The Good Life
There is some throwaway Tucker line about how if you’re going to be fat, you better be cool because if you’re not, what are you offering the world? My point in the post about traffic and about Atlas Shrugged is “if you don’t make the world a better place, why exactly do you exist?” My feeling is that if you don’t make the people around you better then you are not working hard enough, you’re not bringing enough value to the table.
And that is why I run every night–in the rain or when I’m tired. It’s why I start my day a 7:30 and finish well after midnight. It’s why even when I eat, I read. And my only real break is when I spend time with my girlfriend–who by association makes me a better person. It’s why for most of what I get paid to, I’d probably do for free if I had to. It’s why this quote is above my bed.
History is composed of individuals who pushed ahead–who for whatever reason, innovated and raised the playing field. And at the same time, they were combated every single step by people who cherished regression and lived for spite. We broke through each sociological, intellectual and economic barrier because one was a little stronger than the other. We avoided equilibrium and stasis through their will and their insistence on having the last word.
There are an infinite number of ways for you to be part of the former and an equally large and tempting number of ways to be part of the later. But it doesn’t seem to me like it is much of a choice. So my question is this: If you’re not spending your time trying to improve yourself and by extension everything around you, what exactly are you spending your time on?
To answer that last question, well…fun.
I mean, I work hard. Harder than most, more often than most, and I give myself less credit than most.
But, Christ, not constantly. Don’t you ever take a few hours to watch a movie that will in no way make you a better person, (I suggest Crank),? Or to sit and eat with some friends, talking about something that, in the grand scheme of things, is completely pointless? Every Thursday night, NBC airs The Office from 9-10, and FX airs It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I think about those two hours just about all week. When I’m at the gym, when I’m in class, when I’m working, when I’m reading, when I’m studying. In the back of my head, I am counting down until my delicious, delicious sleep coma.
Look, I’m all for making yourself and the world around you better. It’s why I work as hard as I do. But I also understand what it’s like to burn out and, man, you will burn out. It’s why, once and awhile, I engage my roommate in very competitive rounds of mini putt.
Burning Out isn’t a weakness in a person, it is something that happens if you’re constantly working.
I guess I just find it hard to believe: The whole “I’m constantly making myself and the world better, what could YOU possibly be doing if not making the world better,” sounds very high horse to me, and it sounds like you’re pretending to be confused to highlight what a hard worker you are. This I-Don’t-Understand-This-Strange-Concept-of-Mindless-Fun persona, is that real, or an exaggeration?
You’re thinking about it wrong. That there is a difference between fun and working. Or that spending time with friends isn’t part making yourself a better person. If you count down to sleep dude, you’re doing something wrong. It means you don’t like being awake.
And for the record, Sunny in Philadelphia is like the worst show ever.
There is one detail in this entry that made me wonder somehow. Striving to make yourself a better person is unquestionable a good thing, if done deliberately. Hence making the world around you better is a logical consequence, and also very desirable.
But making other people better? I don’t know about this. It’s what I’ve been talking about in my comment to Gulch&Cave (might have not expressed myself that accurately, as I’m no native speaker); You can only change yourself, really, and you can’t force anyone to become a better person. You can try to serve as a role model, or influence the circumstances, but in the end it’s always up to oneself. Plus, everyone is responsible for himself regarding certain decisions in their life, and even though I don’t say we don’t have our share of responsibility for our neighbour, we don’t even have the right to take some of it from them.
Sheesh, now that sounded like I didn’t like the post. Actualy I love it (and foresee a mid-sized burnout in my next 15-20 years [I’m not yet 18]), just like the M.A. quote in the linked entry. Very inspiring. Keep it up!
Sounds even more badass in Latin:
Nemo vir est qui mundum non reddat meliorem
I think it’s referenced in ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ but I forgot the original author. Anyway yeah, good stuff.
Can you expound on the last part of this point…
“We broke through each sociological, intellectual and economic barrier because one was a little stronger than the other. We avoided equilibrium and stasis through their will and their insistence on having the last word.
