To my esteemed colleague, Dr. Etlevs S. R. Wolf (and to other people possibly reading, young or old),
For starters, the typewriting monkey is not a fitting analogy to the situation you have described, for three reasons. First, which is to our dismay, is that the simian has an infinite amount of time. We don’t. Second, to our advantage, is that the simian is doing things in a random fashion. We are not (at least most of the time). And third, we smell and look better (I truly, truly hope so).
I will refrain from investigating the disparity between the simian’s goal in using a typewriter and our own objectives. For all we know, its goal may simply be to have fun smashing the keys. But it is also possible that its goal is to really come up with literary masterpieces. It is merely doing it in a fashion we think is far from optimum. Since I cannot ascertain this, we’ll leave it. But we will look more closely at goals.
Fortunately for us, we can define our goals. Because of this, the power of the second (not doing things randomly) is enough to attenuate the severe handicap brought about by the first (not having an infinite amount of time). Do note that I use attenuate because motivation and method can only diminish the obstacle of finite time. We have yet to come up with a solution that will buy us infinite time. The other thing that makes our finite time a problem is that the finiteness is something we can never quantify. There are just so many possible ways for life to end, and they can happen any time.
That being said, the finesse in living is in the judicious use of foreseeably available time. But judicious, in this case, is more than just about being sensible and having good judgment from an ethical or moral standpoint (which we will assume we all have). It has another facet that is more elusive. Do you work, play, rest, think, not think, socialize, not socialize, stay in, go out, act, not act? Which permutation and in what ratios is most judicious?
The answer to that question is happy.
(Sorry, it is not 42. It is possibly “Let’s ride bikes”, but if, and only if, “Let’s ride bikes” = happy)
That answer is important because there is one big problem with goals. We are never sure if we will achieve our goals. There are just too many variables not under our control. And sometimes, even if our goals will eventually be achieved by what we have set in motion, we may not be alive to see it happen.
To illustrate this concept further, let us define the following variables:
g = probability of achieving the goal, c = goal complexity, m= motivation, s = required skills, p = skills proficiency, r = required resources, a = available resources, t = required time, l = net life expectancy
The probability of achieving a goal can then be expressed as
g = m•(p/sc)•(a/rc)•(l/tc).
Analyzing the equation, it becomes apparent that the complexity of the goal affects the skills, resources, and time required to achieve it. This makes an increase in complexity exponentially decrease the chance of success. The equation also shows that motivation is the only variable we really have control over, but more on that later.
Being simplified to a great degree, the equation does not show another important truth: As time passes, the values of any or all of the variables involved can be affected by the multitude of factors beyond our control. These effects can either increase the probability of achieving the goal or decrease it. But simply because the original probability in question becomes subject to probability, the chances of success are automatically reduced.
Therefore, the odds are stacked up against us. And more so if we set bigger goals. So why have these grand goals at all?
Apart from the sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, and happiness we get from achieving goals, the other benefit of goals is that they serve as the compass for our actions. Without goals, we would be random creatures. The direction that goals provide have the utmost importance in the grand scheme of things. Life choices, planning for the future, life-and-death decisions, or what have you; these are the things that affect the compass the most.
Recall that motivation is the only variable in the equation that is totally in our control. That is absolutely true. But don’t let that fool you. Motivation has the power to single-handedly curb all the negative effects brought about by the other factors. Not enough skill? Not enough resources? Not enough time? Too complicated? It all depends on how bad you want it. If you want it bad enough, you’ll make it happen. However, like all things*, motivation can cut both ways**.
*With the exception of really, really dull people. They don’t cut. Full stop.
**With the exception of really, really dense people. Nothing can cut through them.
It is true that motivation can compensate for the complexity of the goal and for deficiencies in skill, resources, and time. However, it is also true that the more motivation compensates, the more of your attention and energy it needs to sustain itself. This can lead to the territory of obsession, which in essence is just a very precise direction for all of one’s actions. Such single-mindedness, of course, yields adverse effects.
We are well aware of the implications of obsession or extreme motivation on our health, hygiene, social life, school/work. But one of the more subtle but just-as-adverse effects of being too motivated is that we become too result-oriented. We can only derive satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness from getting the end product.
This can lead to two things:
- Disappointment. You are let down by the achievement of the goal because your level of motivation has warped the perceived amount of fulfillment and satisfaction to be gained thereby compromising your happiness.
- Disappointment. You do not get to achieve the goal and are left with nothing because you have thrown everything into trying to achieve it thereby compromising your happiness.
But is it not natural to derive satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness from achieving a goal?
It is, but it becomes a problematic truth when we prioritize the achievement of the goal over the effects that we gain from it. If we place equal value in the effect as in what you perceive will generate it, we have a more balanced perspective of things, as well as a wider choice of goals . Putting value in fulfillment, satisfaction, and happiness even allow us to stop and reevaluate whether the goals we set will indeed produce these effects.
In conclusion, my good doctor (and other people possibly reading, young or old), assuming that the ethical and moral aspect of the judicious use of foreseeably available time is set, then the other thing to set is how it will bring about satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness.
Are you too young to worry about what you should pursue and whether or not it will be the right choice? Yes. Stop it right now. Nobody is old enough for that kind of worry. Nobody.
What you are is young enough to start finding out. Your moment of enlightenment will not come purely from contemplation. You must gather things to contemplate on. Try out this and that and do your best in each one. It is the only way to have a good idea of what you are capable of. For all you know, what you will end up doing for the rest of your life is something you have yet to encounter. And because we assume that you have good judgement from an ethical and moral standpoint, what ever it is you end up doing will surely be right.
Also, wanting to do many things isn’t really what’s problematic. It’s trying to do many things all at once. Spreading yourself too thinly isn’t good. You tend to get less done in more time. Are we really after expertise? Is it really necessary to be a master of those crafts? Maybe the ability to be a novice in many things with ease is a craft in itself, and achieving an intermediate or advanced proficiency in some of those things is already mastery of the craft. Besides, a skill is not worth anything if it isn’t used. Let’s do what we can now. When we’re better, let’s do more. Every endeavor counts, not just those of the experts.
And amidst all this going out into the world to find out who you are and what you are supposed to do, remember to stop from time to time and find out more about where you are and who’s there with you. They count just as much.