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I submit that the working person greatly benefits from having a strongly held, over-arching life goal. Then even if he or she is working a soul-draining job for, say, a social media company, they will be content knowing it is a necessary step towards their goal.



What do you mean by "goals"?

I've met too many people hopelessly throwing themselves against a wall trying to "achieve their dreams"... they see themselves as a Hollywood-esque main character, either aiming unrealistically high or shooting for mundane gimmes. Without a broader vision, those that pick reasonably scoped goals may still end up depressed by their small wins that add up to nothing. Modern mss media and image culture certainly hasn't helped manage realistic expectations or self-perception.

I think it's more important to have a strong life stance - a broader collective vision that adds context to the individual - and a stoic understanding of limitations. That metaheuristic provides deeper meaning while facilitating rational evaluation of our achievements/goals.

Drawing an analogy to software projects, the life stance defines a person's mission and tenets while goals act as milestones or stories. Executing without the broader vision simply doesn't work for humans... our limited and unknown budget of time is constantly burning away.


Yes, I concur that resistance to burnout depends on having a broader context to your life and humanity as a whole. If you understand your own life within the perspective of the billions of humans that have lived and died before you, and that will live after you, it adds a very resilient drive and resistance to small setbacks.

Personally, I was able to achieve this using the recursive why, or chained why, which is a thinking pattern I'll describe here:

1. Come up with a random statement about anything at all.

2. Ask "Why?" about that statement.

3. When you come up with a reasonable answer, ask "Why?" to your stated answer.

4. Repeat step three until you arrive at the meaning of life

This really works. I did this riding the bus for hours when I was a kid because I had no friends. Now it's like I live on another planet compared to people who have not done this. Stoic, content, and driven is the result


Eventually the last "why" you get to has the answer: "The biological machinery that comprises my body receives incoming stimuli and the laws of physics causes a cascading chain reaction which changes my internal state. Thus, I'm basically a series of recursive analog state machines and free will is but an illusion." At that point, you lose all motivation for asking any further "why" questions.


Last I checked, the free will question wasn't shut, and I wouldn't suggest basing your entire model of the world on something that pretty much nobody has a good understanding of right now. O.o

It sounds like you've simply bought modern "nihilism", i.e., the "everything is meaningless and nothing matters" philosophy that a lot of logical types seem to believe but none actually live (since it's not workable).

Digging down to whys requires actually answering them, not throwing your arms in the air and saying that the question is unanswerable. It's answerable, there's a reason that you do things, otherwise you wouldn't even be able to exist. "I do things because that's what my machinery does" is avoiding the question. Well, duh. That doesn't mean there aren't reasons as to why you do or do not eat that donut.

It's like if someone approached you asking how a given piece of software works, and instead of explaining the structure and the business logic, you say that it's a bunch of machine code. Wrong level of abstraction, you just dodged the question.


Oh, I'm not saying that I live under a nihilist viewpoint. Even if free will is little more than an illusion masked by seemingly infinite complexity, I happily buy into the illusion and (for the most part) operate as if I have unlimited agency / free will. My comment was more to say that you have to stop asking "why" at some point and just go with the flow otherwise you descend into meaningless.


> I [...] operate as if I have unlimited agency / free will.

That's a different sort of trap, as it ignores the effects of circumstance (even minor things, like whether organ donation is an opt-in or opt-out checkbox can have huge real-world effects).

It also leads to blaming the unfortunate for making poor choices when those choices have been both constrained and biased by circumstance.


I mean... but you do. You just said that if you keep asking, you end up with a "nihilist" view and descend into meaningless. So your overall philosophy right now is that form of "nihilism". That is, after all, why you do not find the value in asking "why".

I strongly disagree with that and I believe this kind of thinking is not actually as logical or as rational as you were lead to believe, and properly asking the why question and answering it is fairly critical to figuring out what should be done.

> go with the flow

Go with whose flow? You realize that this is just you piggybacking on someone else's answer to the "why" and blindly accepting it without any kind of verification? This should be alarming, not calming.

Really, if someone somewhere was able to answer this question well enough that they could create a "flow" for you to go with, you can do the same.


My understanding was that the whole point of going with the flow is to avoid thinking too much.


It's the path of least resistance, that's why people do it, there isn't some greater "point" to it. But it leaves you at the mercy of someone else. Choose the someone else carefully, as I haven't really seen good candidates lately...


Exactly.


While I'm sure that methodology can produce personal drive in some people, others can follow the same process and feel like it'll never mean something.

Also, if possible, could you point me in the direction of this "meaning of life" you found. It would really help me out.


Hi, sure I'll point you in the direction of the meaning of life.

It's really the question of why are we here? What are humans and what is our consciousness and emotions?

Humans are the most fit creatures for life on planet earth pre-civilization. We were created by an evolutionary algorithm where the fitness function was our ability to reproduce and live the most effective, longest lives.

Our emotions and feelings are the "emergent behaviour" of our complex system of mate selection, reproduction and raising our young that runs on a chemical system created by that billion year evolutionary algorithm.

