Umair Haque has been hanging out in hip New York hotels,
overhearing more than my fair share of Very Serious Conversations* from the movers and shakers of the world.
And boy, have they been tedious.
Haque uses this as a jumping-off point to talk about the “lethally serious” work of “doing stuff that actually matters.” He suggests three criteria:
Does it stand the test of time? Ponder this for a moment: the vast majority spend the vast majority of our lives sweating, suffering, and slogging mightily over stuff that’s forgotten by next quarter, let alone next year or next century. Call me crazy, but I’d suggest: mattering means building stuff that’s awesome enough to last…. Of course, all that really means is that since nearly everyone seems to suck at standing the test of time, you’ve got a tremendous opportunity not to.
Does it stand the test of excellence?… Mattering means recognizing that everyone’s opinion is not created equal — some count more than others, for the simple reason that some opinions are more nuanced, educated, sophisticated, historically grounded, and self-aware than others.
Does it stand the test of you?…. It’s one thing to work on stuff that seems sexy because it’s socially cool and financially rewarding. But fulfillment doesn’t come much from money or cool-power — all the money in the world can’t buy you a searing sense of accomplishment.
And I love this conclusion:
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.
* I love how Very Serious Conversations, or “Very Serious [insert thing here]” is evolving into an insult. When those two words appear together in a Paul Krugman piece, you know the big guns are being trained on a new target.