Karlin and I were talking today, and she mentioned that I need to be better at delayed gratification; i.e. I need a better work ethic; i.e. I need to be better at doing stuff that I don’t enjoy. She finds that quality admirable. I agreed with her at the time, but giving it more thought, I realize that I don’t agree. A certain skill in delayed gratification is powerful (Namaste might disagree for pure philosophical reasons), but as a life philosophy it is dangerous.
Allow me to demonstrate with an example: Joe, a typical American, goes to college because he knows that it will pay off with a good, high-paying job in the future. Even though to Joe, college is a lot of unrewarding, pointless work, he perseveres and finishes. He graduates and goes to get a good job, but he is a lowly engineer, and he would like to be management because it is easier and pays better. So he works hard, doing a job which he finds unrewarding, because he knows that it will pay off with a promotion in the future. Ad infinitum….
Now let’s bring it back to me. I don’t find college to be a lot of unrewarding, pointless work, and I am not going to college in order to get a high-paying job in the future. I am going to college because I want to know why the continuum hypothesis is independent of set theory, and I want to understand the Riemann hypothesis! Every math class I take brings me closer to those goals, and more importantly, I enjoy learning about it (not an admirable quality to Karlin). So I am enjoying myself and bringing myself closer to my goals at the same time: that is perpetual gratification, so I am not very good at delayed gratification.
At the end of last semester, I was feeling fatigued, so I figure if I went in the spring, I would start the semester feeling that way and it would just go downhill from there. I would do poorly and not enjoy myself. Instead, I decided to take a break in order to focus on music. A goal of mine is to become a well-known, accomplished musician. And I will enjoy focusing on music so intently to boot. Again, that is perpetual gratification, not delayed.
So what is the admirable quality again? Doing something you don’t enjoy in order to get closer to a future goal as opposed to doing something you do enjoy in order to get closer to a future goal? Okay, I feel better. Such hard-working delayed gratification bullshit is just some misguided ideal image into which I don’t fit, not any real personal flaw of mine.
I think it really comes down to a world view issue. If you train yourself all your life to work hard and put up with bullshit in order to achieve something in the future, what happens when you finally achieve that thing? All you know is how to work hard and put up with bullshit in order to achieve something, so that’s what you do. And at the end of your life, you realize that your whole life was spent putting up with bullshit. I’d rather do something I enjoy for my whole life.