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.

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.”