A Desperate Effort

My twitter bio states: “[I] live where you vacation, and work the way you play.”

Now, I live in a beautiful tropical country and have no plans to change that anytime soon. But I have been thinking about the latter clause.

I already play play. Hanging out, boardgames, books, videogames… nibble by nibble, a wide spectrum of entertainment and feel-good activities.

Why should work also be play?

Well, we must make a living somehow; we might as well make it fun. That’s the logic behind the idea – and I happen to have a line of work I find entertaining. It’s also lucrative – so it stands the whims of starting and stopping… of not taking things completely seriously. I goof off and coast through it.

It’s living the dream. And I felt proud of it. Hence the twitter bio.

And yet, upon reflection, something felt off. The path to my present train of thought was circuitous. Two crucial stops involved a high workload I took on, and remembering this article about extraordinary effort by Eliezer Yudkowsky.

Let’s take a walk.

Working provides sustenance. Leaving wealth on the table is an option, of course; the decision to work less than you can is tied to the hierarchy of values in life. Like most other decisions.

So – what does it say about my values that I work as play? Well, it says I feel very safe about the future; one of the uses for excess wealth Today is an insurance policy for Tomorrow. It says I don’t have much ambition, or any big plans – nothing that would require a solid chunk of cash to make happen.

Well, crap. That isn’t me. Or – it isn’t who I want to be. A clearer explanation:

See, I see the future as a potentially bleak place. I want insurance against a wide range of conditions that can go wrong… and seem to be going wrong.

I see the present as a bleak place. I agree with jaibot‘s name for his blog: Almost No One Is Evil. Almost Everything Is Broken. I’d emphasize: Broken Badly. Lots of things are going wrong right now.

If for some reason you’re not convinced of that: check out WHO’s 2017 world hunger report, reporting 815 million of people living in hunger; of those, there are over 200 million children; 45% of deaths for children under 5 are related to malnutrition; people who suffer malnutrition as children carry consequences for life, both physically and mentally which impact the economic potential – thus making the next generation vulnerable to the same situation (source: Food and Nutrition Bulletin Vol. 20, no. 4, from the United Nations University).

So. Yeah. Next point would be what difference could I make. The answer is: it depends on what I do. I’m all for a healthy placement of the locus of control. A back-of-the-envelope calculation tells me I could easily save a few kids from early life malnutrition even if my ideas about food production, water purification and affordable housing don’t pan out.

Except I work the way you play – I relax, I have a comfortable workload most of the time, and work mostly when I feel like it. I am acting as if I didn’t have grand ideas and ambitions, and that is embarrassing. So much so that I hesitate to write this down.

So I decided to flip myself upside down. What I want to do is very scary:

“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.”
– Epictetus

So we circle back to Yudkowsky’s post about extraordinary effort. Extraordinary effort implies doing things as if your life depends on it.

I’m not sure that anything less than an absurd effort will be enough to change from my current path into the path I want to be in. Part of it is the fact that this realization on how my current actions differ from what I think would be most virtuous didn’t cause the emotional train wreck I associate with successful conversion into a cause.

What’s the plan, then? Well, in my working hours I will not stop working. With the exception of immediate threat of death. Thirsty? Wait. Tired? Poor thing.

I intellectually recognize that no effort is enough. I will leave it circumscribed to my working hours so I will be reasonably sure it won’t affect my health.

So when I work, I will work. My hope is to work so hard I get sick of it by the end of the day, every single day. I’ll try and do this for three months, then check the results. It should be measurable in cash.

The start won’t be gradual. The experiment is timeboxed – I will do this during work hours (8 hours a day), and during work days (5 days a week, except for some already planned outings). I will check my results on June 24th.

If you read the Yudkowsky article, you’ll notice this effort is closer to the “desperate” side of the scale, rather than the “extraordinary” one. I think I am setting up the base needed for the extraordinary work.

I can already feel the weight of this commitment. And I’m guessing the emotional train wreck will happen in the middle of the marathon. I will try to apply stoic principles to avoid suffering – even when in painful situations. We’ll see how things go.

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