Re: Living a good life

Date: Sat Oct 07 2000 - 13:46:02 MDT

In a message dated 9/19/00 5:03:57 AM Central Daylight Time, writes:

> Though I have begun this question (perhaps) unnecessarily
> theoretically, I ask for rather concrete reasons: I'm graduating from
> Yale this year. I'm a biomedical engineering / philosophy double
> major. There are a number of potential career opportunities before
> me, some of which, it seems to me, would make me substantially more
> likely to survive than others; unfortunately, it also appears to me
> that the career opportunities which have the potential for reaping me
> the most happiness right now are not the opportunities which maximize
> my fitness.
> This leaves me wondering: is there really a tradeoff between happiness
> and productivity? Just how important is it that I tradeoff happiness
> for productivity right now and in the years ahead? Just how likely is
> it that I'll make it? How does a 21st century fellow go about living
> a good life?


Still digging hard to catch up on badly backed-up correspondence, I'm amused
at the messages I'm stopping to reply to. This one deserves a lot of thought
so, naturally, I'll toss off the first thing that comes to mind.

Having just weathered what I hope has been the heaviest seas of "The Mother
of All Midlife Crises" in the last few years, it's interesting to think about
career and life choices from another perspective, i.e. someone just getting
out of college in 2000, instead of 1979, as I did. I basically gave very,
very little thought to a "career" when I was in undergraduate school,
studying things that interested me and that I enjoyed learning, with
essentially no thought at all for how what I was doing in college might "pay
off" in later life. I'm constantly struck by how very different the young
people I mentor professionally now are from the way I was when I was their
age. The folks I work with now in their mid-20s (after going "straight
through" to law school) seem so incredibly focused on establishing a career
and making money. When I got out of college, I was still primarily
interested in what can't really be called anything more than "having fun" and
learning by having diverse life experiences and relationships, trying on
ideas and emotional settings to see just what sort of person I was. Working
in those years was just a way to make enough money to support myself day to
day and pay for the occasional travel or change of abode. Such things don't
seem to be nearly as important to folks in their 20s now - I suppose I'm
experiencing sort of the reverse of the "kids these days!" thinking my
parents' generation engaged in.

I didn't really focus on the idea of a career until at least the age of 25
and really didn't do anything about it for more than a year. I started law
school when I was 27 and didn't start practicing until right after I turned
30, at which point I suppose I started thinking of myself as an "adult".
What I've seen since has borne out the wisdom of how I proceeded in those
years, at least for people like me who have a lot of different interests. By
the time I began working at "a career", I'd developed some deeply-thought-out
values about life and had had a LOT of different experiences. I see many
creative youngsters who didn't take the time to do this experiencing a kind
of grief after three or four years of working at an absorbing career like
law: With a palpable smack to the forehead and an exclamation of "I forgot to
have a life!" they run out of steam and can't stay focused on the hard work
of becoming really professionally competent.

Now some of this may well be more acute in the legal profession, where
developing well-seasoned judgment is the primary task of the young lawyer.
Perhaps in more "scientific" fields one can more successfully "double-track"
gaining basic life experience and developing professional competence. But
there's also probably an irreducible core of experience one has to have to
become an emotionally and morally well-rounded individual. And some of that
experience simply takes time and the kinds of diverse activities that being
tied to a specific career track isn't always consistent with. So, all thing
being equal, my advice would be to take your time and spend as much of your
youth in personal exploration and adventure as you can.

But all things may well not be equal. The next 20 years for someone just
getting out of college in 2000 are going to be different in many ways than
the last 20 years have been for me and others my age. What if some of our
more optimistic techno-social musings here regarding the next couple of
decades turn out to be true, and being in the right place at the right time -
with enough cash in hand - means the difference between being on the cutting
edge of the transformation of the human animal and watching from the
sidelines? Five or six years of "goofing off" could mean the difference
between being a player and a spectator in the biggest game of all time.

It's a tough question, and one I don't have any answers to. Some balance
between the two paths is probably best, at least at first. Choosing options
that leave you as much personal freedom as possible, while still "getting
started" on a career is going to be a tough job, but one you've got to keep
in mind, because 1) we can't be SURE that the Big Changes will happen very
quickly and 2) there really is no time like the present: We LIVE in the
present and we LEARN in the present and too much sacrifice of the present is
just miserliness with our own spirits.

Good luck . . .

       Greg Burch <>----<>
      Attorney ::: Vice President, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
                                           ICQ # 61112550
        "We never stop investigating. We are never satisfied that we know
        enough to get by. Every question we answer leads on to another
       question. This has become the greatest survival trick of our species."
                                          -- Desmond Morris

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