Take Care of the Cow You Have
"I gotta get me a five-year plan."
"Who am I now and who do I want to be this time next year?"
"I need to set goals for myself and strategically approach each day as one more potential step toward achieving those goals."
Corporate culture has infected our every day life in ways that I find disturbing. Personality tests are now online fun, as if pigeonholing yourself into easily digestible labels is somehow helpful or necessary (or fun.) 75% of all current divorces occur because one partner has decided that he or she simply isn't the kind of person with the kind of life that he or she had set out to forge and it's time to become "proactive." Artists forego the model of eccentric genius and instead attempt to embrace the "upwardly mobile, fully leveraged, strategically marketed" businessman pose, talking about "growing your business" and "a healthy bottom line."
It feels good to have a plan. It feels like we're in control of things. It feels like we are, indeed, the masters of our own destiny. Breaking your next three months into daily goals and To Do lists and strict adherence to a time-managed iCal application feels like progress.
I remember, years ago, as I was in the midst of producing an original piece of theater with an ensemble cast and the company met throughout and wanted to discuss endlessly the steps we would have to take to secure a permanent venue. I spent hours creating spreadsheets on the proactive plan that would ultimately get us a signed lease on a secure space for us to grow as a company.
At one point one of the more seasoned actors in the show looked at me over drinks and said, "Don, you're missing it. You're spending so much time looking toward the future, clawing your way to get there that you don't realize that this is where it's at. You're doing a show that you're excited about, the critics like it, the cast is having fun and the audience is coming. And you're trying to figure out how to get the audience to donate more money than their ticket price and how to capture their demographic information for grants. You're missing it."
At the time I thought he was cracked in the head - a burnout with no ambition. As I get older, I'm beginning to see the wisdom in his approach and am continuing to see the "make more, grow more, get bigger and better" mentality as being the one true obstacle to success.
Less than one hundred years ago in this country, the cow was important. Not cows, the singular cow. It was the beast that you fed and took care of and in return, the beast fed and took care of you. You fed your cow quality food so that the milk it provided was of quality. You took care of your chicken so that the eggs were nutritious. One family could live for a lifetime with just a few of these beasts as long as you fed the beast that fed you.
With the Industrial Revolution and the Age of the Robber Barons and the fiscal policies of the neoconservative movement (spawned by the Chicago School of Economics with its rabid desire to overturn the New Deal of FDR), it became the American agenda to have more. More cows, more chickens, more everything. Abundance was the goal. Redundancy became the buzzword. The stockpiling of more than would ever be necessary for either survival or comfort beget the rise of enough atomic weaponry to destroy the planet 100 times over. A corporate mentality that demanded that bigger was better, that wealth was future, and that anyone not contributing to the constant and Borg-like growth of The Corporation that was America was simply to be thrown to the wolves and devoured to grease the machine.
And the cow was no longer important. The conveyor belt of countless cows, mistreated, fattened beyond their own ability to function, bloated and lead to slaughter became the model of success. As soon as the singular beast that fed us became just one of billions that could grow the corporation, so went the notion of simple success on its own terms without a mission to grow larger and fatter.
In the theater world, this is translated into the constant stream of disposable shows, designed strictly to feed a larger and larger beast - the institution that cannot stand under its own weight. The actor becomes like a shark, never slowing down to appreciate the show he's in because he cannot stop the pursuit of more and more work, thus squandering the lessons taught by experience in the present. The designer, in order to justify her salary and position in the community, finds bigger and more technologically superfluous ways of accomplishing glitz and glamour and the administrator gets the big salary because it is he who is actually serving the mission of the theater - constant, unending growth.
More damaging is the drumbeat of Self Help Methodology that states You Are Not Good Enough and Must Be in a State of Sustained Upward Mobility or You Are Worthless. The clanging bell that tells us that if you aren't getting laid enough it's because you need to BUY STUFF: abdominizers, Viagra, breast enhancing bras (or silicone implants), make up that never washes off, more expensive clothing, better shoes, acne cream, body spray, new and improved fat free fat, realistic looking hair (or a spray can to hide your bald pate), stuff, Stuff, and MORE STUFF!
I believe that less is often more in terms of living a successful and enjoyable life. That the size of your bank account or the sum total of your impressive resume is not the measure of who you are, but what you have spent your time pursuing. I believe that multi-tasking is a corporate mentality that kills the soul.
One task at a time; each one a success. Feed and nurture the beast that feeds and nurtures you.