Choking on the Dessert of Life

Michael Williams, aka A Continuous Lean (ACL), included my blog post from last week in his latest edition of "Signals." You can find my post, and the entire Signals newsletter here. While I'm proud of my story making Michael's list of "interesting bits," I found another section of his newsletter focusing on consumption to be very interesting:

“There’s a desire to create something new, so fast and so often, where the point is just to have a product. It almost doesn’t matter what it looks like. How it's working in the global supply chain at the moment is that people are booking space in the factories, even though they haven't secured their materials or design, just because they know they need products in order to fill their stores. You're not creating because you're fulfilling a need for a customer. You're just creating because you need to keep your big-ass machine ticking. Corners get cut when you have to source materials under that immense pressure. And you lose the ability to select the best possible product.”

While the quote above is generally focused on consumption on a global scale and the rigors of supply/demand, it touches on something I've wrestled with on a personal level for a while.

In the story of my life, the chapter named after my twenties will be called, "the selfish years." I've looked back on this time with mostly fond memories. But there is a slight painful truth that floated to the surface: during my twenties I placed myself above all, my wants, my desires (mostly consumption based) ahead of everything else. (Insert Tyler Durden: you are not your three roll two blazer, Mercedes wagon, tassel loafers, or vacation to Paris) The way I ordered my priorities left my day-to-day life lacking satisfaction and void of real meaning and purpose. In other words, I was only eating the dessert of life, and it left me hungry and unsatisfied.

I still really like my clothes, cars, vacations, cigars, etc. But they are not my identity and will not fill me. They are the dessert of life and should be consumed after I've had my fill of faith, family, and community.

I know I needed to change something. I took a step back and thought, if what I'm doing now, living a life where every moment and decision is focused on fulfilling my latest (and often fleeting) desire is leaving me empty, lost, and sometimes downright depressed, maybe doing the opposite will give me the satisfaction I've been craving. It's a selfish inception-esqe thought. I knew I would need to find something that required me to do the things I dreaded: give up my precious personal time, give away some of my hard-earned paycheck, get over my introvert personality and engage with strangers face to face, all in the pursuit of doing something that wouldn't benefit me directly. After a short search, I decided I could accomplish these goals by joining a social service organization.

Since joining, I've connected with men who want to give back to their community. Their enthusiasm for service is contagious. I'm naturally a cynic but being around guys who've being doing this for years, some almost a decade or more sharing their stories and discussing fundraising and volunteering events, quickly melted my hesitations. I know reading this can seem corny. I'm almost certain it is in some degree. But you only have to "follow the science" to see why this has had this affect on me. A 2020 study done in the U.K. reported:

"...that people who volunteer are happier than those who do not. Every two years from 1996 to 2014, researchers took data from nearly 70,000 research participants about their volunteering habits, mental health, levels of stress, and daily mood. The results? Not only does volunteering makes us happier — it can also improve our mental health over time."

I can attest that I'm satisfied when I make time to put others before myself. I'm fulfilled when I dedicate a very small percentage of my daily life towards someone else's betterment. However, I want to make one point clear. I'm not on my way to saint hood. I still really enjoy the finer things in life. I still really like my clothes, cars, vacations, cigars, etc. But they are not my identity and will not fill me. They are the dessert of life and should be consumed after I've had my fill of faith, family, and community.


If you've read this far, I hope this connected with you in some way. And I challenge you to make 2022 your most selfish year yet. Below is a give guide to help you get started.

- Give your grandparents a call if you're lucky enough to still have them, same with parents.

- Give to a charity or nonprofit that aligns with your values.

- Give away clothes you haven't worn in a year.

- Give your full attention when talking to others, no phone, no thinking of what you plan to say next.

- Give your work serious effort. Be proactive, not reactive.

- Give gratitude for what you have.

- Give your patience to strangers.

- Give yourself a break. We are our own toughest critics. Acknowledge and accept you are imperfect. But don't stop striving to improve. Never stop learning.

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