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Business or Pleasure?

I arrived into Newark Airport from Tel Aviv at 4:45am ET, having been awake for 30 hours straight. U.S. Customs was rather empty so early in the morning. I approached the agent, handed him my passport, and waited for the inevitable inquisition:

“Were you in Israel for business or pleasure?” Never has the question struck me so hard as when arriving home from Israel, each of the three times I’ve been so blessed to travel there.

It is asked as an “or,” as though business and pleasure are mutually exclusive. It’s an outdated and unfitting question especially in the United States where national ethos dictates that we be fulfilled by our careers, follow our dreams, and strive for personal achievement in all that we do.

Being self-employed, this is particularly true. I have complete freedom over the course of my career, with money, skills and time being my only limitations. When business and pleasure are two distinct entities for an independent, you’re doing it wrong. I’ve fallen into this trap time and time again.

Despite the promise that our expansive country offers to immigrants from across the globe, there remains an undercurrent of professional dissatisfaction among many Americans. Work is associated with dread, business with selfishness and exploitation and dehumanization of even its most talented employees. We have constructed a society (or have allowed it to deconstruct as the case may be) in which it has become increasingly difficult to break out of this mold, where “work-life balance” is a business initiative designed to further inculcate the 150-year-old industrial construct of work-leisure dichotomy while pretending to make us feel good. The ideals of few have become the handcuffs of many.

I am determined to make business my pleasure and pleasure my business. For the last three years I have been consumed with achieving success, status and financial gain, foolishly equating ambition with breadth of achievement rather than depth of happiness. In the last couple months, all of that has changed. I’m no longer trying to climb the ladder that persisted in my mind even after leaving the corporate world. Instead I’m taking on a much more challenging pursuit of pleasure infused in all that I do.

Pleasure in business doesn’t require the same amount of activity as success in business does. This can be daunting at first; we’ve been trained to believe that momentum and velocity are signs of progress. But there’s progress in rest, too. In deep contemplation and 360-degree delight. It often means doing less, more slowly, for a longer period of time. It takes dedication and concentration and resilience, similar qualities of character applied in whole new ways. I’m enjoying the process of learning how to be still and still be me. After all, it’s the journey, not the destination, right? The only path in life I feel compelled to follow is one of wholeness, goodness and peace.

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  • http://www.rickcusick.com Rick Cusick

    Nice post, and what sounds like a fantastic and validating experience abroad. I’m wondering…what did you say to the Custom’s agent?

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog whitney

      “Both. Always.”

  • http://seat6d.com Denrael

    Very interesting post Whitney. As you know, I tend to spend my life in airports and hotels and discovered long ago that if I failed to find pleasure in my business it would be a very long and lonely life.

    While I can’t say I’m always successful, my goal has always been to meet people, make friends, and discover new things wherever my business takes me. In may case, often that involves discovering new restaurants or even farmer’s markets, and getting to know the local chefs and restaurant owners. If it wasn’t for this, I would have become a introspective cynic long ago.

    Lately there have been some overwhelming changes in my business life, and I fear i forgot this simple concept for a time. Thank you for helping bring me back into focus with your comments. Of course just thinking about my own wonderful times in Tel Aviv is always refreshing.

  • http://twitter.com/dszuc Daniel Szuc (@dszuc)

    Lovely!

    Now the challenge is to get businesses to see that people are not bits in a machine but can play into this story as well.

    The profit can go much deeper and wider than just a dollar figure in quarterly results.

    How long will take us to accept and/or move to the new reality we know to be true?

    How do we teach people the necessary skills to work towards this new reality?