A lone mule drew the car, and sometimes drew it off the track, when the passengers would get out and push it on again. They really owed it courtesies like this, for the car was genially accommodating: a lady could whistle to it from an upstairs window, and the car would halt at once and wait for her while she shut the window, put on her hat and cloak, went downstairs, found an umbrella, told the “girl” what to have for dinner, and came forth from the house.
The previous passengers made little objection to such gallantry on the part of the car: they were wont to expect as much for themselves on like occasion. In good weather the mule pulled the car a mile in a little less than twenty minutes, unless the stops were longer; but when the trolley-car came, doing its mile in five minutes and better, it would wait for nobody. Nor could its passengers have endured such a thing, because the faster they were carried the less time they had to spare! In the days before deathly contrivances hustled them through their lives, and when they had no telephones–another ancient vacancy profoundly responsible for leisure–they had time for everything: time to think, to talk, time to read, time to wait for a lady!
The Magnificent Ambersons, Booth Tarkington
This reminded me of a nineteenth century version of the now ubiquitous Louis C.K. bit.
My major professor used to tell me that if you’re working on a project/idea/problem that no one else has ever thought of, it’s probably not worth doing. It’s sort of an “efficient market” theory of ideas and a corollary to “there’s nothing new under the sun.” In any case, after yesterday’s post I ran across this little gem on David Kanigan’s blog which is very close to what I had in mind while thinking about the intersection of one’s natural work and prosperity, with an added dimension:
A friend of mine recently quit Facebook. He ended his farewell post with “Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t care about you!” If true, would it matter? If Bill Gates was the greediest man alive whose sole motive was making money, what relevance does that play in the fact that he brought the power of the computer into millions of homes? In many cases people who make phenomenal amounts of money are not primarily seeking profits, rather pursuing some other objective that people are more than happy to pay for.
I’ve recently started reading John Kay’s book, “Obliquity,” which explores why our primary objectives are best achieved indirectly. According to John Stuart Mill:
Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.
In the last post I quoted from the Gita which says we should find our Natural Work and do it. Is it so rare that one’s Natural Work leads to prosperity and happiness?
From Anderson Layman’s blog:
“Now you shall hear how a man may become perfect, if he
devotes himself to the work which is natural to him. A man
will reach perfection if he does his duty as an act of worship
to the Lord, who is the source of the universe, prompting all
action, everywhere present.
“A man’s own natural duty, even if it seems imperfectly
done, is better than work not naturally his own even if it is
well performed. When a man acts according to the law of
his nature, he cannot be sinning. Therefore, no one should
give up his natural work, even though he does it imperfectly.
For all action is involved in imperfection, like fire in smoke.“
–from Chapter XVIII
The Song of God: Bhagavad-Gita
So what’s your natural work?
From grade school on up we’re warned of the perils of procrastination. “You have three weeks,” says teach, “don’t wait till the last-minute.” There was always that “overachiever” who finished early and was looked upon with contempt by the rest of us with guilt-bred resentment. It wasn’t until recently that I realized just how rational procrastination can be. Is there virtue in finishing early? You have free time, but so does everyone else who started later. And hours are like dollars, one today is worth two tomorrow. So why start working on something before you need to?
I just read a book called The 80/20 Principle. The principle, though not new, is simple: 80% of our output comes from 20% of our inputs. For example, 80% of revenues come from 20% of clients, or 80% of the value we add to the business comes from 20% of our time/effort. There’s nothing sacred or even empirical about 80/20 as a number, but it serves as a useful guide to show there’s no one-to-one relationship between effort and results.
This principle came natural to me. You see, I was a solid B+ student in High School. There was no reason I couldn’t have been an A student. I just learned very early on that I could work a great deal less than most students and perform nearly as well. That free time was spent devouring the books I wanted to read, or studying subjects and people that interested me. The most important lessons I learned during High School were never graded.
You perfectionists out there might cringe or call me lazy, but you economists will immediately identify the law of diminishing returns. If I start a paper today and work on it for three weeks, is the incremental improvement over a procrastinated paper worth the extra effort? (especially given the subjectivity of grading, but that’s another story.)
A professor of mine used to say, “‘Anything worth doing is worth doing well’ is wrong. There are plenty of things that are worth doing that are worth doing ho-hum.” It’s not about laziness; it’s about not wasting time on the 80% of low value activities. And putting off a project/paper/proposal for later can be a perfectly rational.