I’ve been reading Reddit. This isn’t a great idea. It reminds you that the people you share the planet with are insane. You, me and everyone else. None of us know what’s going on, although some of us know even less than the rest. Exactly who falls in which camp is a matter of hot debate. Possibly in an attempt to avoid this discussion altogether, Socrates, generally considered one of the smartest men of antiquity, straight up said that the only thing he knows is that he knows nothing.
Specifically, I ended up following a conversation about whether you should prioritise your career over your partner. This seems like a no-fucking-brainer, like do you prioritise your dog over washing the car. Turns out, for most people it is a no brainer, but not in the same direction as it is for me.
People come and go… but your career…
Your career, that’s forever.
Your financial stability…
Love? Romantic love? It’s 2017. Haven’t we grown out of that?
The question, at the heart of it, isn’t about relationships, romantic or otherwise, but how we prioritise and what we value. The sensible route is rational on the assumption that you live forever. Our culture is one of tiered success; first you get good grades, then you go to a good university, then you get a good job, then you get a good partner, then you buy a house, then you work on those promotions, then you retire, then you die. If you were to live forever, and for those that think they will, or those who rarely consider their mortality, this is a great deal.
As it is, you may not reach retirement, and even if you do, exactly how long you have before you cease to exist is variable. It’s also worth mentioning that those older years look more like the comedown from a party than they do that sweet spot around 1am, where everyone has reached a certain level but no one is crashing yet. The evening hasn’t quite reached it’s pinnacle. Those years probably went by while you were at work.
For people like myself, people who figure that every second you’re alive you incur a little more risk of death, it’s insane. A promise followed by a promise followed by a promise, then retirement. This doesn’t seem so sensible to me. To give up things that are in your hand now for future maybes… That logic doesn’t hold.
There are people who give up their friend groups, their families, their romantic partners, to pursue careers or wealth or adventures they figure they’re missing. They don’t want to end up in some shitty job, but the truth is, most jobs are shitty, even the good ones. The base issue is funds; not wanting to end up with a shitty job, when you dust the bullshit off, is mostly not wanting to end up in a poorly paid job. Giving up on your loved ones for the sake of potential future payouts doesn’t seem wise to me, although that’s what school will teach you. That’s what the culture will teach you.
There are two types of people when it comes to this question. One considers when they’ll buy their house, saves a lot of money, plays it as safe as possible, and hopes that once that’s all worked itself out, then they can chill and get to nurturing those things that they’d sacrificed in the past.
It’s not at all clear to me that this is possible. Most of the things you sacrifice during that time are gone forever, the romantic relationship you let go, the friends, the family members that drift away, they’re gone, and they’re gone permanently. Their absence is concrete. The places you never travelled to because it wasn’t sensible to do so, they’re different now and you’re older, you’re different, the experience as you imagined it died the moment you figured you should save for another few years first.
The things you miss are concrete while the rewards are promises and abstractions.
Past a certain age, new friends are hard to come by. That group you were tight with in your twenties might very well be the only group you have an opportunity to be that tight with for the rest of your life. The guy you grew up with, that guy exists only once. It doesn’t matter how many cursory friendships come and go afterwards, you can’t share that history with any of them.
How many people reach a certain age, look back, and wish they’d seen their friends less, or moved away from their family sooner? There will be those people, for sure, but I suspect they will be a minority. More people will regret working overtime, saving money that either due to unforeseen economic circumstances ended up being worth less than they hoped, or that they’ve stockpiled until the end of their lives, money which is useless in the grave, where each ten quid represents an hour they could have been with friends, lovers, children, family members.
Then there’s the other type. These people tend to be more reckless, they aren’t generally good at saving money, they don’t think too much about how many bedrooms their house will have in the future, some of them don’t even think about having a house, and leaving their friends to pursue a pay check isn’t something they’re liable to consider. These people are more concerned with what they can get now, what experiences they can pursue in the present, and how they can maximise positive experiences and interactions throughout their life.
Which person do you think is more fun at a party?
You’d be lucky to get the other types to a party in the first place… unless its work related and has networking opportunities. It’s good to get some face time with the highers.
That’s fine though, the sensible ones can hang out too, and they can talk about how sensible they are for forgoing transitory fun in the pursuit of a secure future. Meanwhile, the partiers can pat each other’s backs over how fucking righteous they are for dancing and losing themselves in the cosmos, being present at the only time that really exists, and anyway, tomorrow morning isn’t here yet and when it arrives, we’ll get through it.
This is me and it resonates with me because in my experience, a thing isn’t certain until its in your hand. The promises that society makes you, and the promises of people you don’t know or haven’t vetted, don’t mean a thing. Life can and will bite you in the ass. Maybe you get cancer in your mid-thirties, don’t catch it soon enough, and now that half paid off mortgage and ten years of extra school and training, and hundreds of hours of overtime, all premised on expected outcomes another ten years away, damn, that looks like a mistake.
To me, that doesn’t look so much like a life. Looks like you were a battery, you powered someone else’s empire and everything you did for you existed in an imagined future world. The future doesn’t exist. All that exists, and all that has ever existed, is right now. This isn’t an excuse for hedonism, but hedonism is part of it too, it’s a hymn to doing things for you and your loved ones, not getting caught up in the abstract. Your job title, your pay check, none of this matters much if you don’t have friends.
Say you succeed in the sensible life course, you get your house, or houses, you retire early; what’s the cost? How many friends did you lose? How many lovers? Who are you sharing the now with, the now you’d imagined your whole life?
Being someone that lives in the present that carries risks too. Look at how things turned out for Oscar Wilde. Living in the now ended in prison and exile and ultimately, with a lonely death. Still, on the way to his unceremonious end he lived a life, and that can’t be denied.
If you live right now, right this instant, and pursue what you want at the expense of what you’re told to do, you could end up destitute too, and depending on the balance you reach and how far you want to push it, your chances go way up. The truth is, we can’t predict anything of the future, past events are only a good exemplar of future ones when they are, when they aren’t… The world is spinning and out of your control, it’s exact rotation and speed may change, the world around you will change, and the consistent thing at the end of it is you.
There must be balance between these positions, although, in my opinion, if there isn’t, you’re better leaning toward the present than the future. Sure, you may end up destitute, but at least you won’t have given up things you may have loved for a bank balance, or a nicer place. You’ll die with good stories. The most perfectly arranged life, if it is lived alone, means nothing. The greatest achievements, alone, mean nothing. All of this, without maintaining your relationships, which can only be done by attending to them in the present, means nothing.
The real point is, good grades + saved money doesn’t always = happiness. There is no math for happiness, no math for life. That should be self evident and any attempt, in my opinion, to turn it into math, will be met with ultimate failure.
Here’s a related article on living in the moment from the Guardian: Living in the moment really does make people happier.
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