When I talk about working like a maniac for 10-14 hours a day, I sometimes get criticized for working too hard. I need to relax or enjoy life more, people say. When I read this, I assume that I've done a poor job explaining how I feel about work or how I actually construct my life, so I figure I may as well write a blog post to talk about it, as well as the underlying principle.
There are many days where I only leave my RV to shower. I wake up, drink tea while I do a quick Chinese lesson, write a blog post, program for twelve hours with a few short violin breaks, read for an hour, and the go to sleep. People assume that this is a stressful and intense day, but I actually find it very relaxing and enjoyable.
Think about what our ancestors went through. They were constantly uncomfortable, hungry, and in danger of being killed. That's stress. My life is not stressful at all. Compared to what our brains are wired for, my life is a complete cakewalk. The problem is that we don't compare ourselves to that, but instead we compare to what the average American does, which is work not very hard, watch some TV, drink some beers, and go to sleep.
Any time I'm being compared, by myself or others, to the average American, I consider it to be a warning sign. The problem with the average American life is that most of his time is being spent in a mediocre fashion. He works because he has to, and not very hard at that. His entertainment serves to distract him rather than to enrich him. This is the exact opposite of what I want to do-- I want to fill 100% of my time with high impact activities, either doing very good work or having some sort of really high quality experience. I want to spend none of my time at all doing things like busy work or channel surfing. I don't actually expect for it to be 100% to 0%, but I set that as my goal and try to get as close as possible.
Those middle activities are how you waste your time, your day, or even your life. They make you feel like you're having fun without really creating lasting memories or satisfaction, or they make you feel like you're being productive when really you're just occupied. They're also the easiest experiences to have, the ones that come by default if you're not actively trying to avoid them to have better experiences. And, of course, peppered within those experiences will be occasional serendipitously great moments, but that doesn't make the lazy approach efficient.
So I work really hard most days and don't really relax in a traditional sense and don't really have fun in a traditional sense. Some days I go have adventures. Yesterday I climbed all over a glacier in Alaska. Now today I'm in the airport pounding out blog posts and writing code. High quality uses of time, at both ends of the spectrum.
We're so lucky to be alive. It's unbelievable, really. We have some finite amount of time on this earth, and are the sole arbiters of how that time is used. I want mine to be spent working towards creating excellence or enjoying the best the world has to offer. The less of that middle stuff, the more time I have for the good stuff.
The photo at the top is the back of my RV. I took out my bed because it was starting to feel too luxurious, and because I wanted to have a space to drink tea. I was planning on writing a blog post about the project, but really there's no underlying lesson. If you want to hear more about it, ask in the community section and I'll write about it.
I wasn't actually in Alaska yesterday... I wrote this post a few months ago and decided not to change it.
GEAR POST IS COMING ON MONDAY. Brace yourself, because it's going to be a good one...
Hmmm. It depends on what your idea of an "average American" is. There are also tons of Americans who are overworked and super stressed and unhealthy from the overwork. It's been a growing phenomena, as corporations try to squeeze more out of employees for the same or less pay, especially as employees are at a severe negotiating disadvantage because of high unemployment levels (too high supply, low demand means you're less valuable).
In Japan, they recognize overwork as a cause of death (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kar%C5%8Dshi), and believe it's not healthy to work more than 12 hrs a day for 6-7 days a week, year after year, without suffering physically and mentally.
That said, it depends on whether work is a stress to you. For some, it can be a relaxing experience, a form of meditation.
I'd consider that type of work to be a middle activity. It's productive and has some benefits, but isn't really engaging or particularly impactful. I'll probably write a whole post about "Average Americans", but in short I'd say that they need to minimize the amount of that sort of work they do. Maybe it means getting a job they connect with, maybe it means starting their own business, or maybe the stopgap measure is to cut out the TV watching and start a side business after work to try to grow out of their jobs.
Some people just don't realized how lucky we are to be alive in this day and age. You can turn just about any hobby into a business or a job, and do what you really love for a living... Not "I love numbers and math so I am an accountant!"...There is what you think you enjoy for a job, but then there is what you really love that you can turn into a business that gives back and helps you continue to do what you really enjoy. I do pretty much whatever I want day in day out, and I think anyone can do the same.
