Saturday, November 10, 2007

Email from a gay guy who works in the City

About two weeks ago, the following email arrived in my inbox:

Dear GB,

Could I please trouble you for some help? I am a young gay man. I have been comfortable with, and exploring, my sexuality for around 3 years now. My introduction to the gay world has been a whirlwind of depraved encounters interspersed with the occasional romance.

I am a reasonably attractive man. Sex with good looking guys is freely available to me. I have a well paid job in the City. I am respected by my friends (of which there are enough to keep my social calendar busy) for my intellect and value. I live in a town house in London by myself, which I own personally courtesy of a trust fund that feeds, together with my salary, an indulgent lifestyle; I enjoy dining in the finest restaurants, and consider some of London ’s finest bars everyday waterholes.

I am growing increasingly tired. My life would be perfect by many people’s standards. I had a charmed and privileged upbringing, and setting aside my "general neurosis", which I do not consider to be that remarkable, I think I am relatively "issue" free, at least as far as the average Londoner goes.

I consider myself to have been completely single for at least six months. By that I mean that not only am I not seeing anyone regularly (except, perhaps, for a couple of casual sex and conversation buddies, who I have no particular attachment to beyond their convenience), no particular individual has any pull on my heartstrings.

After much deliberation, I do not really think I am longing for anyone new in my life either. I enjoy my personal space, and when the next casual sex encounter or buddy has gone, I feel a great sense of pleasure in having my personal space back.

I have countless projects in my life. I do, truly, enjoy work. But, if I am honest, I do sometimes wonder if it is much more than a social club to me.

Do you have any advice for curbing my decadence and finding some meaning and purpose?

PS I have recently become one of your new readers. I enjoy your blog very much

A lot of the 'Dear GB' emails that I've posted relate to gay or relationship issues, but this email is a bit different. Rather than asking about a particular part of his life, I reckon the young reader who sent me this email is actually asking about the direction of his whole life.

By co-incidence, I was recently reading an article called 'Danger: riches ahead' in Intelligent Life magazine, a sister publication to The Economist. The article is all about how much money rich parents should leave to their children, and it quotes Andrew Carnegie as having said "I would as soon leave my son a curse as the almighty dollar". The fact that the reader has a trust fund feeding his lifestyle suggests to me that the reader's rich parents have taken the opposite view!

With the reader's comfortable lifestyle assured, I started thinking about the Maslow Pyramid, which is something I learned about during one of my management training sessions a few years ago. I reckon the reader is about half or maybe two-thirds of the way up the pyramid. Maslow's pyramidHe may have a few of the attributes at the middle level and the level above that, but not all of them. Moving to top level of the pyramid, Maslow says that self-actualizing people:
  • Embrace the facts and realities of the world (including themselves) rather than denying or avoiding them
  • Are spontaneous in their ideas and actions
  • Are creative
  • Are interested in solving problems; this often includes the problems of others. Solving these problems is often a key focus in their lives
  • Feel a closeness to other people, and generally appreciate life
  • Have a system of morality that is fully internalized and independent of external authority
  • Have discernment and are able to view all things in an objective manner

At university and through my work, I've met a lot of people that have come from privileged backgrounds, but they don't usually have any of those attributes.

I reckon that working out how he can progress up the pyramid will be the key for him to find meaning and purpose in life. Thinking about the 'Esteem' level of the pyramid for a moment, he may have the respect of his friends, but my guess is that he doesn't in general have the respect of others. It's hard to respect people from privileged backgrounds if they've always had a relatively easy life. And if he's had an easy life, it will also be hard for him to give other people who've had to earn everything they've got the respect they deserve.

Although he says he's got countless projects, I somehow doubt that any of them are sufficiently difficult that his involvement will end up commanding significant respect. If that was the case he wouldn't have sent me the email. But one way to earn respect is to consistently complete DIFFICULT projects, in any area of endeavour. Difficult here means in relation to his abilities and resources, on a relative scale, not an absolute one. A crippled person managing to climb up some stairs for the first time deserves as much respect as an athlete winning a race.

Another possibility is to somehow become more altruistic. Ebenezer Scrooge Although I've never met any of them, I know that some very rich people find fulfillment this way. Even if he's not rich enough to be able to sacrifice his career, his email implies that he is rich enough to devote some of his energy in this kind of direction. The best fictional example of someone for whom this worked is the Charles Dickens character Ebenezer Scrooge. I don't think that the reader is at all like Scrooge, but in the context of Maslow, with the help of his ghosts I think Scrooge did reach the top level of the pyramid. Maybe the reader is already involved in charity somehow, but it doesn't help him if in reality it only corresponds to a small percentage of his resources.

My boyfriend number 2 is always keen on good karma, and the more I find out about that concept, the more I agree that it's important. In the context of Maslow, good deeds on a regular basis will help the reader move to the hierarchy (and vice-versa for selfish actions).

It was Peter Parker (aka Spiderman!) who said "With great power comes great responsibility". Even if the reader's resources aren't that great, it's clear from his email that he his resources are way above average, especially given his age. So whether he likes it or not, he has a responsibility to make the most of them.

Do any other readers have any thoughts to help this guy?


close encounters said...

a tour de force response - Maslow, Dickens and Spiderman !

Sir Wobin said...

I see a contrast with your recent post about turmoil, stress and creativity. Perhaps things are too easy for your reader.

If you want an interesting life, go live somewhere that is not in Europe or North America for a few years. Making a new life after moving countries is quite a challenge. You can always come back to London when the going gets too tough...

Trevor said...

It sounds like this 'young gay man' has a pretty bright head on his shoulders. But I agree with you GB that perhaps he needs to be more challenged than he currently is. This though may be more than just in his work environment. It sounds like he has a lot of people who respect him - but I'm not sure how many of these he truly respects. Certainly I wonder whether any of the people in his life really challenge him, make him use all his facilities to work through to a higher level. Perhaps the challenge for him is to find those people who make him think differently - who have a different perspective - and that can be gleaned from all kinds of interaction outside his norm. But how to step outside his normal environment? A new career? A new business or charitable organisation that he could create? Stepping sideways with his skills into a whole other dimension where he feels like a fish out of water...?

One of my mantras is 'do something each day that scares you' - it will take you all kinds of places, but through it, a better person you will become.

Monty said...

One simple solution...he could marry me and be "altruistic" by keeping me in the style to which I would love to become accustomed!!! :-)

Tales of the City said...

Give your money away dude and start all over again.
Go do some Charity work.