I’m currently reading Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. It’s not the first time I’ve read it, but it will be the first time I’ve read it cover-to-cover. I’ve discovered and rediscovered lots of insight in it, but that’s no surprise in a book that’s still popular 150 years after it was published.
Early in the book, just a few pages in, Thoreau spends some time thinking about the necessities of life. At a basic level, he decides, the necessities of life are simply food, shelter, clothing, and fuel. Thinking about his own life, he adds to the list some basic hand tools, a lamp, paper and pens, and access to a few books.
Then he asks a question which in many ways is both the theme of the book and of this blog: once a man has obtained the necessities of life, “what does he want next?”
What do we want next?
Jon Acuff, in his book Quitter, asks the same question. He invites his readers to think about what “enough” means in the context of chasing success in a career. Then he explains:
“we often never reach enough when we chase it. On the other hand, you are guaranteed to get to enough when you define it. You only find enough when you tell enough where to be found.”
That’s a powerful thought. And it’s a central part of my message.
There’s a point where we have enough. Thoreau’s the first person I’m aware of who ever described the golden handcuffs; he says the “seemingly wealthy” who chase wealth for its own sake “have forged their own golden or silver fetters.”
I’m not here to tell you what’s enough for you. But I am here to convince you that there’s also a point where our businesses have enough. Enough for a business can be—and should be—that it supports the lives of its employees, rather than merely being supported by them. Enough for an employer can be—and should be—that he sees his employees becoming more: more capable, more dedicated, and more caring because of his leadership.
It’s easy to think that we’ve found the golden ticket, and its even easier to let our success carry us away.
Thoreau answered his own question. He said that after we’ve “obtained those things which are necessary to life, there is another alternative than to obtain the superfluities; and this is, to adventure on life now” by doing things that matter most.
And what matters most is each other. After all, “[w]hat do we live for; if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?”1
- T.S. Eliot ↩