Things ain’t like they used to be.

This summer, I was sitting in a café in Madison when a song came on over the café speakers. The song reminded me of Green on Red, one of my all time favorite bands, and since I was online at the time, when the chorus, “things ain’t what they used to be”, came around I googled it. Not Green on Red but a band called the Black Keys. No matter, the song was great and it got me thinking.

Things were indeed not what they used to be, not by a damn sight. A few years ago, I was a creative director at an ad agency, I was obsessed with making a lot of money, my career came first, before friendships, before love, before happiness. I was climbing ever higher in the hope that the view that had gotten so bad would look better from even higher up. My guitars gathered dust.

These days, I am unemployed, possibly unemployable, yet friendship, love and happiness come first. And my guitars are played regularly, as I work on song after song after song.

But back to that song I heard, specifically the line “things ain’t what they used to be”. Right now, I am again sitting in a café, only now I am home in San Francisco, and I am staring out at South Park, once of the epicenter of the dot com revolution.

Things ain’t what they used to be.

Back in the late 90s and early into this century, the allure of South Park and its dotcommers was strong for me. I wanted a job at a start-up, I wanted a loft, I wanted to go out every night to expensive restaurants, I wanted to feel like I was changing the world. The only problem: I couldn’t really figure out why. Maybe I just wanted to feel like I belonged, like I was doing something special, that life wasn’t passing me by. Who knows?

But here’s what I’ve learned: to want something without knowing why is the depth of misery. You are focused, motivated, determined. You make sacrifices, you suffer, you make others suffer, and when you finally get whatever it was you thought you wanted, you feel hollow. And the process starts all over again.

Going forward, I will still want things, I’m not naïve. But I will always question why. I will ask what real difference a thing would make for me and those around me before worrying too much about getting it. And I will only pursue those things for which there is, in my opinion, a good answer to why, an answer I could share with others and not feel too shallow. Most important, though, is that it has to be an answer I deeply believe in, both rationally and emotionally.

Things ain’t like they used to be.