- Freedom in Thought
- Destroy Your Laziness, Before it Destroys You
Destroy Your Laziness, Before it Destroys You
According to the great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, you have the potential for greatness inside of you, but like most people, you will probably let it be destroyed by your own laziness. And you'll probably let your laziness destroy you because that's what the majority of people do, and from a purely statistical point of view, you're likely to fall into the majority. In Untimely Meditations, Nietzsche wrote,
As Nietzsche makes it clear, the way to avoid being one of the mediocre masses is to do what might be considered the hardest thing in the world to do: become who you are. Becoming who you are is the same thing as growing as a person, but rather than becoming who we are, Nietzsche feared that most of us would become what he called The Last Man—a person who has become so comfortable and lazy that progress itself has become a burden. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he wrote,
The Last Men
For the Last Man, everything and anything that requires effort is a burden, and Nietzsche feared that we would become a population of Last Men, so in love with comfort, leisure, and entertainment that progress itself would be felt as a burden. So if you value pleasure and comfort above everything else, you will inevitably lose your highest potential and become a Last Man. This idea is captured nicely in a fable by Aesop.
The Ants and The Grasshopper
All summer, a grasshopper spends his time singing, dancing, and enjoying the sun, meanwhile the ants are hard at work, storing up food for the winter. The grasshopper looks down on the ants and says, “these ants work too much and don’t know how to enjoy life.” Then he lies back and takes a nap. He continues this routine all summer, but eventually winter rolls around. The grasshopper realizes that he has no food stored up for the winter, and he goes to the ants and begs.
“Please, share some of your food with me.”
“You looked down on us and didn’t want to help us all summer. Now why don’t you see how much all of that dancing and singing helps you this winter.” The ants turn their back on the grasshopper and walk away.
The Ants and The Grasshopper
This fable perfectly illustrates a timeless condition of humanity. Many people are like the grasshopper, lazing about in comfort and seeking pleasure, sacrificing their future for the present moment. And eventually, when a catastrophe happens, they’re forced to beg the hardworking ants, or people in our case, for help.
To avoid becoming the grasshopper, you have to avoid making pleasure and comfort your highest value, because when pleasure and comfort are your highest value, you become lazy, and when you become lazy, you begin to sacrifice your future for the present.
But laziness comes to an end when you see the importance of productivity. Productivity is important because the more productive you are, the more at peace you can be when trouble arises. The squirrel that gathers nuts in the summer does not have to worry as much in the winter. The time to prepare for winter is in the summer, and winter will always come, no matter how infinite the summer may feel at the time.
And although laziness is important to combat, there’s another equally important extreme we have to fight against: slavishness. Just as it’s important not to spend all our time in comfort and leisure, it’s important not to spend all our time working and slaving away. What’s the point of making progress if it’s not enjoyable, if it doesn’t lead us to our greatest potential?
The Businessman and The Fisherman
There’s a Brazilian story that pinpoints the flaw of mindless progress. A fisherman is out on his boat, enjoying the sun and catching fish. Not only does he make progress towards becoming a better fisherman and providing for his family, but he also enjoys the progress he makes and takes adequate time in the evenings to rest, so that he can fish some more the next day. He’s productive now, but he will also remain productive in the future.
One day, while out on his boat, he comes across a businessman.
The Businessman and The Fisherman
“You need to think bigger,” says the businessman to the fisherman. “You need to hire someone to help you catch the fish.”
“Why is that,” says the fisherman.
“Because then you will be able to catch more fish than you do now.”
“And then what?”
“And then you will have a surplus amount of fish, and you can sell that surplus for more money.”
“Oh yeah, and then what?”
“You can use that money to employ more fishermen under you.”
“And then what will come after that?”
“Don’t you understand? You can use those fishermen to make even more profits. Then you can use those profits to buy a bigger boat with a net and a crew. And then you can use that team to catch a hundred times more fish than you currently do.”
“And then what,” said the fisherman.
The businessman grew frustrated. “Then you will have so much money that you can do whatever you want!”
“But I am doing what I want right now,” said the fisherman.
This tale perfectly illustrates the idiocy of mindless progress and overworking. Focusing on progress for the sake of progress can really distract us from achieving the meaningful life that most of us are truly seeking.
The solution to this problem, then, lies in the middle between laziness and slavishness. I call that middle joyful productivity. Joyful productivity is about spending your energy in a way that allows you to make meaningful progress each day and avoid the catastrophes of laziness. Joyful productivity prevents you from being the lazy grasshopper or the slavish businessman.
To live a joyfully productive life, one must take an important fact into account: we live in a world where each of us must depend on one another for survival. No one can do and provide everything for themselves.
The joyfully productive person must create something valuable and exchange it with others for money, and they will use that money to survive and thrive. That is how our world works. And the best way to create something of value is to focus all your attention on one particular area of expertise or mastery. As Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations,
When you focus all of your attention on one area of expertise, you can become a master in it. And when you become a master at your craft, you can create things of value. And when you create things of value, you can exchange them for money.
And how do you pick a single area of expertise? It should be something that you are interested in and passionate about, because only then will you be able and willing to spend the immense amount of time and effort it takes to become a master in any field.
Passion and Mastery
A true master must have ultimate judgment in his field. Miyamoto Musashi, one of the world's greatest samurais, had to be able to judge which strike was the next best one to perform with his sword. Leonardo da Vinci had to discern which stroke was the next best one to perform with his paintbrush. Mozart had to decide what the next best note to play in his concertos was. A master develops his judgments and taste to the point that he can discern between small details that the ordinary person doesn't even think about, and developing this kind of discernment requires an obsession over the art.
The end of both laziness and slavishness begins with the discovery of your passions. And as Nietzsche said,
Examine the things that spoke to you and captured your interest ever since you were a child, before the world told you what you had to care about. The way forward lies within the examination of those early interests.
The path to a joyfully productive life goes like this:
Expose yourself to lots of novel things and analyze your childhood interests. Find out what you're habitually interested and passionate about.
Solve a difficult problem in the area of your passion.
Turn that solution into a product or a service.
Sell that product or service to others in exchange for money.
Use that money to continue funding your life and improving your skills. Become a master at your craft.
Repeat starting at step 2.
Fight against laziness, otherwise the world will destroy you. Fight against slavishness, otherwise you will destroy yourself. Discover your passion, turn it into mastery, solve a difficult problem, turn the solution into a product or service, sell it, use the profits to get better at your craft, and then rinse and repeat until your life is over: that is the path to a joyfully productive life.