April 26, 2021

This action is an investment in my future self


Repetition can hit an absurdist note.

When you find yourself pushing the same boulder up the same mountain, day after day, it can suck the life out of your soul. Is this laborious and futile task is even worth doing?

Camus says it depends on your mindset. That people who can live with full awareness of the absurdity of their position can accept their fate without horror. Laborious and futile as the task might be, the boulder is not going to destroy them.

The question is, can we train ourselves to get the most possible juice from the action we’re doing?

One strategy that keeps my fulfillment out of the gutter is framing my actions as investments in my future self. Approaching tasks, projects, experiences and projects as contributions to my identity capital account.

Like the consumer focus groups my ad agency used to do on behalf of the department of health. We’d drive across town to a stuffy government office and spend hours listening to people who were paid fifty bucks and a pack of cookies to give feedback about which font colors were the most impactful.

Which sounds about as close to pushing a boulder up the hill as you can get.

But the thing about the focus groups is, we would learn a wealth of higher level insight about the many stories human beings tell themselves.

Like the unvaccinated pregnant woman we interviewed who wasn’t afraid to travel internationally to a mosquito infested country, even though she was at high risk for contracting a viral infection that would lead to birth defects. Her exact words were as follows.

God would never let my baby get sick.

Those words will never leave my memory. The woman’s comments touched me deeply. And not because my spiritual opinions agree with her, but because her worldview was so fundamentally different than mine.

That moment of perspective was priceless. It’s truly made me a more empathetic and understanding person. And for that experience, I am grateful. What started out as a boulder rolling up the hill turned into a transformative moment. An investment in my future self.

Nepo writes about this in his inspiring book about philosophy:

All practice is preparation for the integrated act of unrehearsed living. All practice yearns for a chance to apply itself in real time. No matter how laborious and futile any experience may seem, if we can learn enter into it with this kind of frame, we should have no trouble making contributions to our own account.

Next time you’re about to do something like that, challenge yourself to layer so much meaning on top of it, that the aptitude, perspective, insight and usefulness for your future self starts to accumulate.

If you had no expectations, would the gods have nothing to punish you with?