So our society is a great big thing that basically determines the lives of 8 billion of these creatures. And the people who are driving the ship don't understand themselves or their place in the universe. They might as well be outside of society altogether, fighting over mates in the forest. But no, here we are, blessed with our language, technology, medical science and all the other blessing bestowed upon us by our prescient forefathers, killing ourselves. Marching towards our own death. Taking human development and the ecology of our planet for granted. The smart among us watch a slow motion apocalypse.

So my life goal is to fucking stop this shit whatever it takes so that I can rest easy knowing I didn't get to see the light and then ignore the answers it showed me


> I did this riding the bus for hours when I was a kid

Why?

> because I had no friends.

Why?


Wow, that really was a clever post you made. I think you're smarter than me, and I feel bad about myself.


That wasn't my intent (well, the "feeling bad" part wasn't, anyway), but I guess I'll just have to take what I can get.


I misinterpreted that then. Cheers.


Most high-level goals that I've seen people have amount to what I call "winning the gauntlet". Making a lot of money, founding a big company, achieving fame, finding a high-profile SO, etc. Statistically, those goals will not be achieved by a given person, and not only that, but they effectively amount to "have it better than someone else", i.e., they're zero-sum.

Goals like these seem reasonable to people when they surround themselves with "haves", so they are not exposed to the serious problem of the "have-nots" that have to exist for the "haves" to exist. One can be reasonably happy in this state as long as they dodge the cognitive dissonance, or if they just think this is a good model.

This works neither for people who care about the world nor those who are "have-nots". Which is most people. So most people end up unhappy while reading self-books (if they even have enough agency for that) from the "haves" and trying to figure out what's going on. But nothing is going on, the situation is zero-sum, so there will always be someone in a bad state in the current system. The only thing that changes is who.

The gauntlet cannot be completely ignored because it is necessary for basic agency. But in some cases, the agency is already there, and the person can begin defining their own vision, but they still continue chasing the zero-sum goals due to pressure.

Even if you try to develop your own vision things can get strange.

> our limited and unknown budget of time is constantly burning away.

Well, there are 6+ billion people in the world, and, on average, they have a similar budget. Why the sense of urgency? What is it that is so important that only you personally can do it? It would be very strange if the world was filled with these super important goals for each person that were conveniently person-lifetime sized, but it often feels to me like that's the perception. This often ends up back at the zero-sum issue, in the sense of "lots of people can do this, but I need to be the one to do it". It's thinly veiled status-seeking all over again, which is why it fits so well since in a competitive environment, the goal IS person-lifetime sized.

A broad non-status goal wouldn't fit that paradigm. It is likely to be overwhelming and require a lot of people, or, on the other hand, be fairly straightforward and missed because it's not prestigious. But people find themselves in these insurmountable goals and feel like they need to do so much work, that brings other questions. Why them? What is everyone else doing?

On a certain level, I think most people seek vision that fulfills subconscious nags they may have, and that's the primary reason they seek it. Things in the region of "am I doing something with my life" or "am I a good person". There isn't an actual vision higher level than that, so once those nags are satisfied, the person will stop asking. But this is just chasing the gauntlet in another way.


>A broad non-status goal wouldn't fit that paradigm. It is likely to be overwhelming and require a lot of people, or, on the other hand, be fairly straightforward and missed because it's not prestigious.

I think you have it here. There are some very simple, very natural things that can fulfill most of the average individual's basic yearnings, but they're overlooked today, they're regarded as passe or even backwards. These things are not high-glamor nor high-privilege, but they give people a sense of repose and quiet dignity, regardless of their other circumstances

IMO the most important such thing is to have and care for a family. I believe that many contemporary social ills come from an exponentially-increasing generational denial of the importance of stable marriages and child-bearing that kicked into high gear after WWII.

It can be argued that industrial corporate interests have an interest in stripping the dignity and independence of having a family away from workers, hoping they'll search for meaning in their careers and spend more hours at the office instead.


"IMO the most important such thing is to have and care for a family. I believe that many contemporary social ills come from an exponentially-increasing generational denial of the importance of stable marriages and child-bearing that kicked into high gear after WWII."

I totally agree. My life turned 180 degrees when I became a father. So much things that seemed to be important are just bs now...


Odd, child-bearing is kind of the original source of all the zero-sum status-seeking behavior.


Child-bearing is the original source of all humanity.


We have less social ills then pre-WWII world. Also, 19 century workers and peasants (e.g. majority of population lower class) spent more or equally as much time in work (including women) then we do now.


Are you serious? It's the very opposite.


Of course I'm serious. I don't know of a credible argument to the contrary.


> Why the sense of urgency? What is it that is so important that only you personally can do it?

Sometimes it isn't that only you personally can, but rather that only you personally will.


I mentioned that:

> But people find themselves in these insurmountable goals and feel like they need to do so much work, that brings other questions. Why them? What is everyone else doing?

If you find yourself in that situation, you may want to ask why this is happening, because it's strange. You should also realize that the chance of failure is very high, and if your goal is truly important to you, that should worry you.

