This question is called Kant’s categorical imperative. We use this theory for things that are convenient for us and not for everything. When it comes to saving money for the future, we usually do not ask this question – what if everyone saved their earnings and not spend at all? We usually take it as a given that everyone spends their money to live in the present and be a consumer.
Rewards and recognitions are a great way to motivate people so they can exhibit the expected behaviors or outcomes we want. The key word here is “expected.” We must be aware of this intended-ness whenever we are being rewarded or recognized for our efforts.
We tend to introspect only when we are not being rewarded or recognized for our efforts. However, it’s equally essential to introspect when we are recognized. We are Pavlovian creatures at the end of the day, and we tend to associate rewards with success.
But, what if we are being rewarded for exhibiting behavior that doesn’t make us better people? Marketers do this all the time. In a consumer society, the more we consume and produce waste, we are being recognized for our wastefulness and mindless consumption by associating these behaviors with us having a higher status in the society. This is an intended outcome to convince people to consume over-produced goods in the market. The result, as we all know, is more stuff going into the landfills, and eventually, affecting the health of our planet.
Rewards and recognition can be tricky when they are not often introspected.
More often than not we keep hearing that “trust your instincts.” While that works sometimes, what is important here is to make our instincts or guts smarter. Then, it makes sense to trust our instincts. So, how can we do this?
The more we practice something, the better we become at doing that thing. Similarly, we need to practice listening to our instincts often enough, so it gets smarter over time. Here are some ways to making our guts brighter:
- Practicing in private making a judgment call on something. Blogs are a great way to do this. They are also, free.
- Volunteering for a non-profit is another excellent way to do practice making judgments. It’s extremely low risk.
- Finding out a peer group to sharing and talking through your instincts so that they are no longer your instincts.
Seth Godin, in his interviews, always talks about his 40 billion dollar worth of t-shirt that reminds him of not being able to see the potential of the internet to build a company like Yahoo. If only he had seen what the founders of Yahoo had seen years ago, he would have been a billionaire by now. The t-shirt simply reminds him of the cost of not seeing the world as it is.
While we are good at calculating benefits, not many of us are good at calculating the (hidden) costs/price of things we enroll in our life. More often than not, we consider costs as simply the compromises we think we are making and not the compromises we are actually making.
In my research methods class, I learned that sometimes even when the model/formula is fit it still may not be good at predicting and making inferences about the larger population. Success is also, like that.
If we had a formula for success, we could predict the outcomes of a person’s actions over time. Unfortunately, here the variables keep changing over time and hence, it’s hard to develop a success formula or model. If we had a universal formula for success assuming the dependent factors are going to be constant over time, all of us could have simply followed the formula and become successful in whatever we aim.
When people talk about their success stories, they are simply stories that can be cooked up in hindsight. Success can be as random as it can get.
Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble. (Quid’s recte factum quamvis humile praeclarum.) —Sir Henry Royce
Sometimes, on the road to where we are going or where we want to be, we have to do things that we’d rather not do. Often when we are just starting out, our first jobs “introduce us to the broom,” as Andrew Carnegie famously put it. There’s nothing shameful about sweeping. It’s just another opportunity to excel—and to learn.
But we are always so busy thinking about the future, we don’t take enough pride in the tasks we are given right now. Too often we phone it in, cash our check, and dream of some higher station in life. Or we think, This is just a job, it isn’t who I am, it doesn’t matter.
This is foolishness.
Everything we do matters—whether it’s making smoothies to save up money or studying for the bar—even after we’ve already achieved the success we sought. Everything is a chance to do and be our best. Only self-absorbed assholes think they are too good for whatever their current station requires.
Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing and wherever we are going, we owe it to ourselves, to our art, to the world to do it well. That’s our primary duty. And our obligation. When action is our priority, vanity falls away.
An artist is given many different canvases and commissions in their lifetime, and what matters is that they treat each one as a priority. Whether it’s the most glamorous or highest paying is irrelevant. Each project matters, and the only degrading part is giving less than one is capable of giving.
We will be and do many things in our lives. Some are prestigious, some are onerous, none are beneath us. To whatever we face, our job is to respond with:
- hard work
- helping others as best we can
We should never have to ask ourselves, But what am I supposed to do now? Because we know the answer: our job.
Duty is beautiful, and inspiring and empowering. Because all we need to do is those three little duties—to try hard, to be honest, and to help others and ourselves. That’s all that’s been asked of us. No more and no less. Sure, the goal is important. But never forget that each individual instance matters, too—each is a snapshot of the whole. The whole isn’t certain, only the instances.How you do anything is how you can do everything. We can always act right.