Chapter 2 of Designing Your Life (DYL) is about “Building a Compass”. If we’re going to be prototyping different ideas to improve our life, it will be useful to have some guidance and rationale for those decisions. A compass will point us in the right direction.
Given that work is an overwhelming part of most of our lives, it seems deserving of spending some time developing a work philosophy. The authors make it clear that this is not simply your job, how you get paid and sustain your family, but broader than that. The main point of this part of the exercise is to discover why you work, and what motivates you about work.
The other view we’re going to develop is a Lifeview. This is intended to be your overarching life philosophy. Essentially, it’s time to put to work all that existential angst (or lack thereof) you’ve had in your life.
Once we’ve written these down, we can see how well they align with each other. Over time, we might refine our Workview and Lifeview, making our compass more and more reliable.
One thing I know about myself, even if all my needs were met and I did not need money, I would work, but it would look much different than my current work life.
I believe that humans are this wonderful mix of lazy and industrious. Anthropologists suggest that the average nomadic hunter gather only had to work ~10 hours a week to provide for themselves, spending the rest of that time in leisure and socializing. When I hear that someone is lazy, I do not discredit them, I think it’s literally a natural state. We are designed to both conserve our energy, and spend significantly more time with others than we do in our current culture.
On the other hand, the fact that we are hard working and innovative is equally remarkable. The fact that humans have designed and created so much is astonishing. I would not be able to write this very blog on my computer were it not for these people.
What I find missing with our world’s view on work is balance.
If money were not an issue, I would still work everyday, but simply for the sake that I enjoy creating things. I don’t even need to finish, I simply enjoy the process of taking nothing (or little) and creating something with it.
Even this, is just work for the sake of creating. I derive no monetary value from my blog or YouTube channel. From an economic standpoint, this might be an irrational activity to partake in. But not all work is economic, in my opinion. Or perhaps a better way to put it, economics will fail to sufficiently explain why I enjoy work that I am not paid for. Homo economicus is a myth.
I believe that people intrinsically want to do something, that if money were not an issue, that the majority of people would find something meaningful to fill their time. This would be their work.
However, we have designed a society that requires us spend the vast majority of our life laboring for survival (and if we are lucky, a few small pleasures). This does not satisfy me in the least.
I work because I deeply enjoy learning and creating. I would spend everyday pursuing my passions and whims if I could. However, I’m not entirely unrealistic.
I need money to pay my debts and improve my life, enabling me to pursue my non-monetized passions. I believe I am at the stage in my life where I can best maximize my income if I could manage to maintain the energy to be industrious beyond what is absolutely necessary of me.
I abhor work that does not pique my interests or, in the very least, provide me with some value other than money (such as personal or professional growth or the opportunity to help others). I love challenges. I also love being able to choose those challenges. Working on the wrong challenge demotivates me in particular. Being unsupported in that work is even worse.
I recognize that in the long timeline of the universe, that any work I do is utterly meaningless and will be forgotten. Literally, all our work will likely disappear from the universe without a trace at some point. However, I would like to be so lucky to look upon the whole of my life and believe that I spent my time well, that I created a few things of meaning with my time. Even if they only mean something to me.
How dare someone prompt me to write a life philosophy and only give me 250 words?! I know I’ll pay no attention to the recommended word length, but it’s the principle behind it. I have degrees in philosophy and theology. I’ve been thinking of a lifeview for the last 15 years of my life!
Now, in that time, my lifeview has changed a lot. Drastically. Several times, actually. Here’s where I’m at now.
I have two beliefs that are perhaps not that common, but have a significant impact on how I view life.
First, I do not believe in any afterlife, good or bad. I believe that when you die, that is the end. The curtains close. There is no encore or backstage to listen to the boos or applause. Fade to black. The end.
Second, I do not believe in the existence of souls. I believe in non-reductive body physicalism, a technical way of saying that we are our bodies and only our bodies.
Without souls or an afterlife, I am left with one stark conclusion: this one and precious life is all I have.
Thus, my lifeview is simple: we ascribe meaning to our lives as we see fit and it is up to us to make the most of what we have been given.
Now, as any person with an opinion would, I believe there are better things than others to give your life meaning and I fully recognize that each of us is, for better or worse, born into a situation outside of our control. I can’t debate to what degree any person is able to enact change in their life, as many things are simply outside of our power, but I do believe that only in the rarest of circumstances will good things happen to those who passively wait for them to happen. Action is almost always required.
That being said, since this is my lifeview, here are some things that I find to be worthwhile pursuits: excellence, community, love, fairness and justice. I pursue progressive ideas; I have no patience for regressivism or holding on to beliefs and customs that do not move us forward. The fact that there are people who hold on to beliefs when there is demonstrable evidence to the contrary, and hold on to them for the sake of some romanticized version of the past, is abhorrent to me. If I could eradicate such detrimental nostalgia from others, I would. Things were never better, because things were never how you remembered them to be. There’s always something more going on. When I’m older, we will look upon ourselves as fools for what we did not know. The question is not will we look foolish, it is how will we respond and adapt?
The good life, therefore, is the pursuit of one’s own joy while also improving the ability for those around oneself to have the opportunity for a better life as well. We must remember that the actions of our lives do not need to be a zero-sum game. There are ways to act and live so that we all end up better than we were.