Tynan.. I see some funky styling issues on my end. Screenshot (in firefox/Mac): http://cl.ly/LOKx I am not seeing this in chrome or Safari. :)
Seeking peak experiences is fine. Your adventures make fantastic anecdotes, and I'm sure are/were amazing experiences and memories.
The Buddhist meditator's perspective is a little different: (In my words) Recognize the impermanence of all things. And learn to experience the fullness of every moment, in the moment.
Interestingly, Proust, coming from a very different culture, made a very similar observation.
No gym time??? no cardio??
What mean "RV"?
"Recreational Vehicle"- it's like a tiny home that fits inside a van or bus. This is the one Tynan lives in:
He's written a number of blog posts in the archives about living in an RV, and customizing it to fit his needs.
For a brief second I thought that was my actual RV, and thought, "Well... that's a bit creepy..."
Oh, no! Confusion! I image searched tynan.com for "rialta", grabbed the pic from here and didn't bother to check who the post author was.
"GEAR POST IS COMING ON MONDAY."
I remember reading Tynan doesn't like being late. To me, breaking this promise feels like the same thing.
I completely agree. And just like being on time, sometimes I don't make it.
I SHOULD have planned better and had the video ready to go 24 hours before I wanted to post, but what ended up happening was that the camera overheated in the middle of recording, so I had to record twice. Then, after editing, it took two hours to encode the video. I uploaded it to Youtube, which took three hours, and there was something wrong with the format. At this point it was 4am and I didn't have the time to get anything ready for that morning, so I delayed by a day.
love the tatami and minimalist japanese look -- where in your RV is that though? I just re-watched your last youtube video and can't figure out where you have that setup in the RV... can you show us?
One night, while in the RV working on SETT, Todd suggested a trip to Alaska. I said I'd be interested in it, forgetting that in our group of friends, this low level of commitment basically always results in a trip happening. A couple weeks later I bought a really decked out 2001 KLR 650 motorcycle specifically to drive from San Francisco to Alaska, bought a knife, and stopped shaving my beard. That was about all I could think of doing to prepare for the trip.
Our departure date came a month later, and five of us met in downtown San Francisco with our bikes ready to go. Without much fanfare, we headed North, towards Canada.
By the time we stopped for gas for the first time, I had decided to turn back. At the high speeds we prefer to travel at, my bike was a little bit wobbly, probably due to the knobby tires and panniers. This could be fixed with a $100 fork brace, but there was nowhere to buy one and no time to ship it. Beyond that, though, I realized that I don't really enjoy long distance motorcycle trips. You can't talk to anyone, your seat is about as comfortable as a bar stool, you can't have snacks or water, and you can't change the music or podcasts on your ipod. Besides that, I wasn't feeling great about the sharply reduced hours that I'd be able to work on SETT. So I turned back.
Initially after turning back, I didn't plan on going to Alaska at all, but I had already bought my return ticket from Anchorage, so the cost of flying up for a few days was cut in half. I called around a couple motorcycle rental shops, and Nancy from Alaska Motorcycle Adventures offered me a great deal on a BMW, along with a really great route that she suggested. I bought my one-way plane ticket minutes later.
After a comment I made about my documentation binder in a previous post, Sebastian asked me to share my own system with you all.
Be regular and orderly in your life so you may be violent and original in your work. ~ Gustave Flaubert
My organizational premise is this-- if your recurring tasks are fully optimized and automated, you have more RAM to devote to novel tasks and projects.
Novel projects should be well documented. If they become routine, it's an easy starting point from which to optimize. If they don't, they may still be useful in the future. This is especially important because optimized systems experience entropy, and needs regular overhauling, which is actually what I was doing when SM asked me to expand on my system.
I like to overhaul about twice a year, but in practice, I overhaul when the drag of changing circumstances has aggravated me to the point where I either have to overhaul my system or abandon it. I don't find that “fixing as you go” is a viable strategy. Tweaks are fine, but there comes a time when you have to tear down and start anew, and you'll never get away from that.