“What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.”
– George Mallory
If Samantha, my co-founder and business partner in crime, has a hill to die on, then I have an axe to grind. Okay, I have many axes: the dialogue in Uncut Gems feels like the screenwriters banged out their pages for the day without giving an ounce of thought to the story, Michael Jackson actually sucks, Don’t Look Up was so bad its creators must have been under some collective Mandela-effect to put it out. Whipped cream is gross, the Throne of Glass series was better than ACOTAR, I HATE THE BEASTIE BOYS!
On an axe more work related, I was recently reading Deep Work by Cal Newport. I enjoyed it, aside from the parts of it I didn't. Specifically, I was confused by the idea of using examples like Einstein or Jung to illustrate the benefits of working free from distraction, while at the same time implying that the reason one does this kind of work is to get ahead.
Einstein probably did do ‘deep work’, yes. He probably did disappear into corners of his mind and refused to pop out until he was good and done. He probably did not do deep work so he could succeed as a knowledge worker and make $300,000 a year.
He was Einstein.
Trying to make that comparison is bananas, and so is a statement later in the book where Cal mentions something along the lines of how ‘doing things for others without expecting anything in return’ can have ‘benefits to your career.’
I’m willing to bet that Mr. Newport himself didn’t write Deep Work just because he wanted to make the most of his knowledge in the knowledge economy. I’m willing to bet that what found him to the book’s completion was making his point and connecting with the reader to an issue on which he cares. Otherwise he couldn’t have finished writing it in the first place. Otherwise it wouldn’t have resonated with readers. Otherwise it wouldn’t have sold.
I could be wrong, but I kind of doubt it.
There are only so many 1% a day habits to make you better at doing something if you’re only doing it to get 1% closer to somewhere else. You can become systemic and organized. You can structure your life with a morning routine or add butter to your coffee or run an extra mile every day or jet off to seek peace in Tibet. You can keep yourself so busy improving that you never, under any circumstances, have to think about where you are, who you are, how you are right now.
How’s your heart feel?
I’m not talking about the butter.
Meaning is what we’re always searching for. It burns us. It’s what keeps us shifting from Netflix to online shopping to our next vacation to a big new car. It’s like what some Buddhists call the hungry ghosts—tiny mouths, big bellies. Always hungry and always searching, but never full.
Meaning is filling. Effort done earnestly is sustaining. You can be full. You deserve to be full.
Who are you? What do you value? What kind of work feels like play? What is your secret talent?
What’s your guilty pleasure? What do you love about life?
We are big people who used to be children. We have 2500 pound machines purring under our control to take to the grocery store, where we carry history’s entire music catalog in our pocket and buy peaches that are perpetually fresh. We live in comfortable boxes with families and pets and loved ones and books and we built it with our choices and our gifts and our luck.
Your work is your gift. Take pleasure in it. Luxuriate in the time it takes to let your mind solve a problem, and do it because the problem is something you want to solve. Start a business or take a job because you value what you’re doing, what you’re adding to the world, how you’ll grow. Do it because it means something. Do it because it needs to be done. Because it’s what you’re doing at this moment, at this time.
What do you love about life? Who are you still, the big person who used to be a child? Surely you’re in there. Surely you live.
You finish your morning routine off with a cup of butter-coffee for energy. You start in on your organized schedule for optimal productive time. You crack your knuckles to bang out 10 pages of uninspired text.
You rob yourself of the freedom in the moment, the joy of doing the work for the work’s sake.
You rob yourself of the meaning that makes you full.
Being earnest is not just good morals. It’s not ‘being earnest to get into [insert religion]’s good books’ or ‘being earnest to make money’ or being earnest to…well, anything. It’s just being earnest. Building things that need building, living out your values, and doing meaningful work—because it fills you up and leaves you less empty and helps others to do the same.
Meaning is filling.