I often get asked about how and why I started Chicago Food Planet Food Tours, the nation’s largest seasonal Food Tour Business. It’s hard to answer that question without examining further a more important question– What is my currency? To often, friends and colleagues of mine have been far more excited by the prospect of lucrative salaries and bonuses from big corporate-style firms and companies. Now while I did fall victim to this type of thinking (I only survived about a year in corporate America!), I quickly and quite painfully reevaluated what was important to me, what was my currency going to be and how would I qualify it.
This was 2003, and I came up with the idea of “currency“– that is to say, how do you define your success and what would the currency be to measure it– Money? Lifestyle? Family/Friends? Things? Travel? Love? Experiences?
I realized the currency I was overwhelmingly taught to seek out was money– get a great job and career, and everything will be fine and dandy. Well, looking around then and even more so now, a job can be taken away from you in a flash and all you’re left with is a resume that you’ll be pushing to every recruiter, friend or resume company you can find. The greatest impact on my decision to leave corporate America was simply asking the following questions–
Am I replaceable? For a lot of people, the answer is YES. There are plenty of people who can and will do your job just as good (if not better) then you, and sometimes even for less. Or think of it this way– if you left today, would it even matter to your company? Would they carry on just fine without you?
Is the very top job/level I’m aiming for even worth it? Unless you’re doing something that you love AND you’re great at, chances are you don’t want your boss’ boss’ job anyways.
I believe there’s value in reversing the equation- we’re hardwired to believe that through education you will find a career, and through your career you will find the success and happiness you’re entitled to. But, what if you first determine what makes you FEEL successful, what makes you feel happy? Then you can start making decision of what you DO want to do and what you DON’T want to do. This is very important– because before you can do anything to determine your currency or what you DO want to do, it’s as equally important to figure out what you absolutely do NOT want to do. This helps in the building blocks of getting that much closer to making decisions that will ultimately help you determine what direction you want your life to point towards. My analogy is the game Plinko from the Price is Right. (See a sample video here.)
Each one of the pegs on the board represents those unique, tough decisions we make in life. Not the smaller, somewhat arbitrary decisions (i.e. Where are we going to eat tonight? What color should I paint the living room), but the ones that keep you up at night and you just wish your life had come with a User Manual (i.e. Should I quit my job? Should I go back to Graduate School?). Of course everybody wants to hit the $20,000 slot in Plinko, but there are thousands of combinations to get there successfully as it falls down the board, hitting each of the pegs. I often use the following analogy to illustrate my point– If Mark Zuckerberg had lived a hundred different lives, and in each of them started/created Facebook, he would only achieve the success he has in just one of them. The conditions were simply perfect– the right idea at the right time by the right person with the right currency.
Think about it– did Mark Zuckerberg have any idea that Facebook would become what it did? Did he plan in the beginning to start a public company? Was he motivated by money– thinking in his dorm room, “I want to be a billionaire.” Doubtful– instead, his currency avoided the normal, desired and taught ones that are measured via money (in 99 other lives, you’d never of heard of him or Facebook and he’d still be happy with his idea) or even education (he didn’t graduate). Maybe his currency was creation, orexpression, or defiance.
The point is, regardless if Facebook had gone on to be the intergalactic success that it did, his currency, or how he would measure the success of his endeavors and wholeness in life, at an early age didn’t focus on money, politics, or power– he did something that he was passionate about and that he had a talent for and wasn’t focused solely on the end result (i.e. how much money he’d make or ultimately have). Facebook in one of his other 99 lives easily could’ve been the third or fourth peg on the Plinko board and something we’d never heard of– it wasn’t a step back or forward so long as you stay true to your currency, you’ll hit pegs on the way down that ultimately and invariably always lead you to the $20,000 slot.
If you chase the wrong currency, chances are you might still get all that it offers and provides. But you’ll feel empty. If you determine what your currency is, and shift everything in your life to make decisions that support and stay true to that currency, not only will you eventually grab life by the horns, you’ll feel completely and overwhelmingly whole.
My currency is experiences– as many as I can be a part of. Traveling is experiential. Starting a business (or three). Becoming a father. Driving a motorcycle to South America. That’s how I measure my life, my value, my currency. Chasing a currency like experiences means I’m not as interested in the end result (think sprint), but the journey; what I learn from it and where it takes me (marathon). That way I can look at the peg board in restrospect and make perfect sense of the success that ultimately has come my way.
Success might not have a roadmap. But if it did, choosing your currency and staying true to it is your GPS.
So pick your currency. And then win at Plinko.