Monthly Archives: July 2014

What do you do?

The question is often asked at parties and social occasions. Rarely, does one answer with a list of their favorite hobbies. Often, the answer is about one’s work. This is fine: most of us put lots of time and effort into our work, quite a bit more than we put into our hobbies. However, folks generally like their hobbies more than their work, and I find it curious that we focus on the less enjoyable part of our lives, at the neglect of the enjoyable, when answering the question, “what do you do?”

I recently lead a climb up the Upper Exum Ridge, on the Grand Teton, in Wyoming, USA: this activity started me thinking about this question, “what do you do?” Climbing the Grand Teton was challenging, difficult, and rewarding. But it was not fun or enjoyable in any standard sense of those words. There were moments that I enjoyed immensely, but there were many more moments of struggle, discomfort, and fear. Perhaps my memory of the experience is skewed, but those enjoyable moments somehow make the whole difficult experience worthwhile. I will do a climb like this again, despite knowing it will be physically, mentally, and emotionally uncomfortable. Why?

What you do ought to leave a generally positive, worthwhile feeling. Maybe you wouldn’t do that activity again, but somehow, it was worth the time taken to experience it. Does your paid work do this for you? Do your hobbies do this for you?

Life as a maze

After reading Flowers For Algernon recently, I wish it had been part of my high school or college reading list, but I’m glad the book’s crossed my path, even if it’s later than I’d like.

One of the themes that has struck me is the author’s consistent portrayal of Charlie’s life as a continuous problem solving task. Prior to his operation, working at the bakery; to several months after his operation, when he’s researching psychiatry and learning to live with a super-charged intellect, Charlie is consistently shown to be “running mazes” of varying complexity, similar to Algernon.

This trope of running mazes seems applicable to most folks’ lives, if I dare to generalize that far. In fact, life might be characterized as a path-dependent experience — a maze — of our own choice and construction. By choosing to do certain acts, we build a channel through which our experiences flow. Unlike rivers that overflow their channels and “rewrite” their paths, human life doesn’t seem capable to doing this, except in pathological cases. Once an experience is received by a person, it helps determine the course of subsequent experiences, further developing the particular path down one’s life travels.

If you haven’t had a chance to read Flowers For Algernon, check it out. If you’ve read it, tell us what you thought of it — leave a comment.