This morning I was sent Adam Mastroianni’s article “Excuse me but why are you eating so many frogs”, with a personal encouragement to read it. Seems like I give off “works to hard” energy. If you haven’t read it, I’d recommend giving it a read or following him on twitter.
I think it’s a great article and I largely agree, but my aim here is to critique it - to show how it falls short of what I see as the truth. I think this kind of topic - what you are working for, how hard, and why - is one of the most fundamental questions of a persons life.
He start’s with a standard diss of productivity/lifehack culture. I’m well on board for this - online productivity culture is largely a trap. I’ve spent most of my 20’s trying to discover the productivity tip that will help me actually focus - pomodoro’s, this new note taking app, nootropics, to do systems. Here’s what actually works: get quality sleep, eat a large breakfast, drink whole milk when you are cranky, lock your phone in a time lock container and get a prescription for Concerta.
He then move’s on to discussing how the unconcious mind isn’t something to be overcome, it’s something to work with. Again, full hearted agreement. As I’ve been dipping my toes in the water of Internal Family Systems and shadow integration work, I’ve gained a deep respect for the many parts of myself that lurk under the surface. You can’t ignore them, they aren’t always stupid, you need to be able to get in touch with them and understand what they need.
However this is where we divulge. The end of the article can be summarized as “working on too many things you don’t like can bring burnout, you should be working on things that you like”. The author comments on how torturing himself to get work done never brings satisfaction, and when he actually enjoys his work only then does he feel satisfied.
This is incredibly bad advice, especially for someone earlier in their career. Of course you should have things in your work that you enjoy. If you don’t that’s insane, get a new profession. But to get to the point where most of your work is enjoyable and doesn’t feel like “swallowing frogs” is going to take struggle. No one leaves high school, and breezes through college and on to their career enjoying themselves all along the way. Sometimes its fun. Most of the time it’s not. You put in years, after years, of stressful work because at the end, you earn the right to be good at what you do and have fun.
Would I like to have fun along the way? Of course, who wouldn’t. I’d love to spend all day reading, writing, and hanging by the lake.
I’m going to be a little brutal here, but it’s important. A life of leisure is not the world we were born into. If you are reading this you are a young person alive in what is likely the final choke point of human existence. Technocapitalism is rampgaging uncontrollably, and within the same time period we are facing threats from environmental pollution, peak oil and energy scarcity, unaligned artificial intelligence, and falling birth rates. In my opinion what happens in the next 50 years will determine the fate of humanity, forever. If we win, we enable human flourishing for the rest of time. If we lose, billions of people die through food scarcity, disease and strife and remnants of humanity limps on at pre-industrial levels forever stuck on Earth.
I think people, myself included, take for granted the world we live in. The living standards we have are incredibly fragile. When the Roman empire collapsed, Europe had the Dark Ages for 1000 years as living standards declined, trade was less global, and art and techology was lost. I’m sure plenty of Roman’s in positions of power were relaxing at the end of the empire, and they doomed Europe for centuries.
This is war, and some people haven’t realized this yet. There are almost 8 billion human beings, an unimaginable number, alive today because of oil that we are starting to run out of and we have no idea how to feed them without it. We aren’t fighting other humans, we are fighting against physical scarcity and entropy itself.
In a world where we have beat scarcity, I would be the laziest person of all time. And I think for a lot of people, they feel like scarcity is a won battle. Cars bring them where they want to go, they can rent nice houses for vacations, food is cheap. But peel back the veneer and you see the truth - our food is mostly poison mass produced with pesticides and toxic substances to keep people from starving, and our lifestyles are wildly unsustainable relying on millions of years of stored sunlight in the form of oil that we are rapidly depleting.
I think deep down everyone knows this. There’s an unsettled feeling in America in the past decade, be it in our politics or in the culture itself. People know things are starting to fall apart, and none of us really know why.
What this means is that unfortunately, now is the time of struggle. You can relax, sit back and give up if you want to. Go become a journalist and write opinion pieces, have nice vacations in Bali - you will have a happier life than me. But as the institutions and systems of our world continue to fall apart, I feel like it is a duty to fight for something better.
Here is the important part - swallowing frogs, struggle, is all predicated on your work mattering. In my early career I struggled for a year or two on a business that was absolutely meaningless. I was struggling for literally no reason other than to try to make a business I had no ownership in survive. I will never mistake that again.
I urge you to find something in your life worthy of struggle - a career in a field you think is valuable for positive change, raising children, helping a loved one. Find that, commit to, and commit to the fact that while some days you will have the time of your life, there will be fallow periods where things will suck. Don’t be scared, don’t give up. No activity is always fun, just like you push your body in the gym you need to push your mind via struggle. Just as weights get easier, through pushing yourself and adequate rest (very important, do not forget rest), tasks you once thought were difficult become easy.
This is how we grow, this is how we become more capable, so we can fight to save this world in the coming years.