All Wretch and No Vomit (a not-disgusting post on doing what you love)

 

(source)

This is a really great lecture from Alan Watts, a British philosopher. It’s well worth the three minutes to watch. It brings up some points that I struggle with a lot.

Watts talks about encouraging his students and listeners to do the thing they love most, because there’s no point wasting a lifetime trying to earn enough money to be stable enough to begin doing what you love to do. Better to lead a short life doing what you love than a long life doing what you don’t.

Yet, I can’t help be a little poked by the idea that everyone could and should be doing what they enjoy first and foremost. Perhaps that’s not quite what he’s saying, but I’ve run into this implication a lot lately: the idea that life is short, so don’t waste it doing silly, trivial, hateful, or boring things.

I love that idea. It’s awesome. I’d give anything to live it out every day. But what about people in other countries, other lifestyles, of different means? I have the freedom to invest a large portion of my time in writing or playing music or taking pictures (things I love), but many people don’t. I wonder what advice starving villagers in Africa would be given?

Maybe the implication is buried under the surface that, as people with abundance, we should be giving and sharing and working toward a place where all others DO have the ability to explore their passions, not just their bare essentials.

“If you do really like what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter what it is, you can eventually become a master of it […] and then you’ll be able to get a good fee for whatever it is.”

That’s a great philosophy, but I have no idea if it’s true. I think it’s true in Western culture, and in a many other cultures, but it also rides on the freedom to invest enough time to become good at something. At the core, though, I think this is sound advice. Take every chance you have to improve at things you love and eventually you will be a master. It’s the masters who are sought for their expertise, so if you have any hope of being able to do what you love “professionally”, then do it a lot.

“Somebody’s interested in everything.”

I like that point, that there’s someone out there who will find interest in just about any conceivable topic. From those who dream of space to those who are enchanted by the countless forms of bacteria living in poo.

“It’s absolutely stupid to spend your time doing things you don’t like in order to go on doing things you don’t like.”

This is a strong point. Many people get stuck in a loop of working a mindless job, investing in a mindless existence. It’s done on the premise of needing that stability to survive or save enough or be able to afford what you need, but needs are relative. Wants are subjective. This is where it’s a good idea to re-evaluate. Are you repetitively doing something you don’t like to enable yourself to do other things you don’t like? It’s easy to say “no,” but I realized that I do this quite often. It doesn’t mean that you do it ALL the time, but it happens. It probably happens more than we’d like to admit.

“It’s all wretch and no vomit”

My favorite quote from the whole video. I’m sure my friend Jordan will hate this idea (he lives in perpetual fear of throwing up). When we are sick and we start to wretch, it is the uncomfortable preparation for releasing the poison inside us. It’s awful, it’s uncomfortable, it’s embarrassing, and we revile it. But when the release is over, we experience some degree of peace. Unfortunately in sickness this is often repeated several times to get out of us whatever was in us that shouldn’t be. This is true of life… there is a certain discomfort to be pushed through before we can release the junk and find health. At the same time, it is a necessary thing in order to get to happiness, joy, peace, or whatever term you want to use to describe a good place to be.

Advertisements

Only The Unloved Hate

One of my favorite bands in the world added this speech into one of their songs. It speaks for itself.

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business.

I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible; Jew, Gentile, black man, white.

We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each others happiness, not by each others misery.

We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone, and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in.

Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want.

Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind.

We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.

Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

The airplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.

To those who can hear me, I say, do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress.

The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you, enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines, you are not cattle, you are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts!

You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate; the unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!

In the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke, it is written that the kingdom of God is within man, not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you!

You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness!

You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy, let us use that power. Let us all unite.

Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill that promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people.

Now let us fight to fulfill that promise. Let us fight to free the world! To do away with national barriers! To do away with greed, with hate and intolerance! Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.

-Charlie Chaplin

Always Produce

“Always produce” is also a heuristic for finding the work you love. If you subject yourself to that constraint, it will automatically push you away from things you think you’re supposed to work on, toward things you actually like. “Always produce” will discover your life’s work the way water, with the aid of gravity, finds the hole in your roof. – Paul Graham

I used some quotes from this same article a couple day ago, but this one really stuck out as a valuable lesson by itself. To clarify, a heuristic is a rule of thumb, or a practical method for finding a solution to a problem that can’t be easily diagnosed.

I often push myself to do things that I’m not convinced are the best for me. It’s sometimes a way to Act As If. Sometimes this backfires, and what I do burns me out. Sometimes it’s a wash. Sometimes I end up being productive.

Always pushing myself to produce, while frequently uncomfortable, usually benefits me in some way. At the absolute minimum, it makes me feel productive. Beyond that, it often helps me discover something new, form a new relationship or improve an existing one, write some good content, or maybe clarify my dreams. Always producing (which I never do all the time) makes me accountable to myself to have something to show for my efforts.

Ever write a nice long paper or article, or edit a great video/song, or create anything in a digital format and have it erased unexpectedly? That feeling you get is the feeling of having what you produced be washed away. All the work you put in just went down the crapper. But that’s how you know you did something productive. Chase that feeling. Temper it with health, don’t overextend. Don’t confuse being productive with always being busy. Downtime is absolutely vital.

I take “always produce” as meaning, don’t waste your time with busywork. If you’re going to work on something, make it something productive.

Invest In Yourself

“What a recipe for alienation. By the time they reach an age to think about what they’d like to do, most kids have been thoroughly misled about the idea of loving one’s work. School has trained them to regard work as an unpleasant duty. Having a job is said to be even more onerous than schoolwork. And yet all the adults claim to like what they do. You can’t blame kids for thinking “I am not like these people; I am not suited to this world.” – Paul Graham

This is an excerpt from Paul Graham’s Do What You Love article. It’s brilliant. He makes a ton of great observations about doing what you love, how we are taught to pursue work, the different between work and pleasure (is there one?), how much time to spend on things, and a lot of other stuff you should probably learn from reading it. Here’s another of my favorite quotes from the article…

But the fact is, almost anyone would rather, at any given moment, float about in the Carribbean, or have sex, or eat some delicious food, than work on hard problems. The rule about doing what you love assumes a certain length of time. It doesn’t mean, do what will make you happiest this second, but what will make you happiest over some longer period, like a week or a month.

This is often neglected, and I have found it is one of the common points of criticism for people when they are told “do what you love.” What you love may not be the most productive thing, or may not pay the bills, or may not be healthy. It’s important to specify that “work you love” (and work itself) is something that contributes to your wellbeing and success over the longview.

Invest in yourself, to put it simply. Don’t take the nickel now when you could have the dollar next week.

“Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.”

Good and Better

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.” – T.S. Eliot

Take things that are good, make them better. Find something that is one way, and make it another way. Flip, reorganize, adjust, re-face. Improve. Nothing is static. Probably nothing is original. Nothing is absolute. The world is fluid, and can be remade. We can renew and restore. We should renew and restore. We should make good better. We would avoid making bad worse.

Who Are We Living For?

But who are we living for? I am all for living to help other people, but when we live our lives to the expectations of other people, we end up living lives we don’t want. And what do we get when we live up to the expectations of all these other people? They really don’t care — they just don’t like things different because they are uncomfortable with change. Staying the same as everyone else doesn’t make everyone else happier — it just doesn’t force them to reflect on their lives.

-Leo Babauta

What is the point of living for others if it is only to appease expectations? What good does that do for us, or for others? And if we live for others to serve them, then do expectations play into it at all?