The period of time I spent at the end of December consciously not working is one of the first where I wasn’t either (a) explicitly in competition with others, or (b) implicitly in competition with myself.
Competition can be good. It can be motivational and help us strive to be better / faster / stronger. But, too often, it can be damaging and cause us to act in ways that aren’t beneficial to ourselves or those around us.
I’ve been a gamer all my life and so the idea of beating myself (as a kind of ghost car) has always appealed to me. But, having reached the age at which almost every elite athlete has retired, I need to stop kidding myself that I’ll ever run a sub-20 minute 5k. That’s OK.
In addition, I’ve come to understand the approach my mother took to family board games when I was a child. She refused to play to win, instead making sure (as far as she could) that my sister and I never finished last. As a parent, I get that now.
A competitive approach to life is often justified by talking about “preparing young people for the real world”. It’ as if the so-called real world is red in tooth and claw. In my experience that’s not the case; the ‘real world’ is more focused on collaboration than competition.
So, perhaps we’ve got things backwards. Maybe the reason adult life involves competition is not because of the nature of the ‘real world’ but because capitalism demands competition, and so we bake it into childhood.
All of this has made me realise that while competition still has a role in my life, it’s a diminished one. I need to put it back in the box where it belongs, to be taken out where appropriate.
The rest of the time, I should be collaborating, helping bring attention to those who deserve it. That’s instead of (and it pains me to admit it) seeking the reassurance of “doing better” than others. We’re all in this together, after all.
When our kids reach their eighteenth birthday and start their foray into adulthood, I’m going to give them some books which have helped me in my adult life, and which I think will help them.
One of those books is Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, a relatively slim book which contains the wisdom of someone who was not only a Roman Emperor, but a Stoic philosopher.
I’ve written both here and elsewhere about how much value I get from reading Meditations on repeat along with other books like Baltasar Gracián’s The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence and Montaigne’s Essays. There are certain books that have layers of depth and meaning that it’s only possible to get to via repeated readings.
The thing I particularly like about the Meditations is that it was originally intended as a journal, as a series of exhortations by Marcus Aurelius to encourage himself to be a better person. As such, it doesn’t have a hypothetical audience, it has an audience of one. We’re merely literary voyeurs benefitting from his insights.
There are 12 books in the Meditations, and some sections are more heavily highlighted in my dead-tree version than others. There’s one bit, though, that’s always kind of baffled me.
At day’s first light have in readiness, against disinclination to leave your bed, the thought that “I am rising for the work of man”. Must I grumble at setting out to do what I was born for, and for the sake of which I have been brought into the world? Is this the purpose of my creation, to lie here under the blankets and keep myself warm? “Ah, but it is a great deal more pleasant!” Was it for pleasure, then, that you were born, and not for work, not for effort? Look at the plants, the sparrows, ants, spiders, bees, all busy with their own tasks, each doing his part towards a coherent world order; and will you refuse man’s share of the work, instead of being prompt to carry out Nature’s bidding? “Yes, but one must have some repose as well.” Granted; but repose has its limits set by nature, in the same way as food and drink have; and you overstep these limits, you go beyond the point of sufficient; while on the other hand, when action is in question, you so sorry of what you could well achieve.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 5
Perhaps it’s because we live easier lives in 2020 than they did a couple of millennia ago, but this passage doesn’t really speak to me. But I feel like it should.
Others point to it as motivation and inspiration to avoid the lie-in and get on with the day. Reader, I have never had that problem, apart from when I’ve been mentally or physically ill.
To me, motivation for work springs not from religion, or fear, or desire for glory, but, as Gandhi famously suggested, from a striving for the kind of happiness that can be achieved when “what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony”.
That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. How about you?
Please note that this will be last of these posts for this year. I’ll be back in 2011 [why?]
Offline this week I learned that there’s literally two types of people in the world (Dweck was correct!), that ‘female festive frenzy’ is now a term in general use, and that brandy hot chocolate is almost always better without the chocolate… :-p
Dropbox is now available for Teams. Looks like a good deal for small businesses, although I think they’ve missed a trick by not also targetting education. This would be awesome for educational institutions!
[T]here is a class of random walks called Lévy flights, which include occasional long-distance jumps. The distribution of step sizes is described by a power law, which means that there are steps of all sizes and no well-defined “average” step size, at least for one class of Lévy flights. They have been observed in various natural settings, most famously in the search strategy of certain animals when food is scarce. For example, hungry sharks will typically scour back and forth over small areas, but if the search is fruitless, they will intermittently “jump” to new, far-off areas . “People have also [studied] Lévy flights in stock prices, epidemics, and small world networks,” says Ajay Gopinathan, from the University of California, Merced.
Check out the Top 10 Weird New Animals according to National Geographic. These have all been discovered in 2010. The Sneezing Snub-nosed Monkey looks interesting. Shame the only known example was shot and eaten…
In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. (George Orwell)
In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. (Albert Camus)
The people who matter will recognise who you are. (Alan Cohen)
Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun. (Mary Lou Cook)
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. (F. Scott Fitzgerald)