I'm not saying this in the sense of "you should/shouldn't pursue your goal", I have no idea, I don't know what your goal is. But strangeness is often a highly valuable source of information. You really, really need to know why nobody else is pursuing your goal, and that information could help you find more people to help with your goal to address the second concern.

On a more fundamental level, answering that question could put the value of the goal in jeopardy, or, on the other hand, make it that much more important.


All good points. The only thing I feel I can add that addresses the strangeness in a general way are these quotes:

“There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” - Robert F. Kennedy

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” - George Bernard Shaw

“The sweet spot is in good ideas that seem like bad ideas.” - Peter Theil

“Pursue the good ideas that, for some reason, others won't.” - Chris Dixon

“It's actually pretty easy to be contrarian. It's hard to be contrarian and right.” - Reid Hoffman


Maybe. I did this for many years, and then by circumstance my overarching goal turned to dust. That's a lot to take. Make sure you're on a path that has some enjoyment in the now. Don't just suffer for some future pleasure.


> strongly held, over-arching life goal

Like what? I believe that I'm an incidentally self-aware thermodynamic curiosity; setting any sort of lifelong goal feels like an attempt to fool myself into feeling important.


Ah, but feelings of importance are merely incidental mental representations and emotional responses that are somewhat hard coded into our bio machinery, so I'm pretty sure the universe won't mind if you indulge every now and then. Having this self awareness adds a nice element of comic absurdity to the indulgence as well ;)


This line of reasoning feels like it's missing an important piece. If you consider yourself to be unimportant, then why is vanity a bad thing? It won't matter either way, except that you may feel better and be more active.


What's wrong with feeling important?


Most people are not driven really, so this advice won't work for them.


The lack of drive is itself the issue, though.


Why? Why should everyone by driven/obsessed? Most people are fine doing the minimum that is required to maintain their desired lifestyle level.


Well, remember the start of this conversation:

crush-n-spread: > I submit that the working person greatly benefits from having a strongly held, over-arching life goal.

I believe having a strong over-arching goal is very helpful for a person (working or otherwise). Helpful in the sense that it can offset certain problems or give the person better tools for working around/through them (i.e., depression, burnout, purposelessness, general decision making).

I don't think this is the same thing as ambition or obsession, although many people do turn that into their drive and I think that's fairly dangerous (the thing one is obsessed about may not work out).

I wouldn't really agree that most people are "fine" in some general sense, nor do most people typically subsist without any kind of life goal (religion is popular).


I would say that 'purpose' would fit better into your argument than 'goal'. Taking care of children or elderly parent gives you a purpose but is not a goal. And yes, I agree that having a purpose makes the tough parts of life more bearable.


The word "purpose" would fit what I'm talking about, but not really the way it seems to be commonly used.

I distinguish these things by their target of focus:

A "purpose" is concerned with one's place in the world. It's an attempt to fit in. It is also often done in a manner similar to picking your favorite color. "I want to be a star athlete".

A high-level "purpose"/"goal"/etc. is concerned with the state of the world. It's often not too concerned with where you are, it's rather concerned with results, and it can be good or bad, and it needs justification. "I want the game of soccer to be beautiful".

The latter is considerably more resilient than the former, as it is not reliant on personal performance as much, and the latter can guide the former. You might even ask whether the game of soccer needs more athletes to be beautiful, or if you did become one, you'd have a much easier time rejecting things like cheating and doping if you think they do not help, while someone concerned with being a star athlete is very inclined to cheat since that is their purpose and they don't have an overarching goal to stop them. And, in the end, if they nonetheless fail to become a star athlete, they'd have quite the crisis, while the person with the goal will be OK with it as the game of soccer will likely stay beautiful without them, and, even, consider if athletes are not really the biggest threat to soccer right now given their sheer number.


The problem I see with this approach is that, unless you're a billionaire (maybe a multimillionaire), you're not going to affect the world in any measurable way (barring super-rare exceptions like some writers, politicians, scientists etc.). Granted, you could make your life's purpose to for example improve pot holes situation in your county - in such case, even when being an average nobody you can make the situation better (by constantly harassing the authorities etc.). I don't know how many people can be driven by such small-stake goal though.


> The problem I see with this approach is that, unless you're a billionaire (maybe a multimillionaire), you're not going to affect the world in any measurable way (barring super-rare exceptions like some writers, politicians, scientists etc.).

I think this belief comes from highly individualist cultures where you need to do everything yourself, but it's not the only way of doing things. People tend to just focus on themselves, improving themselves, figuring out how they personally can do something, but there's not much focus on involving other people.

On the contrary, "doers" often close up, stop talking to people, stop making friends, etc., in their effort to "do" the thing, which, if anything, makes their network angry at them. Often this /does/ happen because doers think less of everyone else, creating the very kind of pressure that pushes people away.

How do movements start, even silly ones? We've seen plenty of those. They don't really require someone to do some insane amount of work. But they require people to talk about it and to then bear the brunt of ostracism. Plenty of movements, including many people don't like at all, have grown this way. Simply from some people saying "you know, this makes no sense" and other people agreeing.

A lot of things come down to what regular people talk about every day and connecting to them. Even billionaires and writers, in the end, are trying to change the thinking of regular people.




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