I was a terrible twenty-something. I spent that decade of freedom and high energy poorly. Most of it I spent hiding out from the world, staying in college too long, drifting from lousy job to lousy job.
When I wasn’t working a lousy job, I was probably sitting in front of the television watching trash I’d never waste my time on today or playing video games. If I were eating some leftover pizza while playing, that wouldn’t be unusual.
I did get a few worthwhile things accomplished. I got a master’s degree. I broke into broadcasting and started a journalism career. I grew into my philosophical and political convictions. I had friends.
Still, I could have done more. What led to my failing to make the most of my youth was my consumer mindset. I thought almost exclusively about what I was going to do to entertain myself, provide myself the next comfort, make it through another day.
One of the most important mindset changes anyone can make in this culture is to shift from the mindset of a consumer to that of a producer. It took me a while to make it.
It’s probably taking you a while too. Let me describe what it looks like.
The consumer mindset is one focused on getting. You might think this means that only people obsessed with material acquisition can have a consumer mindset. It doesn’t. People can live in poverty and have a consumer mindset. They can live perfectly content middle-class lives and have a consumer mindset.
Here’s an example. If your life revolves around what will happen next on a tv show, you might have a consumer mindset. If you talk endlessly about sports, follow some team zealously; look online for the next piece of memorabilia you can buy, you might have a consumer mindset. If a significant portion of your time is spent wandering aimlessly around the mall, you might have a consumer mindset. If the central point of all your work is merely to pay bills and to be able to afford a nice vacation, you might have a consumer mindset. Basically, a consumer mindset is one that focuses on seeking to appease the ache in our souls with products and experiences.
Of course, that doesn’t work. What works better is to seek the satisfaction of a productive life. When you live as a producer, your focus shifts from seeking the next distraction to seeking the next achievement and the excitement achievement creates. Racking up a series of achievements, even small ones, cements you in an outlook whose focus is what you can do that brings value to others.
And creating value is what it’s all about. The consumer is one who rarely considers the question of value, if he does, he only thinks of it in terms of which of his options will provide the best diversion from whatever he hopes to escape. The producer makes value his sole focus.
In all that he does, the question of value is paramount. In his free time, he pursues activities that create value for himself and others. He’s more likely to be found in the garage building a footstool than sitting around with his feet up, more likely to be playing football in the neighborhood than watching it on television. At work, he weighs the cost and benefits of his actions, analyzing the value he creates for his employer as well as the value his job creates for him. He understands that the world runs on the exchange of value and, instead of resenting that fact, he capitalizes on it.
Making this change from a consumer to a producer mindset is tough because every institution in our society wants you to consume. You have been conditioned to think of yourself as one big clump of endless need and to think of products big and small as your savior. The way out begins with two questions.
Ask yourself “What value am I creating right now?” and “What value does this thing I am doing offer me?” Committing to ask yourself these questions often will revolutionize your understanding of the world. I wish I had started asking these questions earlier, say, from birth. Had I done so, I would have used my twenties better.
Maybe you’re in the same boat, wishing you’d made this change earlier. Maybe you still have plenty of time in which to create value. Either way, our responses must be the same: we must create as much value as we can, as often as we can, for as many as we can. Whether you are 15 or 50, you must give in neither to delay nor regret because, in the end, neither has any lasting value.
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