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Defining Your Life

September 13, 2018

Author: Bianca Yang
Email: ipacifics@gmail.com

I recently came to the conclusion that there are two things that define your life:

Your work is the central engine of your life. It is the reason you get up in the morning. It is the process by which you fulfill your desire for improvement.

Your interpersonal relationships fuel you. The people around you break down your mental barriers, support you when you feel scared or weak, help you up onto their shoulders so you can see farther, and give you the energy to fight another day.

Perhaps some of you will look at this and think I’m naive or delusional. “Work? Bah, I hate my job. My boss has the brain of a goldfish and I’m barely making ends meet. My spouse hates me for spending so much time at work but what can I do? I’m practically chained to my desk, doing menial ‘knowledge’ tasks for the company.” Perhaps my implicit assumption of your work being fulfilling or satisfying was naive. I am well aware of how miserable the stereotypical worker is. I have been in that position in many previous positions and give you my hope. I hope you will one day find a way to transcend your suffering and dive deep into your real work. This should be the work that you develop out of an itch, let’s say. We all have such an itch. We all have an itch to change the way things are, to live a better life, to excel. So scratch that itch. Only when you start scratching that itch are you going to realize if that itch is real. Only when you start scratching that real itch are you going to realize how deep that itch is, and how that itch can only be satisfied by your deep work against it. Once you start scratching that real itch, you will start to brush up against people you never had access to before. You will, through your work, start angering people, inspiring people, touching people, changing people, overall making an impact on people. And their words will fuel you. You will take their anger, their love, their energy, and channel it right back into your work because that is the virtuous cycle that the work that fulfills you builds.

We have been raised to be disillusioned by the idea of work. We’ve been raised to believe that an 8-5 workday completed in at least business casual attire in a cubicle farm with awful fluorescent lighting and a stupid but hot receptionist is a job done right. We think that’s work. We think that being miserable all day long at some job that pays the bills is worth more than working our tails off trying to show the world why what we love matters. We mock the artists and people who pursue their passions, thinking they are being irresponsible to their families and to society and that it “conformity” or regression towards the mean of workplace suffering is our lot in life.

We’ve been raised to be disillusioned about trust. The ever present smartphone has taught us that time is no longer important. Bother people when and wherever you feel like it. Let them know you’re going to be late as you’re being late. Why does it matter? Humans can be trained to context switch between apps on a smartphone and computer, at the expense of their ability to find really meaningful, fulfilling, satisfying deep work and relationships. We’ve been encouraged to view others in a suspicious light and to see competition as the global goal. When resources are scarce and demand does not appear to be decreasing, war must break out to see who is the fittest. It is in these arenas that we have forgotten the basic human needs that give meaning to our lives and are the things we will want to remember when we are old and waiting to leave this life.

So don’t give up on this life. Give up on the useless, even detrimental messages society has been giving you about how to live a proper life. Instead, look to fill your life and your days with activities that make you want to get up in the morning. Look to do things that actually increase your desire to be alive in a meaningful and lasting way. Hold onto those good things tight. If you become dissatisfied, take a break. Step away from your life and think about why you are dissatisfied. Discard the items which are causing you pain and pursue those items which you think could lead you to transcendence. It is no coincidence that all the great people of the world have talked about this idea of loving your work and about surrounding yourself with great people. Those, I believe, are the most useful factors for living a good life and are sufficient to define your life.

Other things you may think are important are hygiene factors. Here are some examples of hygiene factors:

If the hygiene factors aren’t done right you won’t be happy. But getting the hygiene factors right won’t give you fulfillment or happiness.

Where I differ with Herzberg’s original categorization of motivators vs hygiene factors is in interpersonal relationships. I don’t believe truth is an appropriate way to categorize concepts. I don’t think searching for truth or the absolute right is a worthy goal. I believe it is better to categorize concepts as useful/not useful. The truth value of a statement may never be known. Even if it is known or knowable to some being, why should I spend my effort on an activity which polarizes people and encourages holy wars. Who cares if you like Vim or Emacs? As long as you are productive, use whatever you prefer. Who cares if you believe in God or not? As long as you are willing to work with me to build a better society, believe in whatever religion you prefer. So who cares if Herzberg believes interpersonal relationships is a hygiene factor or motivator? His theory is already useful enough. This detail is a personal distinction that I think is more useful in helping me live a purposeful, fulfilling life.

I am so happy and grateful that I have been able to come to this moment of realization today. I hope you are able to find some meaning in my words. Please email me comments. I love talking with people who have read my blog and am open to all kinds of comments or proposals.