Why I Work A Lot / The 2 Kinds of Pain

I’ve been working a ton over the last few months, maybe harder than I ever have in my life. I spent the evenings of Christmas Eve and Christmas working (I got a ton of family time in too and don’t have kids, don’t judge me).

Why? Well part of it is having ambitious goals, wanting to achieve a lot in life, having a lot of responsibility, blah blah.

But to be honest I’m just bored to death when I’m not making progress towards goals. Watching Netflix for example is boring as hell to me (unless it’s something actually good like a good documentary or Black Mirror episode, but 99% of content on there seems to be trash).

It’s not even that I’m always necessarily being productive towards my work goals. For example a couple days ago I spent 3 hours playing the piano, learning a bunch of new songs. When I was at that amazing hostel in Copenhagen with an indoor soccer court I spent 3 hours shooting the ball alone, starting with my shots being all over the place to consistently being able to spin the ball to the corner of the net. Also I probably watched most of the World Cup games. Did that benefit my life? From a productivity standpoint, probably not, but watching the best football players in the world like Mbappe and Messi competing with their countrys’ pride and respect on the line inspires the hell out of me and makes me want to be out there on the field, even if my game cannot be football.

Passively watching some dumb TV show that doesn’t stimulate my mind is extremely boring to me. Making progress towards some goal is fun and gives me a sense of accomplishment, whether that goal be building a startup, learning a new song on the piano, or perfecting my shot.

I don’t have many regrets in life, but what I do regret is those long boring summers as a child in the American suburbs where I did nothing. I was so cripplingly bored that I’d actually start to miss school. To be fair there were some summers where I actually did try to be productive in some capacity (eg. making electronic music), but if I regret anything it’s not taking those pursuits more seriously and being more goal-driven instead of just doing whatever I felt like.

Two Kinds of Pain

When it comes to work I think there are two kinds of pain.

  • Pain #1: Boredom, existential dread, lack of purpose
  • Pain #2: Hard work with incremental progress towards productive long-term goals

Pain #1 is when you’re working some boring unfulfilling corporate job with a shitty boss and you question how you’ll be able to continue living like this while fantasizing about telling them off and escaping to an early retirement to Bali.

Pain #2 is when you’re working your ass off doing the hard but necessary work, battling with the inner voice in your head that’s trying to stop you telling you “It’s ok you can relax, you deserve a break. Why don’t you go refresh your social media feeds?” This is the same pain an athlete feels sprinting up a steep hill giving everything they’ve got to not give up, or a scientist/engineer/entrepreneur experiences thinking deeply about a challenging problem they need to solve.

The difference is that pain #2 is productive, makes you a stronger person, and you feel fulfilled and accomplished afterwards, which often corresponds to feeling good – though a warrior places their mission and purpose above fleeting emotions that come and go.

Pain #1 actually makes you feel worse afterwards because you’ve accomplished nothing. If anything you’ve regressed backwards because you’ve further cemented the habit of being a loser who’s not working towards anything, has no backbone or independent spirit, and simply follows orders from superiors that they don’t even respect for a cause that they don’t care about.

Recognize the difference between Pain #1 and Pain #2, and dive headfirst into Pain #2.

Again pain #2 is the pain of swimming for miles across treacherous waters trying to escape North Korea in search of freedom and a better life, or climbing Mt. Everest with an avalanche.

Pain #1 is the pain of not feeling like getting out of bed because your life sucks, has no purpose, and you’re so entitled and selfish that you’ve deluded yourself into thinking that society owes you these things on a silver platter, and that it’s someone else’s fault and responsibility to fix your lame life and weak spirit. Pain #1 is swiping on TikTok for hours knowing full well that you’re wasting your time, yet continuing to do it anyways because you’re weak-willed.

Obviously one needs to remember to work smart and not just work hard. Working hard without directing your work in an intelligent way will lead you nowhere – like trekking through a jungle without direction. Directing your work in an intelligent way without working hard will also lead you nowhere – like an entrepreneur with a vision who can’t execute. You need to strike the right balance.

My main point is that hard work will always entail a degree of resistance. You came tame this resistance over time, but it will always show up. You cannot stop the resistance from showing up, but you can choose how you react to it.

I’ve heard that the difference between expert meditators and novices is not the frequency with which invasive thoughts intrude during meditation, but the speed with which experts are able to deflect the invasive thoughts and refocus back to meditation.

The importance of having your own projects

I think everyone should be working on their own projects. Without it, you lose your sense of independence and purpose, and start to become nothing more than an empty shell or vessel for other people to commandeer to their own benefit.

I’m not saying to ignore your obligations. If you have work obligations for other people, then take them seriously. But don’t forgot that you are an independent spirit, not just a corporate wage slave. Every job entails a trading of freedom for money, and if your freedom is violated then you want to be in a position where you can walk away instead of being handcuffed to a treadmill.

Even if you are an employee, you are an entrepreneur except only you sell your time. Don’t lose sight of that. And don’t forget that everything around you was built by other people, and you can do the same thing too if you put in the work.

If you want to exist just to refresh your social media feeds and watch crappy Netflix shows then knock yourself out. Personally I find that boring though and would rather work towards goals like building out projects that I want to exist, and changing the world (we can get into the specifics of that in another post). I still enjoy travel, but travel without purpose is meaningless, and after 5 years of traveling abroad I checked off most of the boxes. I get more fulfillment out of working towards meaningful long-term goals now than just bouncing around the world and living like a teenager, even if there’s still a place for the latter from time to time since despite everything I’ve just written, there is more to life than work. My point is more that if you’re not working, then do something interesting that makes you happy – not vegetating in front of a TV watching crappy Netflix shows to avoid making progress towards the ambitious goals you secretly wish you had the discipline and mental fortitude to accomplish, while feeling miserable because you didn’t even enjoy the crappy Netflix shows.

Funny I used to glorify retirement, but now I have no interest in it. Building tech startups sounds more exciting to me. What a blessing that you can even get paid a lot of money for it, money which can be used to make you financially independent, build the future, and help other peoples’ lives. I do believe that life has seasons so maybe in 30 years my focus will be different, but at least right now I’m really motivated and excited to build tech startups, become a better engineer, and maybe buy myself a house/condo at some point to get a sense of stability (probably one on the beach somewhere warm, and a condo in a major city – but I’m fine renting as well).

What’s coming

I’m currently building out my new writing platform yume.fyi. Once it’s ready I’ll migrate this blog over to my new platform. Hoping to get this launched this weekend.

In my day job I’m building something sort of like a lightweight IDE in the browser for my main job. Super interesting work, and I love the people I work for. If you’re going to trade your precious time to work for someone else, then make it something worthwhile – otherwise you’re wasting your life.

I reached out to some contractors to get some help on my side projects. I’ve never hired anyone before for myself, so it will be an interesting experiment. Still not exactly sure what tasks I would assign and whether it would be worth it, but I think it’s worth testing out.

Happy Kwanzaa, and until next time

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