Back in August, Philosopher Kieran Setiya of MIT talked about his book, Midlife, with EconTalk podcast host, Russ Roberts. “Discussing the ennui that often comes with middle age, Setiya argues that a well-lived life needs fewer projects and more pursuits that don’t have goals or endpoints.”
Setiya’s opinion is that one of the major causes of the oft-humorized mid-life crisis is the simple fact that we’ve spent far too much time being obsessed with productivity and performance (especially the quantifiable kind), and too much time being future-focused to really lead a full and interesting life.
Our obsession with being on the A-Team (and staying there) might look good on paper, but it might not make us as happy as we once thought it would.
This is mainly because, having the best of anything, let alone everything, is a ton of work.
It takes a lot of mental bandwidth to get to the top, and when we’re trying to be on top in ALL aspects of our life, we might end up pretty miserable. As Hippocrates famously said, “All things in excess are opposed to nature.”
Yes, it’s wonderful and exciting to be the best at your firm, the best guitar player, drive the best car, the most attractive person in the office, the one that brings the best casserole to church, the one with the most polite children, but if you’re not satisfied unless you’re on top in everything, it can make for a pretty accomplished yet miserable existence.
What would happen if we settle for 2nd or even 20,517th in some categories?
Funnily enough, we might find ourselves EVEN MORE successful by taking our foot off the gas, quieting our minds, and giving ourselves the “white space” to actually think. To come up with real ideas that solve real problems.
There’s nothing wrong with being success-and-status oriented. Just remember, gods are jealous creatures. We must choose them carefully.