There are an infinite number of ways for you to be part of the former…”
I’m all for working hard, doing what you love, and fighting against the norm. I know Tucker has written about this too, that you should always be improving yourself, even if improving yourself means resting.
But I agree with Daniel above when he answers your question “If you’re not spending your time trying to improve yourself and by extension everything around you, what exactly are you spending your time on?” With, well “fun”. Okay, maybe you can consider any type of “fun” improving yourself. But going out, drinking lots of alcohol, eating a whole lot of shit occasionally because you feel like it, sleeping in sometimes, hooking up, living a ridiculous lifestyle that you won’t be able to live after college doesn’t seem to be “improving myself” so much as it just makes me enjoy myself. But I guess you could still argue that often enjoying implies improving.
Sure, do what you love; If you love your work, then great. But the fact of the matter is most people won’t and never do. Some people, like Tim Ferriss accept that fact, and try to minimize their working time and maximize their efficiency and thus enjoyment time. More power to you if you can truly find something you love, but is it really necessary at our age to take never take breaks, except “when I spend time with my girlfriend”, and force yourself to read when even you eat, instead of just being able to relax and enjoy a meal with others? I guess the payoff will be big, and I can understand your motivations, but is it that hard for you to understand people who just want to take life slowly and enjoy themselves? Or do you not believe that exists?
Trust me, I work a ton, I’m premed, I get pretty good grades. But I’ve started to burn out, and I’m making a commitment to myself to take off every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from now on. I’ll get into some medschool no matter what, college is too short to waste.
On a side note, would you ever want to have a beer with Howard Roark? I’d respect the guy, but he’d probably be boring as hell. Unless you get off to architecture… Ayn Rand’s characters are so idealized.
In grad school, I noticed that there were the kids in my department who did their work and then went out and relaxed together in the evening (my friends) and the one kid who never spoke except to let everyone else know how many papers he had conditionally accepted at top journals and how perfect his data was. No one liked that kid because he was a tool. You are sounding more and more like that kid everyday.
video games, porn/masturbation, curb your enthusiasm and aqua team hunger force
Why can’t you live that lifestyle after college? Oh right, the self-fulfilling prophecy.
Look, I understand wanting to “live” life now because you’ve already decided that from 25 onwards, you’re not going to be able to. It’s that whole, one last gasp before I go under thing. If that’s your style fine, but to argue that it is the best strategy or more fun is ridiculous.
And again, Ferriss’ outlook is based on a foundation (that only you can build) and then using it to explore the world as you please. It is not never working or doing a job that you hate or trading the future for the immediate present.
Ryan, you seem to be a relentless self-improver, and ultimately that’s very admirable. But if you are putting all of your energy towards the goal of changing the world, as the above post seems to indicate, where do you find happiness? Where does your personal enjoyment come in? Do you truly enjoy all the effort you put into your work? If so, then more power to you, it sounds like you’re on the right track. But if you’re taking solace on the chance that you will be remembered by future generations, I think you’re setting yourself up for a big fall.
What is that Aurelius line? About shooting for fame when the people of the next generation are going to be as stupid and misguided as this one and the one before it? Of course, that is not the answer.
But when I ask what is it that you spend your time on and the answer is “masturbation,” someone has some examining to do. When you sit on your death bed are you going to say “I wish I played with my dick some more” or are you going to wish you’d gotten good at something? Or found purpose and truly examined why you lived as you lived?
When you sit on YOUR deathbed, maybe you’ll die without any regrets, but in the end, you and your legacy will fade away (everyone’s does over a long enough time period)… so all you really did was act out a fantasy to appease your ego, no?
Is there anything better than to die without regrets? That is ALL that you have.
Heres the thing, it happened exactly as I said. There are people who do things and then people who don’t. And the people who don’t just hate it when people do–because it highlights their failures and their laziness. We’ve got a guy here who takes three days off a week and he’s still a teenager. That’s not making a commitment to enjoy life that’s a commitment to trade living it for lethargy.
