Thanksgiving 2012

When I was a child, we never observed Thanksgiving according to any formal rituals. Our family was decidedly unRockwellian. We might get a turkey, ten-minute-stuffing, and canned cranberries from the grocer, but it would always be served alongside the standard Indian fare of rice, dal, and aloo gobi.

This is to say that, even ignoring for a moment the romanticized history that surrounds it, this has never been the most relevant of holidays for me. There is one tradition, however, that I have always found particularly appealing: taking a day to regain perspective, and be thankful for your lot in life.

We, most of us on this planet, live lives of unfettered privilege compared to our ancestors. This is in some sense amazing, if you consider how strikingly little control we have over our lives. Were it otherwise, we would be better predictors of our own future. We have no say in the condition to which we are born; the level of nurturing or education we are afforded; whether economies rise or fall; or whether others see in us the talents and strengths we work to build within ourselves.

We live and work on the fringes of control. This does not discount the value of our work, since circumstance alone cannot provide fulfillment. But circumstance does have a great deal to say about the constraints within which one might be able to work.

None of these things in our lives which provide us with happiness had to be so. We lament the sorrows of our lives, but these unfortunate refrains mask a mirror framing. Life has no such responsibility to provide us with pleasure and happiness. One might as well be grateful for the myriad banalities and amazing opportunities we routinely take for granted.

I have been considering this perspective across a wide spectrum. Though I having nothing to hide from those who ask, I also loathe the narcissism of making public those relationships which have no need to be so, so I limit myself here to the context of my work.

I have the great joy to be able to work with people who are motivated, thoughtful, and kind to one another. To have found others to willing to invest their time, money, trust, and enthusiasm alongside me is, I believe, a gift. One ought to appreciate gifts.

I am thankful to have the opportunity to work. I say that not for the standard utilitarian purposes, as necessary as those are, but because of the nature of what I consider work to be. It is precisely that thing which you choose to do. Your work may be your daily practice of any sort, teaching your children, or whatever you define as a career. Any work provides within it the opportunity for joy, and for the meditative practice that comes with clarity of thought. I consider myself particularly lucky that the activity which consumes the majority of my waking hours is something I was able to choose, rather than be forced to accept.

I do not pretend that what we are doing will change the foundational architecture of society, or cause a leap in the moral nature of mankind. But it will do some incremental good. To be able to say this, honestly - that I am working at something that is, on the whole, a net positive to humanity - is an exceptionally rare thing. I’m not sure if most people know exactly how rare it is. Of all the things I am thankful for in relation to the work I do, this is by far the most significant.

Our company may succeed, it may fail; we are a startup, and that’s the risk of a new venture. The positive indicators are strong, and I believe success is the far more likely scenario. But at the end of the day, success is about leading a happy life; and if you’re able to do work you enjoy, with people you like, towards a positive goal, that’s a pretty successful situation.

Hope you have a great Thanksgiving.

22 Nov 2012