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Do you do meaningless work?

I can’t be asked to spend energy on work that doesn’t matter. I can’t help it. When I’m asked to do something meaningless, I can’t. I used to be able to, for the right price. But that is no longer the case because I realized that someday I’m going to die. We all are. Therefore none of us should do meaningless work. So why do we? Asking that question opens pandora’s box, but I’ll hazard a simplified answer: we’re more afraid of change than we are of the status quo.

If you find that statement to either validate or contradict your political beliefs, then I challenge you to extend the benefit of the doubt and consider something from a third perspective (and no, I don’t mean from the middle.)

We’re all afraid, at least of something. Some of us get lost staring into the darkness instead of finding a light, and it is this particular fixation about which Nietzsche said, “If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” What does he mean by that? One meaning is that emptiness takes up residence within you. You inch further toward the brink of oblivion.

Instead of inching toward that brink, simply acknowledge your fear and ask yourself the crucial question: is it rational? Beware your default response. The correct answer followed by the correct prescription will transport you into an existence you didn’t think was possible.

What’s the correct prescription? If your fear is rational, you need to change your life to cultivate defense against what scares you. This implies effort, and that may be the most common reason (not to mention the worst) for why people find themselves stuck doing meaningless work: we’re lazy. We don’t want to do something unless there’s a pressing reason we should. This is like sleeping on train tracks. You might get a good night’s sleep, but if you are disturbed, it won’t be pretty.

If, on the other hand, your fear turns out to be irrational, then good news, you know exactly what to do. The clock is ticking. The sooner you get on it, the sooner you’ll be living like you were meant to.

Whoever you are, you’re here reading this right now. In light of that fact alone, I hypothesize that your deepest fear is irrational, and I offer you this thought experiment (courtesy of Tim Ferriss) so you can seek proof. First, acknowledge what you’d rather be doing than what you’re doing right now. Then, imagine you stopped this, and started doing that. Maybe not that, but the first step in its direction, at least. What are the immediate, worst possible consequences? Are they all that bad? If so, then go back to my advice above about cultivating defense, and get to work. And if the consequences aren’t that bad?

Then get to work.


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