60 Minutes, Work, and the Quality of Life

WORK, BACKPACK, OR CAMP?

balanceIt is not usual to hear people complain that they don’t have enough free time to go backpacking or camping as often as they would like. I read about it all the time, usually under the guise of work/life balance.

Along with this complaint some seem to hate their jobs, give the impression they resent their spouse or significant other when commitments conflict with outdoor pursuits. Others feel trapped by family. Many feel a need to keep socially active or network with acquaintances on a regular basis. All of this at the cost of less recreation time in the outdoors. They say these responsibilities prevent them from doing what they enjoy.

Something is out of whack. They know it and everyone around them knows it. But nothing happens. Nothing changes. Deep down these are unhappy people going through the motions of living, dreaming about getting out into the wilderness.

It is about priorities and time. Each of us only has a finite amount of time. When we run out of time it is the end of our life. Consider time as a commodity, something tangible. Something you can save, budget, and use. And of course, something you can waste. It is your time, yours to do as you wish. However, commitments such as work and family imply a time commitment to others.

 IS WORK A NECESSARY EVIL?

socrates

What status should work have in our lives? How should we view it? What is its proper place in our lives? How should we live our lives? I propose that work should be an important part of life.

Socrates is credited with the quote, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” This is where we need to start. There are three critical questions that everyone should ask and know the answers to:

  1. Where am I?
  2. How do I know it?
  3. What should I do?

 Where am I?

This isn’t where you are geographically, as in I am in Palm Springs writing this. The question is what is the nature of the universe we live in.

Does a deity who made us imperfect; damned us to eternal punishment unless we ask for his forgiveness for being imperfect, create this world?

Perhaps we are in a world where gods play some sort of cosmic “catch and release” with us, using bait and hook we cannot see or comprehend.

Do we live in a place that is someone’s imagination – maybe ours or maybe not.

Maybe we live in a world governed by natural laws that are knowable, consistent, and absolute. Whatever your answer to this question of Where am I,” the answer has serious implications on how you will live your life. The study of this question is called metaphysics.

How do I know it?

In other words, how do you know where you are? Can you prove it? Where did this knowledge come from? Is your method of knowledge justified or just opinion? The study of this question is called epistemology.

What should I do?

If you can’t answer the first two questions, you are screwed. You can’t live a good life. You won’t know what to do, what actions to take, what choices to make. You won’t have a moral code. The study of this question is called ethics. Unlike the two first questions, which apply to the universe we live in, ethics are only applicable to mankind. It is everything about us. How we should act, our character, our personal values, what our relationship should be to everything, what our relationship should be with wilderness.

There are two more areas we need to look at and develop individually. The first is how do we integrate and live with others – how should we treat others. This is called politics, or the proper social system. Lastly we need art. Art is the engine and fuel that powers our minds. The study of art is called esthetics.

Together our metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and esthetics must be a coherent, consistent system that builds on each. Together, the five, are called philosophy. Without philosophy we cannot live a good life, we cannot be happy, and we will never, ever achieve balance.

 The Good Life

aristotleThe famous philosopher, Aristotle, said the only purpose of our lives is to live a good life. By this he meant the good life is happiness. It is not a guaranteed outcome. Whether or not we are happy is completely up to us. It is the responsibility of each individual to secure the things we need to live; the basic necessities of life that include food, shelter, drink, and clothing. Additionally we need to generate enough wealth to handle emergencies and provide for ourselves when we are no longer able to work, or want to take time to pursue pleasurable activities, such as art, backpacking, or camping.

The right philosophy tells you that your life is important, that you should live a wonderful, happy life, it should guide you in what you should do to make your life great, tell you how to prioritize your life with a focus on what is important to you.

So why all this talk about wealth and happiness? It is not about becoming a billionaire, or accumulating a ton of money for money’s sake. It is about enough wealth to allow us to take care of ourselves and enjoy life beyond basic survival. And for most of us that means we have to work. We need a job (or own a business) that provides for all our immediate and future needs.

Work

From what I have observed in my 60 plus years: most people who are unhappy, who struggle with the so-called work/life balance, hate their job. I find this perplexing. How can you seek happiness if you hate your job? We need to work. On a basic level, to provide for the basic needs or even for the future, work is a requirement. On a higher level, we humans need productive achievement in our lives. We need to be productive. Productivity is what drove our species and allowed us to survive. It is part of the “What should I do question.”

The problem today is most people have a convoluted philosophy. Some have a philosophy that says work is bad. Others don’t know they have a philosophy because they live in a murky world of contradictions crafted by second-hand hand philosophers; and these people don’t know where their values originated. Along with this muddled approach to living they have jobs that make no sense to them. They don’t value what they do, thus they don’t see value in themselves.

When I was a young man, many of my friends had better paying jobs. They were on the fast track; but they didn’t see value in what they did. Their only measurement was how much money they made.

