there are committed people out there doing good, and enjoying fulfilling careers working at not-for-profits.

But the not-for-profit world isn’t an all-purpose answer to the problem of unhappy lawyers. It presents challenges of its own. You might find yourself gazing wistfully at the other, for-profit side of the fence, where the grass begins to assume a verdant hue.

The Future

from here

What is the future of work? How about the future of education?  [ ]  People are debating whether or not going to college is worth it, and the work landscape looks fairly bleak. The future of work is constantly shifting as we untangle ourselves from the traces of our industrial past and figure out the implications of a mobile, wired, location-free global society.

The systems and structures we’re using are a bit broken. Not all of them are broken, and not everything needs to be redone, but I agree with the sentiment that innovation is desperately needed.

Innovation doesn’t come from a specific age, place, or group of people. We like to glamorize the entrepreneur as a college-dorm-room drop out, and Inc’s 30-under-30 lists sometimes make it seem as if you’re 31 or older; you’re toast. The good news is that innovation is popping up all over the place — New Orleans, Silicon Prairie, Start Up Weekends, etc. and Under 30 CEO’s recent (unofficial) reader rankings listed places like New Orleans, Kansas City, and Austin, Texas as great for entrepreneurship.

As TIME Magazine wrote in the 2009 special, The Way We’ll Work: “Who knows what jobs will be born a decade from now? Though unemployment is at a 25-year high, work will return eventually.” How it returns, however, has yet to be seen. In the report, Time suggests that managers and management will have to be rethought, women will rule the workforce, baby boomers won’t quit, and sustainability won’t be a fad – it’s here to stay. [ ]

Want to get intimately entrenched in understanding how the landscape of work is changing? Want to change the world yourself? The best way to make something happen is to do something. It doesn’t just matter what’s written in Time. It matters what you do, both for your own career, as well as in changing work and education for everyone.

9 to 5 Workday: Dinosaur

from this blog post

[ ]  The simple recipe of 9 to 5 has no resonance with me; many suggest that the 9 to 5 is antiquated, a thing of the past. I can neither sit still nor think for 8 hours, let alone be in one place or with one task. Everything about that schedule is arbitrary – the start time, the end time, the things that we must produce within that set amount of time.  The only thing left is an antiquated system that we perpetuate because we don’t have the courage to think differently. We have moved quickly, cleanly beyond an industrial age where outputs were set (“build 18 shoes, please, and send them down the conveyor belt”) a time when we knew exactly when our works’ work was done; beyond the infrastructure of the giant corporation, the relic of the 1950’s-2000’s, to today: today, we live in a world where information is ubiquitous and overwhelming, and being ‘done’ with work is never truly over. A world where information threatens to take over globally, yet somehow this collection of voices creates so much noise that it pulls us locally again, towards communities and coffee shops, to social circles that we can trust instead of constantly test (for being on top of information at all times takes far too much energy for the individual).  In all of this, creative and intellectual pursuits require exceptional discipline, or else these individuals can become swallowed by the banal of chasing information and products that yield no results. [ ] 

 

A Hero

Lessons from the financial industry for the legal profession — an eye-opening expose by an insider:

Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs

By GREG SMITH

TODAY is my last day at Goldman Sachs. After almost 12 years at the firm — first as a summer intern while at Stanford, then in New York for 10 years, and now in London — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.

To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Goldman Sachs is one of the world’s largest and most important investment banks and it is too integral to global finance to continue to act this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.

It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.

[ ]  I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look students in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work.

[ ]  My clients have a total asset base of more than a trillion dollars. I have always taken a lot of pride in advising my clients to do what I believe is right for them, even if it means less money for the firm. This view is becoming increasingly unpopular at Goldman Sachs. Another sign that it was time to leave.

How did we get here? The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.

[ ]  Today, many of these leaders display a Goldman Sachs culture quotient of exactly zero percent. I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client’s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.

[ ]  It astounds me how little senior management gets a basic truth: If clients don’t trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are.

