I’m exactly where I want to be in this moment: On the beach in Turks and Caicos, finally starting to understand what it means for me to live. As I read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow. on the beach, I an overwhelming urge that I needed time with this specific Word document on my laptop to fully process the information I was reading. At first, I felt SO incredibly guilty opening my laptop on vacation that I couldn’t focus to get these words out, even though I had no doubt that this is what I want to be doing right now. To my surprise, when a resort employee adamantly disagreed with my choice of activity (he suggested that we get a drink instead), I didn’t think twice about standing up for myself in explanation. Writing ‘for this blog’ is genuinely what I want to be doing, and how I develop an understanding of myself and the world around me.
Unironically, this is directly related to a core reason that many of us struggle to routinely reach flow state. In his explanation of why we don’t all allow ourselves to achieve this flow, Mihaly mentions the influence of stereotypes. Since we must work to make a living in order sustain ourselves or have leisure, the general public opinion is that…Well, I was going to try to explain this from the outside perspective, but I’m much more effective speaking personally about this.
I learned to find enjoyment in my work, whether it be emotional work on myself or Lambda, but I have this feeling that not everyone is supportive of my decisions to pursue self-improvement. A previous partner insisted that it was a problem that I preferred to work instead of dedicating time to hobbies and prioritizing friendships. He had a point about hobbies – At least that inspired me to pick up a book, and then another few books that lead me here. Regardless, the reason that I prefer to work is because work provides the greatest opportunity for true enjoyment – or flow. I enjoy the act of working itself, and genuinely look forward to it. I feel a profound sense of accomplishment when I make advances towards the solution of a complex problem. In other words, I crave working because that’s what has historically provided the best chance to reach flow, or state of consciousness in which worries and time melt away. One of the primary reasons that I want a big career is because I enjoy the work and want to see what I can accomplish. I’ve always said that I can enjoy doing nearly anything that I’m decent at, and the logic of Flow provides an explanation – I’m not after a specific achievement or skill, I’m after the flow. I understand now that I can achieve that state with many other activities, but I’m happy that it comes from work, because it means I can align priorities to maximize my financial quality of life. Why wouldn’t I want to live to work, rather than dreading it every day? Most of us have a job in order to survive, or make money to enjoy other activities. I viewed my ability to enjoy of work as ‘life hack’ or an adaptation, but I realize now how grateful I am that I’ve been able to discover flow and enable myself to enjoy work so early on in my life.
Former partners, friends, and colleagues constantly try to convince me that I’ll be happier if I invest the minimum time and energy in my work in favor of increasing energy for leisure. In my quest to accept and use feedback as a tool for self-improvement, I incorporated feedback that I disagree with wholeheartedly. I couldn’t figure out why my passion for work (and ability to focus) took a nosedive. For the last 2-3 months, I assumed that I was struggling to balance work and hobbies. Even when I wanted to work, but could do something else instead, I felt as though I was doing something wrong by working and self-sabotaged. As my frustration grew, I started down a rabbit hole of YouTube videos to ‘get my mojo back,’ as if it were a hobby. Trying to stay on top of my game at work without passion has been one of the most defeating mental exercises. I’ve been anxious regardless of what activity I’m doing – When I’m working, I felt like I shouldn’t be. When I wasn’t working, I felt like I was missing out, but if I allowed myself to work the way I wanted to, I was missing out on something else, even if I didn’t really feel like doing it. Even when I would finally get to work, I couldn't think as well as I know that I'm capable of. Naturally, I was worried, and starting researching potential causes, and brainstorming elaborate solutions. I can't be certain until I return to work on Tuesday, `but I'm pretty sure my brain was just spending too much energy fighting itself.
If you asked me what the purpose of my life was a year ago, I wouldn’t have had a satisfying answer, even though I was perfectly content with ‘living to work.’ This person fully convinced me that my enjoyment for work made me defective, and that this was the primary reason he didn’t want to be with me. I respected this person, so I took his word for it, and half-heartedly decided that the purpose of my life was to have a family and a career, described here. As much as family and career are part of the self-imposed meaning of live, the type of career that I thought this came with nominal. I wanted to continue to enjoy my work, but I didn’t feel like it was an acceptable purpose. In other words, my life lacked purpose when I couldn’t explicitly live to work. I’ll have to find an improved mechanism to decide whether or not the feedback is legitimate before I allow it to alter my thought process, or at least be grateful there isn’t more where that came from. THIS is exactly why I knew that I needed my laptop. I had no idea that this person still had such influence on my state of mind. For the record, I use work and flow interchangeably in this context, although I'm well aware that coming up with a new term might help my cause.
As a child, I REALLY struggled to focus. I’m fortunate that my parents genetically gifted me with enough intelligence enough to get through school with minimal studying, which is largely how I found my way to Wellesley College. Eventually, this struggle to concentrate landed me in trouble in chemistry class, when I needed to study more than a half ass review of notes. Unless I wanted Cs on my transcript, I needed to learn how to work with my brain instead of against it. In order for me to focus optimally, I discovered that I need several hours completely free of distraction. Studying became my favorite activity, because it enabled me to reach this unknown flow state. I vividly recall looking forward to Wednesday’s without class, so that I could take the bus to Boston, scour the Boston Public library for the best space to spread out my notes and camp out for the day. I enjoyed working from coffee shops too, although that proved more difficult with the potential for distraction. I used to joke that a nice table turns me on, but now I understand why. A nice table offered the most favorable conditions, and therefore the best chance for flow, which is what I was ultimately after, even without realizing. In chemical terms, this meant that the nice table was a cue for my brain to release the steady state of dopamine synonymous with flow. I’m pretty sure it’s similar to the chemical reaction of actually being turned on, but I’d have to look it up. Make fun of me all you want, I’m the one that get to experience this, and I’m not letting anyone take that away from me again. Why does society insist on trying to tear me down, by telling me that I’m living incorrectly by enjoying my work? This falls under the not my problem category, for now.
When we landed in Turks and Caicos a week ago, I was deeply frustrated that my life didn’t have meaning, and was in a terrible mood because of it. I was unsatisfied that I likely wouldn’t leave any kind of impression on humanity, and felt silly striving for accomplishments that would ultimately be inconsequential. In my previous encounter with the purpose of life, I decided that I want to (a) experience the fullest extent of the human experience; and (b) push the limit of what a human is capable of. It’s fitting that the ‘solution’ came to me randomly, in the bathroom after dinner on our first night. Part of the ‘human experience’ is to question and grow frustrated with the meaning of life – Most, if not all of us do this in some form, whether it leads to feeling depressed, deciding on an answer, choosing ignorance, or no solution at all. By questioning the intimacies of the human experience, I’m living it. For now, I don’t care if my argument is circular. If I allow myself to spend time ruminating on the circularity, I’ll prevent myself from other experiences that my goals necessitate. This realization was so liberating that I cried a few tears of happiness before returning to watch the evening show with my family.