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Loving what you do.

At Ergo we regularly hold lively debates amongst ourselves and our friends and associates about the deeper implications of Branding Now.
One of our constant themes is the importance of “the love for what you do” driving us  in our business – a mature view of ‘amateur’ motives, (which being branding people we call ‘amaturity’...:)).

Another theme is dealing the flaws within the consumerist system, exacerbated by the excesses of marketing ‘more’., and the morality of marketing.

These two themes are touched on by the following piece, contributed by Ismail Guennouni, who has been working as a City Trader for the last seven years and is now taking a pause for reflection.

He is a Gen Y er. We think it is worth publishing in full...

"So, what do you do?

Usually asked quite early in a conversation, I used to hate that question. I always assumed it was a lazy way to label you and put you in a mental box. But then one can't deny that our work is of paramount importance, that there is nothing that consumes us physically and mentally more than how we busy ourselves in our daily jobs.

We spend most of our waking time working – often, more than all other conscious activities combined. So, you would think that in order to be satisfied with life, one ought to be satisfied at work. Yet most of us don't necessarily think that way. We treat work as a necessary evil to pay the bills and fulfill our needs –or greed. Some even sacrifice evenings and weekends in the hope of a "better future" (read bigger bank account). In fact, according to a recent survey by the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health, 84% of Britons reported being happiest away from work !

Let's stop and think about it for a second. This means we spend most of our active time, day in day out, doing work that we wouldn't do for its own sake in order to nibble at the things we actually do enjoy during the few hours that are left. We are working to accumulate money; the fact that we don't actually enjoy the process or that we don't get much time to enjoy our savings seems irrelevant. How do you explain doing something that defies its purpose?  To try and make sense of this, we have to follow the vicious circle of our relationship to money.

At first, it seems a good pragmatic compromise between leading a comfortable, secure life and having some leisure time. After all, we can't all go after those jobs we secretly fantasize about, it wouldn't be realistic. The beautiful house's mortgage needs to be paid, children need to go to a good school, one needs to buy the latest fashion items to feel good about oneself...and ultimately, it's not enough. Ultimately it doesn't matter how well you're doing if your neighbor /peer/ colleague seems to be doing even better. It's all relative...and it has no end. A lose/lose game without a moral centre. It's almost as if we are telling ourselves: "I don't care what you do. Sweat, borrow, steal or loot but you've gotta get the [ phone-designer jeans-holiday-a centrally located flat- jet set lifestyle-pack of crisps (yes. sadly recent events in London make the addition of a pack of crisps to the list necessary)  "

This model, has one major consequence: conspicuous consumption that, oddly enough, permeates all levels of society. Consumption is good. It keeps the wheels of the economy turning, creating jobs, wealth and prosperity and contributing to the growth of the almighty Gross Domestic Product. But taken to this extreme, it becomes a curse.

Sadly, we're having a collective Cinderella moment at present. The coach has tuned back to a pumpkin and we have nothing to show for our extravagant evening : Bailiffs rather than prince charming are more likely to come knocking on our doors. In the west, we are now living in some of the most indebted societies ever. We live beyond our means and it's time to pay back. So we cling to that job that doesn't satisfy us, we 're more ruthless in climbing the corporate ladder, we spend more time on the same chair, glued to the same screen and we force ourselves to do more. "Work more to earn more" was the campaign slogan of the current French president, before he pushed back the retirement age.  Ironic isn't it? The necessary evil has become even more necessary, and even more evil, because now we don't really have a choice. Welcome to a world of bonded labor: 2.0

Why this drive to materialism we wonder? I think we, as a society, have created a burning desire for more money. We even use the revealing expression: how much someone is worth. Money = Status.  Ask college graduates, most of them will tell you it's THE end game. How would they chose where they would like to work: simple, where it pays best ! And who could blame them?  turn on the TV, go to see the latest movie, open a newspaper and you won't fail to notice how ruthlessly we are bombarded with the same message... You only exist if you're rich, if you can afford to buy and brag and show off. Otherwise you are socially invisible, a loser, you might as well disappear. To have is to be.

Watching one of the latest Hollywood blockbusters I was surprised by how extreme this message is getting. It's a story of a struggling author who stumbles upon a brain enhancing drug that transforms him into this uber-intelligent person (Intellectually and somehow socially). As you notice his transformation, you can't help but wonder: what would I do if I had these supernatural powers.... You know what he does? He goes on to make a killing on Wall Street, parties like there is no tomorrow and gets closer to the pinnacle the US success story: becoming a congressman. Money + power, that's what you do with supernatural intelligence. And you know what, he gets away with it. Forget the Marvel heroes of the past who relentlessly used their supernatural powers to do good, fight the baddies, and save the planet. This is no Spider-man, this is a 21st century hero, he goes to Wall Street and craves power. These are the values we are giving the next generation.

So if this is the root of the "necessary evil", how do we get around it? I think we all know the answer but making it happen is going to take all our creative forces and our collective will. It seems to me that this is somehow a problem of re-branding our current values. Making the most money and accumulating the most toys is a very powerful brand in our collective mind - a modern siren song, and we are all falling under its spell from a young age. The only way to resist it is to be tied to the mast of healthier values. Healthier in the sense that they produce a lasting life satisfaction for individuals and a more cohesive society. I am no expert on human nature, but I believe we have these values in us, we just need to tune into them. Honesty, courage, empathy, Integrity, kindness, persistence.... These need a revival, a retrospective ! They need to find their way back into the making of our heroes, and we are all responsible for it, and especially media content gurus.

Our strategy should be to look at the destructive "brands" and deconstruct the myths and desires we have created around them. Every time we see the omnipresent "buy or die" message we ought to immediately imagine a white box pop-up similar to the ones on cigarettes packs: "Materialism is addictive and can cause some serious damage to your soul".  Fortunately, a lot of work is currently being done in the field of positive psychology that will allow us to test scientifically what kind of values and behaviors can have a lasting positive impact on our lives. And you know what, more money is not one of them (Check the recent Gallop Survey on life satisfaction vs income). This is a message we need to get out there, to every graduate contemplating what to do, to every person struggling with these issues. And here comes the role of educators, career advisors, teachers and mentors.

Free from those shackles, we can then use our ingenuity to channel our drive towards other "brands". Mental maps that teach us to be fair to ourselves, discover what is unique about us and take time to nurture it. The first battle we need to fight is without doubt within ourselves, and as one of our unsung heroes famously said: “let's be the change we want to see in the world”.

And this particular change is our responsibility towards ourselves and our children.

 
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