If it’s about pleasure, there is no greater pleasure than to function at your highest capacity. At their root, pleasures and pains are an evolutionary way to get us to do or don’t do things that help/hurt our survival. The pleasures listed here have been temporal, transient ones–necessary, but not the ultimate expression. Maximizing potential (or creating it) is on an entirely different plane.
PCD: That is kind of defeatist; are you saying that since most of of will never gain lasting fame and our legacy will fade away that it is not worth trying to live a life without regrets?
-“fade away” Except for a few famous inventors &world leaders who does not fade away, if 50 years after my death someone is still talking about me then that would satisfy me. How long do you want to be remembered? or expect??
-Fantasy?? This is not Fiction, its life everything you do positive or negative will have an effect how big the ripple is the question
This question isn’t meant to be antagonistic at all so don’t take it that way. You’ve mentioned that you either watch or use to watch Law and Order all the time.
Are/were you making yourself better while watching Law and Order?
And on that note, am I making myself better while watching The Office on Thursday nights?
It seems to me that enjoying a good television show with some friends is improving yourself. Do you agree?
Of course dude. And if you’ve ever spent time in an office, that show makes you want to weep. I still watch a ton of television–from shitty reality shows to documentaries or whatever. But I do it to compliment my life, not delay living it.
The question is not what do you do with your free time, it is, if you don’t dedicate yourself to improvement, what are you dedicating yourself to? Stagnation? Regression?
“Is there anything better than to die without regrets? That is ALL that you have.”
You sure? It seems like all this discussion is pointless because you’ve already decided you wanted to be this “great” person and you’re just coming up with reasons to validate that sort of existence.
OK. We actually agree more than I thought we did. It was wrong on my end to link your ideas of uselessness or “stagnation” and “regression” to literally one specific thing, (like watching TV or eating ham alone, possibly in a hammock). There is no one-to-one link, and I guess I assumed that you thought anyone who watches TV is inferior or a waste, or..something. That is, as I understand it now, not your case.
I’m gonna be happy on my death bed. I’ll look back on having a job that I’d be absolutely crazy to complain about, working constantly and being good at it. I’ll also think about the insane amount of work I put on myself in college and how proud I was to fucking destroy it. I’ll also think about watching Crank, (and, when the time comes, Crank 2) in my underwear and eating pop tarts, a necessary precaution against burning out.
And look at this Nigel guy. He is PRECISELY the kind of person that I was talking about–someone that lives for spite. You got it, buddy, I’m coming up with rationalizations for greatness.
I should specify: I agree that it would be nice to die without regrets and am open to the idea that it’s all we have, however, I think what one does or doesn’t regret is largely subjective. I’m sure it’s a great feeling, but in the end it’s built mostly (maybe entirely?) upon your subjective definition of what is and isn’t regrettable.
Cadet07, you provide an example in your response: “if 50 years after my death someone is still talking about me then that would satisfy me.”
That number of 50 is completely subjective. Supposing there was a way for someone to know how long they’d be remembered on their death bed, there are those who would feel a deep sense of regret over only being remembered for 50 years.
Ryan’s idea of a regret-free life revolves around the premise that “there’s no greater pleasure than to function at your highest capacity”. Again I feel that too much subjectivity surrounds this statement for it to be useful. Perhaps we are evolutionarily geared towards working hard, but how hard and in what direction are areas that, in my mind, are created by the individual and affect one’s definition of “highest capacity”.
I don’t mean to write this as if I have the answers, and if anyone’s ever read ‘Denial of Death’ by Ernest Becker, it does a better job dissecting the subjectivity of man’s meaning systems better than I am doing, and while I hope he’s wrong, I have to consider the argument as a possibility.