I was an auto mechanic. My friends told me I was under-achieving – not meeting my potential. But I was happy with my work – it had value to my customers and to me. At the end of every workday I knew what I had accomplished. I was paid well, was productive and had plenty of spare time to enjoy other things in life – while my friends were constantly working; working to keep their job – not working because it was satisfying. I learned a lot about life and philosophy while I was a mechanic.

But not every job I had as a young man was wonderful. One started to become awful. One Sunday night, while watch the TV program 60 Minutes I realized I hated my job.

The 60 Minutes Test

60 minutes

In the early 1970’s 60 Minutes was broadcast on Sunday nights during prime time. Each week the show started with a stopwatch on the screen that went tick, tick, tick…

And like many Americans, I watched the show most Sunday nights. One night, suddenly I was panicked. It was Sunday night and I had to go to work in the morning. Tick, tick, tick…

And this repeated for the next few Sundays… Tick, tick, tick…

So I quit my job and found one I liked. I also learned a huge lesson. You must have a job you love. You must have passion in your work. You must be able to look forward to going to work. You need to know you are doing something important.

When your weekend or vacation is coming to an end you must be able to look forward to getting back to work – not because you need a job, but because you miss it. You need it. You need to be productive.

Hate your job? Quit. Quit today. Find a good job! Don’t have the skills or education to get your dream job? Go to school. Get training. But gain skills in something you want to do; something that has value; something that results in productive achievement.

MODERN TECHNOLOGY

Just as the Industrial Revolution doubled the average lifespan, reduced the work week, and enabled most of the population to have much, much more leisure time; technology since (and including) the personal computer promised us to accumulate even more free time. But something went awry. The promise wasn’t fulfilled. People are connected to work even when they aren’t working. They are connected to friends, family, casual acquaintances, and even strangers 24/7. Even when they are on vacation, hiking, or backpacking so many are tethered to their portable computers, smart phones, or electronic navigation devices. They can’t break free of the technology bondage. They feel committed to everyone who makes demands of their time. They feel trapped. And their time is squandered. People allow those around them to stake a claim on their personal time. You wouldn’t let them take your money, would you? Don’t let them steal your time.

Unlike most people my age, I am expert with computers; smartphones; tablets and the like – and all my devices are connected and synchronous. I don’t use technology because I like technology. I use it to get more done in the shortest amount of time in my professional and personal life. This is why I embrace technology – to be more productive. I use technology to create more personal time to invest in my time piggy bank.

Being more productive doesn’t mean doing more work everyday; it means doing more work in less time, and the left over time is mine to spend as I see fit. On weekends and vacation I don’t check email, I don’t text others, and I don’t call people. When not backpacking or camping, I turn my phone off at night. I don’t need a phone. None of us need a phone 24/7, we just want one and then we let it control our lives.

Think about this – what would happen if you threw your phone and computer away? How would it change your life? Would you have more time to spend backpacking or camping? I dare say, YES! There was a time that most of us did not have a cell phone, a personal computer, or an iPad. We functioned just fine. We didn’t need this technology.

So even though I am technology connected, I use it to my advantage. I use my free time for my benefit, and of course for the benefit of my family.

If you let it, technology can suck up all your free time, with little or no benefit to you.

FAMILY

You shouldn’t resent your family. Family comes first – it is job 1. But there is no reason to forgo outdoor activities just because you have a significant other, a wife, or kids. My wife likes to camp with me. She doesn’t backpack, but doesn’t mind when I go alone. When my kids were small, they weren’t the parents. They didn’t decide what the family would do on vacation or weekends – so we spent enormous amounts of time in the outdoors. In our family the parents made the decisions – we had control of our lives and our time.

SOCIAL LIFE

Can’t get out because of “social commitments?” Get rid of the commitments. Tell your friends and acquaintances they have no mortgage on your time. Your life is the most important thing to you – and disconnecting from your social networks to do what you enjoy is the only rational way to live.

BACKPACKING AND CAMPING

These are the two non-work activities I enjoy the most. Since 2002 Joyce and I have spent over 1,000 nights in our camper, which I wrote about in 1,000 Sunsets and 1,000 Sunrises. The formula for this can be found in Managing Your Recreation Inventory.

I also backpack often.

There are backpackers who dream of long 6 month backpacking trips.

There are others who do extended multi-month backpacking trips year after. Unless they are retired, many of them work for a little while; save enough money to finance a trip; then when the money runs out they find another job – any job, to finance the next trip. They aren’t accumulating wealth for their future; they are cycling their life. They don’t have a plan for the future, other than the next long hike. They don’t have an emergency plan. For them, work is a necessary evil.

I feel somewhat qualified to speak to long hikes. I have done a couple of 6-month long backpacking trips during my lifetime, plus a few other multi-month adventures. For those seeking a continuous string of time intensive adventures, such as the work-backpack-work and then repeat, that is a lifestyle. And from my perspective, an immature and unfulfilling life. Those who seek the long hike, work, then long hike again, don’t understand what productive achievement is. A long hike is not productive acheivement.

WHAT TO DO?

Do the 60 Minutes test. If you pass, you are fine. If you fail, get a job you love. Lastly, develop a philosophy that guides you to live a good life.

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