"So was it worth it? Well of course not. It turns out it was just advertising. There was no higher calling."
By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here
If you were to die, how would you have wished to live? It's a question we constantly face but we go about our lives trying desperately to pretend this question does not exist. Yet from ancient times till now, it is still the only relevant question.
New Zealand-based ad man Linds Redding died in 2012 from inoperable cancer. When told of his diagnosis, he took to his blog and wrote an essay titled "A Short Lesson in Perspective" — a no-holds-barred retrospective on life from the viewpoint of inevitable death.
Knowing you will die changes everything — changes everyone. Intellectually we all know this, but we don't really know; it's abstract until it's not. But we do not have to wait to be terminally ill to reflect on our own lives, for we have been blessed with empathy. Just to hear the last words of a dying man can change everything.
Cynical? Yes. That’s what makes this piece so remarkable. In a time when the cult of positive thinking has invaded most workspaces, it’s a breath of air. Real air, not this perfumed and temperate air designed for maximum productivity.
We are told to meditate at our desks, focus on our inner beaches, be mindful, do yoga at lunch, never leave work, and make TED talk our personal Bible. The universe will answer all your prayers or vibrations, whatever spirituality du jour you are into, so long as you make the company lots of money and downward dog often. (The supervillains in Marvel movies also enjoy the same activities, FYI.)
Redding’s words are dark and authentic because he knew he was dying and no longer cared about selling. It is what it is. If you stop looking at all the decorations, you'll recognize it's still an assembly line. The industrial revolution never ended, it's still a factory, and people are still working from 9 AM to 9 PM. It's the moment Emmet from The LEGO® Movie understands why they're always singing, "Everything Is Awesome" — a lyrical opiate to keep the LEGO® masses docile and complacent. The trademark logo alone should clue us in that it's one big commercial. Selling again. (It also means everything is owned and protected by lawyers.) Freedom means free to purchase, and everything is awesome. Or else. Whether the glove is velvet or leather, it still rules with an iron fist.
In Hard Times, Charles Dickens writes:
Increasing productivity by double means an increase in expectations by triple. You are told if you double the input, you will double the output. If you are slightly suffering now, if you double the input, you will double the suffering. If doing the same thing and expecting new results is insanity, then doubling that will double the insanity (and twice remove you from new results).
A four-hour workweek means you can do 25 weeks of work in one week. Flexible work hours means you are on call 24 hours a day. Cool work culture comes at the cost of more work. And when you work for yourself you'll never give yourself a break.
The reason we had an industrial revolution was because there was more demand than there was an ability to meet them. We lacked in labor so we had to become more efficient. Now there are more goods than there is demand, more labor than there is a need. Have gotten too efficient, runaway efficiency without a purpose. So we put our heads down and toil, like we are told to, hoping not to get noticed, in fear of when the other shoe will drop.
We are ruled by fear. We think: no money, we die. But even with money, we will still die. It is what it is. Whether you toil or enjoy your life, it all ends the same way — except one has fewer regrets.
In Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller writes:
We used to be told to find a work-life balance. That you are not defined by your work, yet work takes up more of your life than all the other facets of your life combined. If you are the five people you hang out with most, you are your boss and your coworkers (rather than the people you love.)
Your lunch, your leisure, your relationships, your health, all revolve around work. So what do we do? We are told to make work your life (work-life integration), find your passion and make it your work (not your passion), and make lots of money and never retire and die working. When you are single and without kids, you do this because you believe this is all you have. When you are married with kids, you do this because you believe you do it for them. Both sides thinking things would be different from the other side, when it all circles back to the same conclusion: you don't do it for yourself or your family, you do it for work. (This may not be absolutely true, but it is true in gravity.)
Why can't our passions remain our passions? Why do we have to make what's so cool, our work? Why can't we work in a way that still allows us to pursue our passions? Think about it, you are told to make your passion your work if you only have time for one of them, not both. That's how you know you're being screwed. How will your passion remain your passion if you are never allowed to take a break from it? What happened to freedom and free time?
In Unto This Last, John Ruskin writes:
This is what Redding realized — this is what Redding wants us to ask ourselves — what's it all for? Money and reputation? If that’s the case, then it's not that important. So relax, don’t take yourself so seriously, and live a little — especially before you die.