I can understand the desire to make the world a better place. To a degree, that’s admirable. It’s only polite to do what you can to improve the lives of others as long as you’re sharing space or resources; you surely won’t make any friends if you’re perceived as a taker and never give anything back. But your assertion that “time not spent aggressively pursing that goal of improving yourself/the world = time wasted” is off-base.
You’re welcome to your opinion, of course. Live life the way you want to, and try not to inconvenience others in the process, but I don’t see a difference between your personal mandate and a religious evangelist’s. You insist that to be worth anything as a person, one must be constantly learning, innovating, improving, working hard, getting up early and going to bed late for the sake of somehow “making the people around you better”; every religious evangelist insists that to be worth anything as a person, one must be constantly praying, worshipping, preaching, repenting, condemning sinners and commending the righteous for the sake of pleasing a particular deity. In the absence of a clearly defined, universal “purpose of life,” you have both come up with your own ideas about why we exist and what we ought to do, with nothing more than your personal convictions and value structure as support.
All your philosophy amounts to is an arbitrary set of directions on how to go about achieving self-satisfaction your way. As individuals, we are free to set our own goals and live life by our own standards as long as they don’t interfere with the rights of others, so who are you to tell me that I’m not living up to my potential? Who are you to tell me I have a responsibility to go out of my way to please anyone but myself?
I’m not advocating a lifestyle of conspicuous consumption or selfish pursuit of absolutely nothing more than my own personal gain. Like most people, I smile politely when addressed by another person, I hold the door for the guy behind me and flush the toilet when I’m done and slow down when the soccer mom on the freeway ramp has to merge. These are all fairly common standards of decency. So beyond that, why should I pay attention to you, or anyone else for that matter, when you tell me how you think I should live my life?
On my deathbed, I predict I will relive my most cherished memories of time spent with loved ones, traveling the world, enjoying the things I’ve found enjoyable. Your deathbed experience might be different, but by no means can you say that your goals are better than mine.
I don’t think we’re really in disagreement. You make the world better by making yourself better–and that was the essence of Rand’s philosophy. My problem with Rand is that her books contradict that: Everybody left.
The problem is that we have people that go out and cause car accidents because they’re bitter, or try to tax the successful to deter a greater disparity, or attempt to break the spirit of the motivated.
The question is: Is there a worse accusation than being told you make other people worse off by existing then by not existing?
I’m liking your blog and the points you bring up.
I think I used to be more of a always on the go person as well but of late I’ve toned it down a bit.
I think balance is very important. Lots of religions and wise philosophers of the past have expanded on this idea so I won’t go into it. I also think that proper rest and living a stress-free (note: not challenge-free) life helps me work better and accomplish more during my times of work because I am more focused, alert and energized. Basically, I don’t feel guilty anymore if I’m not doing something which is quantify-able. It’s has allowed me to take more time to spend with friends and build relationships.
I went to a seminar with a series of speakers half a year ago. One of the speakers was Suzanne Sommers who talked about the importance of health as people aged. The most interesting thing she said was “When I was younger I used to brag that I was up until 3am working on my acting or writing my books. I was proud of sleeping only 3-4 hours a night and going on less sleep than anyone else….I’m not proud of that anymore.” From her appearance and the things she talked about, her health was obviously failing and she placed a much bigger priority now on her health since she was losing it.
Now you can definitely see the other point of view that if she hadn’t stayed up late all those nights she might not have acted that much or written those books.
I realised a while ago that fame does not equal success. It’s an odd thing to say when the media and American values seem to say the opposite all the time. For me, my life will still be successful whether or not I’m famous or well-known. And guess what, I’ll bet the people that really achieved something thought the same way. Thomas Edison didn’t set out to be famous still 50 years after his death. My definition of success does not rely on anyone else.
Don’t take this as attacking your point of view. Everyone makes their own choices and there’s definitely not one path for all people. That’s what makes life great.
I admit, I’m lazier than most. But I really like your approach to life, I just find it very hard to stay inspired and to stay with a plan. All it takes is one really bad day and I’m back to my old ways.