Growth and The Point of Living

I note that we can be both busy with our lives, but still bored.

We can fill our days with things that are tiring and hard, but ultimately a waste of time. Or at least not so fulfilling. I'm sure there are many things that people can imagine they want to do. As opposed to what they are doing right now. Think of putting your head down to study more for that useless increase in a percentage of your grades. Or working towards a career that no one really cares about anyway.

Life seems boring. Worse yet if your life is busy and still boring. We can fill our days with things that no one else will judge us for. But because we can predict what is going to happen - it becomes boring. Or worse yet if there is actually not much use to the activity.

This may be putting in effort beyond what is necessary. But also just doing things which you don't really care for that much. Then, it's important to calculate how much free time you really have. We need to calculate what the true opportunity cost of our actions are.

Otherwise, we can make the mistake of allocating all of our effort into something just because it is somewhat important. Just because something is very important, say graduating from school, doesn't mean it is the only important thing. Yes, it might even be your top priority. But being a top priority does not mean it automatically demands all of your time and energy. It only demands that you do enough to fulfil it!

This view will open up your calculations of what is possible. Instead of blindly throwing all of your energy into the (supposedly) most important thing, you can calculate how much energy you really need to put in. As a corollary, you will calculate free time to put into other pursuits.

It is also possible that your pursuit of 'only the most important thing' is a way of lying to yourself. Perhaps it is a smokescreen to excuse risk-taking on your part. If you know what you would prefer to do, or have some dread when you think of your immediate future - then this might be applicable to you.

So what can we do about it?  

Well we should return to our sense of boredom. That sense is really about how we feel about our lives. Most likely we know there are more things that we could be doing. We do have ambitions and dreams which are not being acted on. If we can predict what is going to happen for the next few years of our lives, maybe we are shortchanging ourselves. Because by definition we would not be learning or growing much as people - since there would be not much new experiences in our future.

This means our lives are meant to involve a sense of growth and direction. This constant growth is what leads to a sense of progress and fulfillment. Of course don't pursue things just because they are hard. But the point is that hard things which we choose to pursue are likely to be rewarding.

And you know that you would actually much prefer that life anyway. No one seriously thinks that they want to lead a life of comfort. Just try doing the same things over and over again - and we end up at the same stage in the beginning.

What people probably mean when they say they 'just want to relax', is that they imagine a life of leisure which still involves growth. Perhaps they get better at a videogame or other hobbies. Imagine progressing in sports and the arts. If they imagine a life of any activity, even if it is 'just leisure', it means pursuing a path of progress. Since by doing, you will learn and move forward.

So it is not growth for the sake of growth. But instead growth for the sake of a good life. Getting better at a language, honing the musical talent, playing exhilarating sports, writing good poetry, and so on. And then even to business and the external world: making good predictions, helping people, devising innovative ideas, products, and systems. And so on.

So this 'good growth' which I have tried to describe is what we are aiming for. And we should be honest about how that is what we really want. So to reach that we need to calculate what we are doing with our time carefully. We should not blindly toss it to socially accepted pursuits just because we are afraid of judgement, taking risks, or are just fearful.

Think on a longer term horizon of your life to calculate how much effort you want to put into things. And as a parallel, think about what new and novel things you want to be putting your effort into. What do you want to cultivate in your entire life?

And once you've thought of it - desperately pursue it in your daily life. Be aided by your earlier calculations of your energy allocations. Focus on that dream and don't be distracted by what appears urgent. Remember that we are constantly giving up our literal lives as time passes on. Time doesn't stop, so whatever you do has an innate cost much larger than we realise. No one ages backwards and the future is not guaranteed. So even working on the aforementioned 'obligatory goals' carries a huge burden on your life.

One way around this involves a growth accounting I do every month or so. It just involves looking back and trying to track what progress has been made. But maybe more ambitious goals should also be set for the future. Beyond just goals, I'm thinking of making a cohesive system to track progress - like a video game would track exp.

I don't want to be paranoid. So I want to be careful with how often I conduct these reviews. I also don't want to be overly bureaucratic. So I want to make smooth and precise roadmaps.

What is my radical goal of the day? Beside conducting some research, it is to pursue some business and real-life interactions with the world. The dream is to engage on such a large scale that you are a real player in the world. Be an agent for the things you believe in. Even if you never get there, the point is that you can see that you are on the path towards that ultimate goal. That is my answer to what the growth path of our lives could be.

Subscribe to Attempted Thoughts

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.