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The meaning of work; Overcoming fear; Spousal liabilities; Diamonds are a bad and bloody investment; Cruel to be kind financial advice

Personal Finance
The meaning of work; Overcoming fear; Spousal liabilities; Diamonds are a bad and bloody investment; Cruel to be kind financial advice

By Amanda Morrall (email)

1) The meaning of work

Once every so often, I read something that makes me want to jump to my feet and give the author a rousing hand of applause. Today, it's economist Umair Haque who blogs for the Harvard Business Review. For a thought provoking  piece on the meaning of work and our dysfunctional obsession with growth, profits and GDP at the expense of personal well-being and happiness, I could give this man a hug.

Instead of the usual tiresome line of questioning and pontification about how we're going to grow or print our way out of the current mess that unfettered capitalism has created, he ponders the meaning of it all and man's purpose here on earth.

He asks "maybe the real depression we've got to contend with isn't merely one of how much economic output we're generating but what we're putting out there, and why. Call it a depression of human potential, a tale of human significance being willfully squandered on (for example, this).

Rather than blame it all on the system, government, bankers or x,y,z, Haque suggests we need to ask ourselves as individuals how and where we can make a difference, in particular through our work. He elaborates on this in his blog (so I encourage you to read it) but throws out three questions to ask yourself with respect to your work.

1) Does it pass the test of time? 2) Does is stand the test of excellence? 3) Does it stand the test of you?

Being human is never easy. But that's the point. Perhaps as an unintended consequence of our relentless quest for more, bigger, faster, cheaper, now, we've comfortably acceded to something akin to a minor-league contempt for the richness and grandeur of life unquenchably meaningfully well lived. Hence, call this post my tiny statement of rebellion. Hex me with all the bland management jargon in the world, zap me with all the perfect theories and models you like, but I'll never, ever accept the idea that triviality, mediocrity, and futility are appropriate goals for any human being, much less our grand, splintering systems of human organization.

We're all built differently — but none of us is here to not make a difference. So what are your three questions for getting lethally serious about doing stuff that matters?

More on happiness and work in this Guardian piece as well.

2) Overcoming fear

One of the greatest impediments to success has to be fear. Most of us are terrified of the unknown so much so that we stay in bad relationships, miserable jobs and unhappy situations for years on end. I can't say I have ever been brave enough to quit a job without having something else lined up first, but here's one man's tale of triumph over fear and a leap into the unknown.

Lucky for him, he had the security of a wife with a full-time job. Still, I'm a believer in leaps of faith. (Eds. It's much easier when you don't have any debt)

3) The marriage myth

Statistics tell me I'd be much better off financially if I was married. Actually, I beg to differ. For me marriage proved a financial liability.

That's because the ex and I were financially incompatible. I don't doubt a lot of people are better off financially as a unit but that's certainly not the case for everyone. Here's a few horror stories that dispel the myth of the happy marriage.

4) Diamonds are DeBeer's best friend not yours

I'm not a big one on bling, or the real stuff for the matter.

Can a man's love really be measured by the size and cost of the sparkler when they pop the question? We've been conned into believing that by slick marketers employed by DeBeer's and the like.

Personally, I'd be far more impressed by the guy who decided to donate three-months of his salary (or whatever the arbitrary profit-making prescribed ratio is) to a more productive cause, like saving endangered animals or buying orphaned children shoes or school books.

This piece by a sex/money/health blogger of a dubious name lays bare just how manipulated consumers have been by the diamond industry and how worthless they become when they're no longer wanted or required.

5) Whatever works

As a new dog owner, I've been learning all manner of interesting things about pet ownership. One of the things that surprised me a bit was that you need to be cruel (well more like tough and damn assertive) to be kind -- in order to earn their respect.

It's the polar opposite from how I believe relationships ought to be negotiated so I've been forced to find my inner witch with wee Mazzy. 

Oddly, this behaviour seems to work on a personal finance level as well. One of the big names out there, Ramit Sethi, has hit pay dirt with this ball-busting and abusive approach towards people looking for financial salvation. I don't get it, but whatever works I suppose. 

If you need a good butt kicking today, check out this blog  roasting information addicts. I hate to admit it but surly Sethi is right. If all you do is consume information without every changing your behaviour you're just spinning your wheels, although he'd undoubtedly phrase that in a more abusive way.