[ ]  My proudest moments in life — getting a full scholarship to go from South Africa to Stanford University, being selected as a Rhodes Scholar national finalist, winning a bronze medal for table tennis at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, known as the Jewish Olympics — have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts. Goldman Sachs today has become too much about shortcuts and not enough about achievement. It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.

I hope this can be a wake-up call to the board of directors. Make the client the focal point of your business again. Without clients you will not make money. In fact, you will not exist. Weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much money they make for the firm. And get the culture right again, so people want to work here for the right reasons. People who care only about making money will not sustain this firm — or the trust of its clients — for very much longer.

Personal Retreat

article by Mark Sisson

I’m talking about a different kind of retreat here, specifically the personal retreat, that solo venture in which one gets away on his/her own with no responsibilities but ample quiet and/or adventure. For some people this might mean a week in the wilderness. For others, it’s a few days at the spa or a meditation center. It might be the chance to enjoy anonymity playing tourist in a large city or to try out an alternative occupation for a week. It could be a solo road trip through a stretch of open country. Or maybe it’s something else entirely.

[ ]  The meaning of a retreat of course is inherent in the term itself – a withdrawal from normal life. We leave behind the daily routine, which can become mind-numbing over time. We shed the roles that rule our lives and can – in their confines – strangle even our closest relationships. In the midst of our hectic lives, it’s easy to get caught up in the details of the daily grind. At a certain point – especially at vulnerable times of our lives – they can feel like a network of ties holding us down, binding us increasingly inward. Our sense of emotional coherence and genuine connection seems to give way. We can lose our bearings as well as the mental focus and emotional resilience they give us.

A New York Times article some months ago highlighted the influence personal retreats have had for overworked professionals. (Big paychecks or not, I think the same degree of stress applies to most of us.) For the men and women mentioned, retreats were a time to entirely disconnect from a life that is oppressively connected. Giving up their smart phones and laptops, going without any communication initially instilled a distressing sense of isolation and anxiety. Nonetheless, the experience recalibrated their inclinations. As one man put it, “‘Going into a retreat is really about breaking down the constructs of ‘you.’… The whole idea is for you to take a very close look at the you you have become in your mind. The you you are in your real mind isn’t necessarily the real you.’” Distance yourself from the everyday buzz and chatter, and it’s amazing to hear what becomes audible.

Anyone who’s taken a retreat understands the restorative power here. In stripping away the roles and routines, you’re able to unearth elements of yourself long neglected, even unrecognized. You remember strengths that you have. In the best retreats, I think, you take them out for a drive again and test them. You recall the interests that you’ve had, dimensions that complexify and enrich who you are and what you have to offer. Most of all, it’s a time for opening up your sense of life – like getting outside under the big blue sky after being shut in during a week long cold snap. An undercurrent of irritation releases itself into the sudden space. A sense of calm and balance settles into its place. The personal retreat, however one designs it, is a cure for the emotional cabin fever I think we all feel at times.

For better or worse, we don’t have the leisure time our hunter-gatherer ancestors did. We can go weeks or months without enjoying a real break from an endless daily drill. (Cue the Sonny and Cher wake-up call – for all you Bill Murray fans out there.) They may not have had the climate controlled shelters, cultural and entertainment centers, or slew of possessions we do, but they had the ultimate Primal commodity: time. It was time to pursue what they wanted (however relatively limited their prospects might seem to us today), time to invest in their relationships, time to tinker and try and turn off.

[ ]  Although time and resources might make getting away difficult, I’d label many things discretionary before this. From a logistical standpoint, not everyone can take an actual “trip” retreat at any given time, but there are ways to adapt the concept to fit a more modest form: camping overnight, a full day’s hike, a weekend’s worth of long evening meditation practices, an extended walk to meet the sunrise. The key is to home in on what we need at a given time. Solitude? Inspiration? Rest? Risk? What aspects of ourselves are going unstimulated in our current circumstances? What patch of our mental terrain needs tending? I think the best retreats aren’t measured by expense, novelty, or even duration. They’re gauged by growth, repose, and restoration. Answer the instinct that presents itself.  [ ]