When an economy progresses, its a sign of greater consumption. Thanks to the high degree of specialization of labor, we have become experts in consuming what other people have created.
But, it’s good to realize that while we may be getting richer in terms of accumulating material wealth and comforts, we aren’t getting any smarter. The renaissance man is something that we must aspire to become even though the market doesn’t reward it.
If you think you are spending way too much money on entertainment, eating out, and taking vacations, it’s a sign that you are consuming way more than what’s needed and creating way less than what’s needed. If we focus our efforts on creating things, we wouldn’t have time or energy to consume much.
More often than not, when things are going good, we tend to ensure we remain in the comfortable zone. We hold on to the goodness. It’s a natural thing to do – why mess things up when they are working. What we often forget is, things are temporary in life – whether good or bad. Everything is a phase.
As philosophical as it sounds, deep down we know this is the truth yet, we hardly do anything about it.
When we are in our 20s, we have our age and health to our advantage yet, how many of us make healthy food choices? We take our health for granted thinking we can afford to eat junk food now. When we have a full-time job that pays well, how many of us choose to be generous by doing pro bono/volunteer work? We take our jobs and salaries for granted thinking we don’t have to develop new skills and relationships outside of what our current job demands.
In reality, it’s the choices we make when things are going well that is going to help us when things get worse. It’s the right food habits and workout regime that we cultivate when we are still healthy, that’s going to be an asset to fall back on when our health fails. It’s the skills, experience, and relationships that we build when there is absolutely no pressing need, that’s going to be an asset to fall back on when we lose our jobs.
It’s this paradox of doing something when we don’t feel like it, that’s going to help us when things go out of our hands.
More often than not, we are obsessed with finding the right line of work and we forget the most important part, which is working right. When we hate our jobs, we try to switch to a different job or even a different career path but, we do not tend to think of the possibility of us working in the right manner irrespective of the job we have.
In his book, Deep Work, Cal Newport writes a story about a Rabbi who wakes up early every single day to master Judaism. With rigorous self-discipline over the years, the Rabbi managed to gain a lot of knowledge on Judaism. A layman would ask what is the use of this knowledge. However, it’s not the knowledge per se that’s important it’s the effort that went in order to acquire that much knowledge that matters and the years of persisting a process. Why? Because, how we do anything is how we do everything.
What we do doesn’t matter but, why we do matters. What we do is simply a reflection of the times we live in (for example, if Vincent Van Gogh was born today, he wouldn’t have become an impressionist painter) but, why we do something goes deeper into our own values and belief systems. It’s a direct reflection of who we are. We just happen to do the ‘whats’ because our ‘whys’ need an expression.
In her book, Mindset, Carol Dweck emphasizes the very same idea by bringing in the theory of growth mindset where effort is given more importance than talent and ability. Practice and hard work are the key components of a growth mindset.
The magic happens when we obsess about the process and not the outcome (a trait of the craftsman mindset). That’s when the transferable skills are formed. Once we form the transferable skills we can apply them in any domain we want to excel. Success would then be a byproduct. We keep track of all the wrong, superficial things. We mistake the byproduct for the actual effect and that’s why there are only a few successful people in this world.
Similarly, Tim Ferris in one of his keynote talks about the DSS strategy for learning anything. This strategy is universal and it validates the point of how we do anything is how we do everything.
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:
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.
P.S: I did a syntopical reading/listening of the following people’s body of work (books, interviews, talks). The idea of why working right always triumphs finding the right work is a common theme.
In one of the episodes of the Indian web series, Girl in the City, when the character, Areem gets the credit for Meera’s work, Meera gets frustrated. At that point, the HR guy played by the character, Yash tells Meera, “Your work should get the credit and that’s more important than using your name.”
When we do something and it works, we love to get the credit and if it doesn’t work we do not like taking the blame. This is one point that Ryan Holiday mentions in his work, Ego is the Enemy.
I want to hold up the quieter virtues of humility and self-awareness and hard work and passing on credit. It’s easy to get credit for stuff; it’s harder to actually earn it.
By not insisting on taking the credit you can avoid being lumped in with those insecure people who demand or struggle for attention. You can gain respect because if doing something mildly important seems so casual to you maybe you spend time doing much more important things.
Push for an idea. If it fails, take the blame. If it succeeds, give the credit to the boss. “What people in the traditional economy have been trained to do is not go out on limbs, not give other people credit and make sure someone else always gets the blame,” says Godin. “What I’m arguing is all three are wrong.”
It may seem like a poor career choice to always accept blame and take no credit, but Godin says it actually leads to further opportunities. “When people are busy giving away credit, the people who receive the credit know where it came from, so they come back for more,” he says. “That’s how you become known as the person who does interesting projects. And the alternative is to be the person that no one notices—and that’s the first person who gets laid off.”
Real leaders don’t care [about receiving credit]. If it’s about your mission, about spreading the faith, about seeing something happen, not only do you not care about credit, you actually want other people to take credit…There’s no record of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi whining about credit. Credit isn’t the point. Change is. – Seth Godin
I think that word “should” in our internal narratives is very toxic—this notion of, “what should I be doing?” and it’s always pegged to some sort of expectation, whether it’s self-imposed or external or a combination of the two. It’s hard to balance those expectations of what you should be doing with what you want to be doing. I feel very fortunate in that to a large extent what I do is exactly what I want to be doing for myself, and I still write for an audience of one. I read things that stimulate me and inspire me and help me figure out how to live and then I write about them. The fact that there are other people who enjoy it is nice, but it’s just a byproduct.
Debbie also recommends visualizing an ideal day for creating an ideal life.
“Write an essay about the life you’d like to have five or 10 years from now,” she says. “Write it with as much detail as you can muster. What does your day look like? Where do you go? How do you get there? What does one perfect day in that life look like? Write it down, savor it, save it, reread it every year, and I will guarantee that the life you envision is one that you’ll get closer to.”
Just like how misery loves company, our prejudiced minds can also, find a company in an echo chamber of filtered information. With the way the internet filter bubbles are configured, we can always find arguments to support our existing beliefs, and premises about the world. There is no standard internet anymore, it’s personalized.
This can stunt our personal growth by inflating our ego and pride giving us what we want instead of what we need to magnify our spirits. As the effects of echo chamber are on the rise, what is steadily declining is allowing ourselves the uncomfortable luxury of changing our minds. This rare luxury is going to be another valuable skill that we might need to thrive going forward.