I read an interesting study the other day. I say “interesting” in this case because it confirmed my instincts. The study was a way of measuring how much people crave power and exactly what they want from it. In sum, the study found that most people don't want to control others, but rather they want power so they have autonomy, i.e. they get to control themselves. I've thought about this for years.
While I would love to have a VP title to round out my resume, I have not wanted to be anyone's boss in a long time. I like the prestige that can be conferred by the title, the possible perks and greater autonomy, but I don't necessarily want to tell others what to do. My experience managing 50 people when I was in my 20’s was a lesson I learned well. In fact, I am now suspicious of anyone who actually wants to be a boss. That's not to say that I don't like being a coach and helper to my colleagues. I often enjoy these types of positive engagements with people and I crave feedback from my bosses, worded with care, that helps me get better. I like to give others feedback as well, but try hard to offer it in a spirit of "take it or leave it." But most of all, I like being responsible for myself and the good and bad results of my work.
I find power and money to be synonymous to autonomy. The most pleasurable time in my life was when I had a big pile of money saved up. While I certainly spent some of it on a few gadgets, I was generally pretty conservative financially and we lived fairly simply, with a small mortgage to pay on our home, a paid off car and a bicycle that was my primary transportation. The wonderful thing about having two to three years of salary in the bank was the freedom. I wasn’t worried about satisfying a boss or a market in order to be able to eat, keep a roof over my head, or get health care if I fell off my bike. This was the time of greatest productivity for me. I co-founded the Urban Conservancy, helped launch other non-profit groups, took an active role in my community and major issues, and grew a huge network of friends that I keep to the present day.
While we still live fairly simply, we’re now a single income family in an expensive city. Houses cost a lot in Austin. A lot. A car is an absolute necessity in the sprawl, even though we live in the core of the city. What we do spend our money on is mostly experiences: travel, classes of all sorts, exercise. But the wolves never sound too far away from the door. It’s easy to imagine all sorts of economic disasters in the fragile world we live in right now.
My commitment however, is rather than let that fear gnaw quietly in the back of mind, use those thoughts to inspire a pruning down of spending and consumption, to try to tighten up on something that I have spent money on that I could do without. Because reducing the expenses buys a little bit of freedom. I think that's a good investment.