Scott H Young

Do Things to Do Them


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How much do you enjoy what you do? Not just your work, but all the activities you spend time on. I think genuine enjoyment comes from something other than a payoff. And if you strip away all the little payoffs from what you do, you’re left with the joy it brings you.

Here are some thoughts to consider:

Would you still do it if…

  • You did it for free?
  • You couldn’t add it to a resume?
  • You couldn’t tell your friends you did it?
  • You weren’t thanked or appreciated for it?
  • Other people didn’t understand why it’s important?
  • You couldn’t tell whether you were successful at it?
  • You couldn’t use it to reach another goal?
  • You couldn’t save your work?
  • You can’t get feedback about it?
  • Other people told you they didn’t like it?
  • You had to undo everything, once you had finished?
  • You couldn’t teach anyone else how to do it?
  • You had to keep it a secret?
  • You had to pay to do it?

I think if you honestly went through the activities you spend time on, few of them could pass all of those tests. And I doubt most people feel their work activities would pass even half of these standards.

Seeking Genuine Enjoyment

The point of my little thought experiment is that genuine enjoyment is relatively rare. It’s difficult to find because the layers of social expectations, money and necessity take a higher priority. As a result, that core of actually enjoying the activity is lost.

I feel it’s important to try to capture as much of that genuine enjoyment as possible. Untainted by the influences of pride, money or social value, this means pursuing the simple enjoyment from activities.

Simple Enjoyment and Quality

I think it’s easy to equate genuine enjoyment with pleasures. If I enjoy eating a pound of chocolate even though it doesn’t help me in any monetary or social way, I don’t feel that is because eating mounds of junk food is some measure of genuine enjoyment.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about arete as an alternative view on the meaning of life. The idea is that arete, which basically means quality or excellence, could be the basis of what to strive for in life. I think the model of arete can also be applied here.

The real goal, I feel, is to look for the area where genuine enjoyment and arete overlap. This is where you are enjoying the activity, because of the activity and not because of the payoff. On top of that, the activity has some form of excellence you are focusing on or trying to bring out.

A Genuine Enjoyment Mini-Manifesto: Doing Things to Do Them

I think it’s easy to become several steps removed from genuine enjoyment. We form plans and goals to reach the point where we can enjoy what we do. As a result, much of our lives are wasted on activities so far removed from genuine enjoyment, we don’t even know what it looks like.

I’d like to propose a counter idea, do things to do them. Your first priority should be to find that nugget of genuine enjoyment in an activity before you commit to it.

You may also want to consider the exception that what you do should have some form of excellence or quality. So a rewording of the mantra might be: “Do things to do them, and do them with arete.”

Applying the Mantra

I’m certainly not perfect in following this rule. I spend time on activities that wouldn’t pass more than a couple of the questions I posed at the start of this essay. Homework assignments I finish because I need to. Articles I squeeze out to fill my established quota. Exercise I do to stay in shape.

But I have been striving to apply the “do things to do them” mantra more. I’ve joined my faculty’s student council not for the resume boosting (I don’t plan on getting a job) or for the networking (if I did, it probably wouldn’t be here) or for the money (the position is volunteer), but for the genuine enjoyment of something new, fun and challenging. I’ve also been trying to apply this rule more in my daily life, trying to look for the genuine enjoyment in things instead of just the payoff.

When you think about it, isn’t a genuine feeling of enjoyment the end motivation for everything you do? Why not cut out the middle-man and do things to do them now, instead of finding that quality later?


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7 Responses to “Do Things to Do Them”

  1. John says:

    Scott,

    Great post.

    It seems to me there’s probably some relationship between doing things you actually like DOING, enjoying the present moment regardless of what you’re doing, and living out your goals and aspirations instead of always striving for an end result.

    Not that end results aren’t worthwhile, but you’re right. It’s in the doing.

    This was a great reminder. Thanks

  2. Basu says:

    i’m afraid don’t completely agree with you on this one. I’m currently a CS / ECE major and I”m involved with a number of open source projects. I do this programming for free, partly because i enjoy doing it , but also because there are people out there who might find my work useful and improve upon it.part of my pleasure in my work is because I simply enjoy, but a major part is also because it helps others. In fact more than once have i rejected projects because though I might have enjoyed them, they really wouldn’t have helped anyone else, so I looked for things similar to what I had thought about,but helped others. I feel I might be a bit more of a materialist than you are, but I feel that you like your work the most both when you genuinely love it AND when it helps people around you.

  3. Scott Young says:

    Basu,

    Of course you want both. My point was shifting the focus when looking at tasks. Too little focus being given to enjoyment in the moment, too much focus on external benefits. But, if you have an abundance of joy, I suppose that wouldn’t be a problem.

    -Scott

  4. Diego says:

    Thanks again Scott for the reminder.

    I doubt if the quality of an experience can ever be measured in a kind of quid pro quo including helping others. I think perhaps arete loads experience up front so that when I have such an experience the reward is simultaneous with the task…sort of.

  5. [...] Read Scott Young’s article here.  « Presbyterians Play Hoops (And Bust Brackets)     [...]

  6. Ash says:

    Hi Scott,

    I love this post. It reminds me of the book the way of the peaceful warrior. Its good to be reminded as these things fade in memory really fast.

    Best,
    Ash

  7. Tony says:

    This is similar to the theory of Flow. Check out the book “Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

    Great blog Scott!

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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