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A Ferret Called Wilson

Chasing Happy, Chasing Dreams

Month

April 2014

It seems like a silly realization, almost a waste of bytes to record, but yesterday it occurred to me that friends are very good. They restore me after my lonely hours spent in my head at work, they calm me, they energize me, motivate me, encourage me and give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Just the chance to see my friends is enough to turn an entire day around.

Friends are good.

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Surfing Through Life

I am an academic. I live alone. I have no family in any traditional sense. I don’t have very expensive habits and my income is profoundly in the range of middle class. What this means is that there are absolutely no external forces acting on me to push me through my days, motivate me to get my work done or inspire me to be a better person. Everything that I accomplish comes from my own internal source of energy and willpower. This is an exhausting, stressful and thankless way to go through life.

Recently I had a thought. It was an image, really. Over the past two or three months I have set into motion several forces to act upon my life. I spoke to a colleague about a desire to get my research published. I hired an assistant. I hired a personal trainer and today I will register for language classes. Each of these actions has created a wave in the otherwise flat surface of my life that I can either respond to, or be overwhelmed by.

If I do not meet my deadlines for my research now, self imposed as they originally were, my reputation amongst my colleagues will be destroyed. I will not get a second chance to prove that I want to be successful in this area. If I do not run, or complete my strength exercises, my trainer will be disappointed in me — one of the worst punishments I can inflict on myself. If I register for language classes, I will be compelled to improve my language or else risk embarrassment in front of the students at my university. As a professor this would be bad.

All of these things that I have set in motion will propel me forward, making me a better person and bringing access to opportunities I otherwise would not have had. As I was walking home from work I was thinking about all the different things that I must motivate myself to do in order to keep my job and be able to stay in Japan, and I grew tired just from imagining the amount of energy it would require. I started to think of these commitments that I made as a huge wall of water rising up and towering over me, sucking me up to the lip and threatening to hurl me down to the ocean floor. I realized that there is no standing still in the life that I have created. However, I can ride this wave, and the next one, and the next one, and I can allow them to take me somewhere. By choosing to surf the tremendous tides instead of swim through open water, I give up the ability to control where my ride will end, but I gain all the power and momentum of the waves that I create.

For me, as an academic, as what many people would call a genius, solving problems is easy. Waves create problems that I can react to and solve. I am reasonably confident that whatever solution I arrive at would be a good solution, perhaps even an extraordinary solution. What is difficult for me is choosing a direction and propelling myself forward. But surfing through my life might be my key to happiness. The more and the greater the waves I stir up, the farther and the faster I will go. The key, I think, will be overcoming the fear — not the fear of the wave, necessarily, but the fear of where it will ultimately put me down.

Mastering the Art

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Working or playing? Perhaps it doesn’t matter

 

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between [her] work and [her] play, [her] labour and [her] leisure, [her] mind and [her] body, [her] education and [her] recreation. [S]he hardly knows which is which. [S]he simply pursues [her] vision of excellence through whatever [s]he is doing and leaves others to determine whether [s]he is working or playing. To [her]self s/he always seems to be doing both. Enough for [her] that [s]he does it well.

–Lawrence Pearsall Jacks, 1932


I first heard this quote while browsing through the archives of an online Q&A session about leaving academia. To many academics, the delicate balance between work and play is both our motivation and our downfall. With no supervisor or fixed schedule, and with the measures of our success spread out over decades, we are constantly plagued with the uncertainty and the incessant wondering: have we worked enough?

The truth is that an academic should never ask herself if she has worked enough. To be in academia is to shun the world’s notion of success and to pursue passion and knowledge for the sake of the pursuit.

I am slowly internalizing the truth of this passage. I wake in the morning when it pleases me and sometimes I work right away, and sometimes I sit around playing games. I take naps when I am sleepy, think when I run, drink when I write and teach while I socialize. On a holistic level I am certainly much happier, more tolerant of others and more creative. However there are difficulties in applying this philosophy.

The master of life leaves others to determine whether she is working or playing. This is perhaps the most difficult part of the application. It would be lovely if each of us as individuals could determine our destinies, but like it or not we exist in a society which is governed by a culture. Our culture determines whether or not we are successful and whether or not we are deserving of our fate and for most of us, our culture believes that hard work which results in failure merits sympathy while too much play merits disdain.

Thus, the master in the art of life is also a master in the art of human relationships. For she must simultaneously satisfy her craving to play with her need to appear to those around her as an honest member of society. Perhaps the master is someone who has found a way to get paid to play, so that the distinction becomes meaningless to everyone.

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