The Latest on the Pursuit of the Pursuit of Passion

by phil on Monday Apr 3, 2006 9:13 PM

So I'm thinking about work again, and how I really want to have work that I like. I previously said that I should give up on work being a source of meaning, but now I think that's impossible. I just can't sustain a job if I'm not feeling "good" about it all the time.

So let me define "good" in the sense that matters here. I can work and have a good time, but that comes and goes. If I'm slightly inspired, work can fulfill me for those individual moments. Like I mentioned about working at Google: half the days would be great, the other half depressing.

In other words, in-the-moment Flow is not the total answer. All work involves some element of busywork. You will inevitably lose flow at some point. Even if you are the most fantastic painter, you have to clean paint brushes, buy supplies, set up framing, organize shows, talk to the press about your work, etc. So work that is "good" in a day-in/day-out sense, must be something that keeps you trucking through the busywork.

To most people, it's good enough that they need the money. If the work gets demanding or stressful, in the back of their minds, they don't feel like giving up because they ultimately see a purpose to their actions. "If I file these papers, then I keep my job. If I keep my job, then I can afford to send Janie to school." As Nietzsche once said, (paraphrasing loosely), "He who has a why can deal with almost any how."

I've ridden that elephant of good purpose in numerous occassions. I see a lot of purpose in writing some of the posts on Philosophistry. Which is probably why the site is ultimately still alive, despite the lack of comments and the glaring surface triviality of a public diary.

So let's talk about meaning. What does it mean for something to be meaningful? (THIS IS WHERE YOU GET INSPIRED TO ANSWER THIS QUESTION AND RESPOND IN THE COMMENTS)

Ignore this paragraph if you're bored
The movie About a Boy is great. It stars Hugh Grant, and yes it is sappy. But it is actually a great philosophical sketch. The premise is that Hugh Grant is a man whose dad made all this money off royalties, and as a result Hugh Grant does nothing. He divyies up his time into units of fairly useless self-involvement: getting his hair professionally disheveled, working out, eating, trying to shag chicks. Now I'm not in the same position wealthwise, but I'm grimly aquainted with the doldrums that he has experienced. Where it gets interesting is his response and the resulting ideas that follow. The most poignant to me is when he tries doing volunteer work. He volunteers to work the phones for Amnesty International. But he subsequently gives up. What he says is that "That's the problem with charity. You must mean it."

See, I've done many things that were clearly meaningful on paper. I've volunteered and donated before because I'd say to myself, "well, this is better for humanity." But deep down in my heart, I just didn't give a damn half the time.

And as I'm saying this, I find it hard to elaborate in a public discussion. I think when you start discussing what is meaningful and what is not, you engage in an almost religious debate. At the core, something matters to you, and it's not just something you rationalize into meaningfulness, but something you feel. And if you discuss this with others, and they have different sources of meaning, you're almost debating underlying belief systems.

People talk to me about "why don't you just talk to a headhunter. There's good opportunities out there." And I know what they mean by "good opportunities" out there, and if I respond back saying, "well, I don't care that much about making money" in some cases it's like I just said "I don't believe in God." For me, it's even harder because I go even further than the standard saving-grace.. the standard saving-grace is "Well, I don't want to just make money, but enjoy the work too." That's such a simple canned answer, and actually a lot of people are on that level too. But I'm not even there. "Well, I don't even care about money or enjoyment that much" Then the look on their face is like there's no hope for me. And if I say, "I want to do something that's meaningful" and they say "join the Peace Corps." and I say "but that's not meaningful to me" then they say, "WTF Phil, you're useless!"

You start to think you're insane when nobody sees what you're seeing. Thank god for About a Boy. It makes me feel like I do have hope, that even if my definition of meaning doesn't coincide with what is socially considered "meaningful" stuff, that I can still find meaning. It goes back also to something I said recently about how I may still become an artist, it's just that it's not really going to appear in a traditional medium.

I think it's really easy to get confused in life. You have so many people and sources you look to for guidance, but it's not really helpful if the people guiding you don't share, at the core, the same values as you.

Given the length of this post though, it's important to give an intent-analysis. What is driving this? Ultimately it's what I described. I want to solve this work-problem. Which begs the question, should I just cope with this. Should I just cope with being forever doomed to meaningless with my work. I've been learning to be more accepting in the past couple of years and have given up on what now, in retrospect, seem like really petty goals in life. But I think this one stays. I don't think I can cope with this. If I "cope" then I'll always be pegged with a lower level of happines. Yes, there's many more things to life than work, but for me, I'm like a swiss army knife that's not being used. wtf. And what's to say that other things in life will be meaningful to make up the void. And then again, maybe many people are walking around meaningless, but keep their lips shut, and are bubbly in public just because socialization makes people happy in general. There is of course, always religion.

And let's ratchet up one more level of meta-discussion. That the whole thing is attention-reactive. That by the very act of trying to find meaning, things lose meaning. But I kind of think that argument is bollocks.


Justin said on April 4, 2006 1:20 AM:

Why don't you become a farmer? People need to eat food to survive. Or maybe a fireman.

Philip Dhingra said on April 4, 2006 2:21 AM:

Those are all good for the world, but I don't feel it in my heart. Farming may be meaningful because it helps people survive, but I don't feel it for farming. And while I think that it's important to help strangers, I don't feel a love for every human being on the planet. I love my family and friends. My love for mankind is purely rationalized.

Justin said on April 4, 2006 4:01 AM:

Have you read The Plague by Albert Camus? Actually haven't read it myself, but it might be worth picking up.

Philip Dhingra said on April 4, 2006 12:30 PM:

I read The Stranger

Chris Khosravi said on April 12, 2006 12:13 PM:

I'll meaningful comment you Trabek!

Hautean said on April 25, 2006 6:24 PM:

I've been having the same issue for awhile. I enjoyed university. Then I spent three years feeling like a wanker because I had a degree, didn't care much about money and didn't feel any kind of confidence in my skills or what it was that had meaning for me.
I went to law school after that, figuring the further schooling would give me more time to ascertain what makes me happy, while providing a legitimate cover for the people who are like, "what are you going to do with your life?" But just going to law school wasn't enough to get people to leave me the fuck alone. "What KIND of lawyer are you going to be?" they'd ask. And I'd make up some shit to get them off my back. But in reality, the thought of sitting in an office, churning out wads of paper, made me nauseous. Then I got cancer (no, I'm not kidding) 2nd year of law school.

So then I said fuck all - I am going to finish this because it would be stupid not to, but then I'm doing what I want.

But what do I WANT? Oh, so by that point I finished with the cancer and chemo and all that. I found out that being in debt is really quite freeing - because at the end of the day if I can't pay my hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of chemo bills, what are they going to do to me? Strip me of everything?

So be it. Then what would I do?

How selfish, aren't I just spoiled rotten to have the luxury of being able to ask such a question? I would think.

So anyway, I worked as a sort-of-lawyer for poor people for about three months until I realized I hated it and I wasn't helping anyone.

Then I went to work as a writer for a shit newspaper so I'd have enough time to do what I want.

What I want, it turns out, is to grow things and shovel horse manure and drink coffee on the back porch and hug my cats until my teeth clench and fuck my boyfriend and read biographies of Thomas Jefferson and fiddle like the Irish on late autumn nights and figure out how to put some boats in at the river and make my own beer and kiss my granny whose mind is gone and kiss the grass that grew over her grave and smell the leaves of the cilantro and smell the sassafras root when we cut down the trees and split the wood and toss it on the fire. That's what I want to do.

Philip Dhingra said on April 25, 2006 6:45 PM:

That's what I'm talking about! Thank you!

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