What about you? On the 17th of September, Ipsos – a French market research company – published a study that stated that 47% of French people feel like they are “missing out on life”.
The great betrayal
What timing, given the fact that the “Trophées du bien-être” – the French “Well-being trophies” – were distributed on the 21st of September. The Ipsos study stated that more than a third of participants felt like “they were devalorized as individuals and not appreciated to their full value (36%), uncomfortable in their own skin (35%) and they even sometimes wished to leave everything behind and start a new life (39%).” These numbers are alarming and worrying. They also lead to the inevitable question: why?
These numbers remind me of one winter morning around half past eight on the plaza at La Défense, a major business district in Paris and the equivalent of the City in London. As I left the parking lot, I watched the human tital wave rush towards one of the tall towers overlooking the Center of New Industries and Technologies. A feeling of sadness washed over me at the sight of the crowd of grey men and women marching like robots towards a day spent in their glass offices, waiting for the moment where they could go home again ten hours later. Some of them were most certainly happy to be going to work, and my own point of view probably multiplied the general impression of ill-ease, but in any case, the scene as a whole did not fill the spectator with vitality and a zest for life.
You could think that their level of education or their social class forced them into this fate, or that they had no other choice! But social levels and diplomas have nothing to do with it…
These numbers also remind me of a dinner spent with a great public servant who had been highly successful and had even become Minister of Justice. I remember the emotion in his voice when he spoke timidly of how he felt that he had missed out on his life: “I always wanted to be a vet, I just love animals… But things turned out differently!” One of our biggest fears is that of betrayal. But isn’t the biggest betrayal the one of wearing a constant “costume” and becoming someone we’re not?
Lastly, these numbers remind me of the fifteen-year-old story of a certain John S, a Scot who was a participant at one of the « Vocation and Success » seminars I animated. John had just been made redundant by IBM, where he had worked since he was 19 years old. He had climbed the proverbial ladder in a remarkable fashion and had become CFO of one of the bigger Business Units. At the age of 50, he wanted to create his own company, as he had dreamed of doing for many years… When he finalized his cherished project, he broke down and cried, saying “I’m scared, I’m going to fail.” His entire life, he had thought that success meant climbing the rungs of the corporate ladder and earning more and more responsibilities. Over the years, IBM has become a sort of protective matrix, his business card, his costume. Deprived of this, he felt naked and alone, faced with his fear of failure. And I was moved by him.
Living in 6 cm2
We all suffer from chronic deafness. Yes, we are deaf to our calling. Deaf to the sound of the voice inside of us, that we all know, that knows what we like or don’t like, that knows what our place is or isn’t. This voice, this vocation (from the latin word vocare) is present inside each of us but so few of us listen to it.
Are we all feigning deafness or is another, louder noise covering up the sound of the voice inside of us? I believe in the second hypothesis: the noise is called education, formatting and the projection onto oneself of other peoples’ desires…
As early as childhood, a lot of us are caught up in the formatting that will become the social mask (persona) made up of functions, diplomas and extraordinary experiences that are summed up on a résumé and in our description of ourselves to other people. Little by little, we identify with the title that is written under our name on our 6cm2 business card.
Mortgaging our future
Added to the noise of the sirens of success, a race is taking place… The race to possess more in a world where I am what I own. What I own on credit. Thus, working becomes the art of reimbursing our debts and shaping our persona, an exterior appearance that becomes strong and stifles the sound of the quiet voice that cries and says “this is not what I love doing” and always receives the same answer: “you don’t have a choice!” We live in a state of (often unconscious) fear and we accept compromises, creating a life for ourselves that is mortgaged both literally and figuratively.
Behind the social armor that we reinforce, our inside selves slowly die, left alone in somber emptiness. The person loses his or her vitality. The only way out becomes an illness, an accident, a depression, a burn out… The ultimate screaming inside of us that screeches “STOP, I am lost!” 47% of French people are apparently in this situation, so there is one chance out of two that this means something to you.
The need to give
It seems that there is an immediate danger that requires us to take the time to find ourselves again and to reconnect with the deep calling inside of us. The voice shows us the way and life gives us unique talents and gifts. We call them gifts because they are the gifts of life. The first great suffering comes from the feeling of not belonging, but the second one comes from not giving the world our gifts. Real generosity is without a doubt the act of giving what was initially given to us, and maybe that is the only real meaning of life (if there is one) and our only duty:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. » (Quoted from The Life and Work by Martha Graham)
Towards a gift economy
A new era seems to be arising. It is what some people are calling the gift economy or the sharing economy.
We are progressively entering a world where each one of us will have the possibility to share and give his or her talents for the good of others, where each of us will take our rightful place. A world where nobody will hesitate to donate their gifts.
The IPSOS study results are perhaps – in the end – a piece of good news in disguise. By revealing a deep uneasiness, they illustrate a growing collective awareness of the vital necessity to reconnect with who we are. Perhaps they are even pointing towards the anticipated end of what some are already calling the old world. In any case, these results tell us that we need to think again about our lives and places in society.
We are the 47 percent
On the morning of Thursday the 30th of September, graphic artist Edmond BAUDOIN spoke about the meaning of life on French radio France Inter. He said that “life is a passage”. If life is a passage, then we are the couriers. It is not the fear of dying that prevents us from passing through life, but the fear of living.
Paradoxically, I think that we are all those 47% at different times of the day or week. Yes, we need to keep the channel open and it is not useful to wait for further uneasiness before acting and creating the future we dream of.
The road of evolution passes through much questioning that is often the result of a situation that has become unacceptable. It is road of evolution as well as individual and collective transformation. It is a difficult road, often a long one that sometimes feels hopeless. It requires patience, trust and humility… It is reached within one’s intimate self, without ever knowing where it leads…
A Native American friend of mine said to me the other day: “You know, you can’t survive the adventure that is life! So don’t wait around, don’t expect anything from it and just live it! It’s as simple as that.”
Thanks to my friend Stéphane Dieutre, CEO of ARISTOTE, who inspired me to write this article.
Laurent SAUSSEREAU – PDG de Yuman