Here's a snippet.

I have no interest in information addicts. They use phrases like, “This site jumped the shark! Why don’t you write about investing any more?” When I calmly reply, “Have you read my book?” they say, “No…I should definitely do that….”

When I hear morons like this, I retreat to my happy place, a dream-like state where I am sitting on a behavioral-change throne, dismissively waving off losers and whiners with one hand, while holding a gold scepter in the other. Naturally, I am being fanned with bald-eagle-feathered wands waved by bikini-clad women.

To read other Take Fives by Amanda Morrall click here. You can also follow Amanda on Twitter @amandamorrall

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Re1 - the questioning reminds me of me at 20, a long time ago. I don't think what you do has to be identified 100 years from now - but it would be sad to shuffle off thinking you'd made things worse for future folk.


And 'making a difference through your work'?  Hmmm. I reckon one of the biggest differences we can make is to not work. The production/consumption/growth regime couldn't be maintained indefinitely anyway, so it was a wasted place to put your effort into.


Dog?  Mine does a lot of my 'work' with me. My social input is teaching boating, and manning rescue-craft. Often, I'll come up to a capsized boat, with a couple of shivering kids asking to be transported someplace else. What they see, up on his front paws proud as punch, is a border-collie grinning down at them. You can just see the thought-processes ( 'oh, if the dog thinks it's OK, it must be cool') happening, and they decide to cease the panic and get on with it. He loves every minute of it - thinks it's his 'job',


What a great story PDK! Any room on board for a super excitable Wheaten and two boys? I'll ship em your way. :) On the work front, I think it's still possible to contribute positively through employment if you seize upon the opportunities to form connections, (not just leverable networks), exchange ideas and inspire other people in some way...when I started to regard my work in this fashion it became easier in many respects. Fortunate we work in a medium that doesn't leave footprints, just digital crumbs and ash.



The Internet consumes a huge amount of Im afraid your carbon footprint is there and noticable.




True. Karmic offsets allow me to sleep at night.


True story: Today daughter takes dog to park for walk, dog chases stuff, daughter loses dog.

Wife arrives home from work - Dog waiting by garage door. Dog had memorised pathway via several streets from park to home by itself.  Wife finds daughter in tears walking home after instigating search parties by public @ park. 

Moral: Dogs learn from habit. Kids learn responsibility the hard way. Families value dog quite highly envisaging life without dog.  Incidentally, dog cheap = 1 Dogroll per week = $5.35.  



Ha! Great story. I love a happy ending.



I kind of agree with Umair except on the question of excellence. To me that's just another modern obsession, and the word devalued to meaninglessness. Every job expects high levels of excelllence and dedication, but on average they get average levels of excellence and dedication. Because that's what averages are all about. Most people will never be excellent at most things they do, nor should they be expected to be. Competence would be a better focus, at least in workplaces, and for the rest of our lives, isn't enough that we simply like to do some things, rather than having to be excellent at them as well?

The focus on excellence is actually debilitating - people don't even try if they can't be excellent.


Which doesn't mean I don't admire excellence, btw. But it's profoundly unrealistic to consider it essential, rather than just desirable. It's a goal for some, in some fields. Some careers, and some private interests. Who cares if the toilet cleaner is excellent? So long as it's clean, it's good enough. And who even knows if you're excellent at some rare talent? Does it matter? In that case, it's good enough that someone is doing it at all. Or maybe it's of no value to anyone but you, which needn't put you off, unless you want it to.


Excellence is rare and relative to be sure but how about just doing a job to the best of one's ability? Isn't that something we should all strive for, appreciating we have our ups and downs?



That seems like a much more reasonable expectation. In some work, there are minimum standards, of course. Other kinds, typically the more interesting kinds of work, have looser definitions.

I guess I'm just saying it's unrealistic for more than a small number of people to *be* excellent, and unfair that people who aren't excellent should struggle to survive. But exemplars of excellence do tend to show the direction that should be aimed for.


"Exemplars of excellence do tend to show the direction that should be aimed for."

Brilliant line! Here here. We could learn alot from the Japanese on this front. Perfectionists.

Thanks for your contribution.