Wouldn’t life be easier if we knew what we wanted?
Are we too busy to figure it out?
Do you value intrinsic prosperity (friendships, purpose, control, sense of accomplishment) more than extrinsic (wealth, possessions, income, reputation)?
It’s an everyday dilemma for many of us. It may be deciding whether to stay at an unfulfilling job (intrinsic) with a secure steady paycheck (extrinsic). It could be weighing retirement to pursue a passion (intrinsic) or to keep building the retirement fund (extrinsic). Parents are challenged every day with finding balance between kids and family (intrinsic) and career and income (extrinsic).
Can we afford to wait till we are 89 years old like Fauja Singh? That’s when Fauja’s figured out he wanted to be a marathon runner. Four years later, Fauja was featured in the 2004 “Nothing is impossible” Adidas sportswear campaign with David Beckman and Muhammad Ali.
If you have given up on your idea of running a marathon, it’s time to think again. Blame it on Fauja Singh. If your excuse is that you are 100 years old, bad news again. On October 13, 2011, Fauja set eight world running records at age 100. Three days later, he became the first centurion to run a marathon at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon with the record 8:11:06.
When Fauja’s wife died, he moved to London to be close to his son. He was 81. The desire to be connected and have a sense of purpose was so strong that he was able to uproot from the farming community in Punjab, India. It was everything he ever knew. When his son died, he was forced once again to reassess what he wanted. This time it was running was the answer.
He is expected to be featured in torch relay at the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London. So maybe in 25, 50 or 75 years from now, you may be running with the Olympic torch.
If a 26 mile run is not enough, add a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike ride to the race and compete in an Ironman competition like 81 year old Lew Hollander successfully did on October 11, 2011.
Why is everyone running? It’s not money. Few like Fauja will be featured in advertisements alongside famous athletes. Yet in 2009, it is estimated that 467,000 people in the United States completed a marathon, a 1,768% increase since 1976 when 25,000 people completed a race.
The answer maybe the massive prosperity growth in the past 100 years has changed our definition of what we want. An example of this prosperity growth is poverty. World Bank estimates the world’s population living in extreme poverty decreased from to 51.8 to 25.2 between 1981 and 2005. In the United States, defined poverty is at an unfortunate record high 49.1 million people. Yet 46% of those who are poor own their own home (with the average poor person’s home having three bedrooms, with one and a half baths, and a garage).
Our prosperity growth has helped launch what psychologists call the Self-Determination Theory, which articulates that our intrinsic human needs (friends, purpose, autonomy, competence) are as important as our extrinsic needs (wealth, income, possessions). It is hard to imagine people like 100 year old Fauja Singh and 81 year old Lew Hollander pursuing their intrinsic needs in 1900, after a day laboring on a farm or in a factory, as did 90% of the working population at that time.
In 1900, the achievement of basic physical needs such as food, shelter, safety and heat was not a sure thing.
We need a new definition of prosperity. How will we know the answer to the dreaded question from the back seat, “Are we there yet?”
We each have our own definition so we must measure what we want and compare it to what we have. One hundred years ago and for many of the world’s poor, “Basic Physical Needs” (food, shelter, heat) could be a good measure. Prosperity growth in last 150 years has made “Basic Physical Needs” just one of the 24 prosperity elements that are required to measure prosperity today.
Our definitions of prosperity will continue to evolve. In a 2010 Met Life Study: 47% of all consumers and 66% of those born before 1946 say they already have all of the possessions they need, up from 34% in Nov 2006. With us now possessing many things (i.e., cell phone) once considered luxuries, for the first time, Generation Y (66%) listed intrinsic (family/children) ahead of extrinsic (financial security) prosperity.
Economists, like former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, define “prosperity growth” as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth. So it’s time for a new definition. Fauja and Lew probably don’t agree with economists that prosperity growth comes from the drivers of GDP growth, more employees, working longer hours and producing more with less. And I bet you don’t either. I’m sure it wasn’t thoughts of GDP that helped Fauja and Lew during the last mile to their finish line.
Posted: Friday, May 18th, 2012 @ 5:29 pm