What is Worth Doing? Smurfs and Schwarzenegger.

What is worth doing? I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Topics like motivation and the re-examining my goals (and declaring a new one!) have me contemplating what I want to do and why I want to do it.

We have thousands of choices to make everyday. While the little ones may seem unimportant and nearly irrelevant, they aren’t. Because they come in limited supply. Sooner or later (hopefully much, much later) we’ll all be dead and gone. Some of our choices will outlive us. Some won’t. But they all matter. So how do you chose? How do you decide what’s worth doing?

Big Surprise: I Don’t Know the Answer

Yeah, I know. Shocking. I don’t know the answer. Sure, I could mail it in and say something similar to “the answer is unique as the number of people that have existed in the world.” That sounds pretty weak to me. Surely, out of the set of all actions we could do there exists a small subset of actions we should do. Given that we will not live forever, what deserves our attention?

But Maybe Arnold Does

Everyone knows Arnold from his roles on Hollywood. Pumping Iron. Terminator. Twins. Comedians may say Governor. Regardless of what you think of his politics, the man is incredibly accomplished. And as it turns out, his written work is brilliant. As Jacques Chirac said when Schwarzenegger took office in California; (and I paraphrase as I can’t find the Economist I remember this from) “When a former Austrian boy assumes the head of the world’s 4th largest economy, that’s not nothing.”

Arnold is the owner of one of my favorite quotes of all time. I discovered it while I was reading his book in college. I liked it so much that I printed it out and put it on my wall. The quote motivated me not only through classes like Aerospace and Thermodynamics but even on to coveted internships and competing in a natural bodybuilding show.

Here it is in it’s entirety.

Bodybuilding is more than a sport, it’s also a way of life. It is an entire philosophy of how to live, a value system that gives specific answers to questions that concern so many of us these days – questions of what is worth doing and what value to give excellence and achievement. It is a way of pursuing self-worth and personal validation, of finding satisfaction in your ability to set goals for yourself and working to reach them.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding : The Bible of Bodybuilding, Fully Updated and Revised

So What?

OK, maybe bodybuilding isn’t your thing. Let’s try that quote with something that is in your wheelhouse. Something that you can identify with. Something that really calls out your particular ethos. Maybe it’s fatherhood or marathon running. Maybe it’s open source web development or teaching inner city kids. Whatever that something is for you, capture it in a word and keep it in your head.

Got it? Good!

For the sake of personal amusement, I am going to write Smurf. Although I would just as happily write (bodybuilding | martial arts | writing | competing | etc) here, that’s not important. What is important is where I write Smurf, you replace it with your something.

[Smurf] is also a way of life. It is an entire philosophy of how to live, a value system that gives specific answers to questions that concern so many of us these days – questions of what is worth doing and what value to give excellence and achievement. It is a way of pursuing self-worth and personal validation, of finding satisfaction in your ability to set goals for yourself and working to reach them.

My Questions for You

A Philosophy on How to Live

Does your smurf fold easily into your world view of how to live your life? Are there any contradictions? How about friction?

Can You Discern Value?

Do you feel like you achieve something while you do that? What do you have to show at the end of the day for your efforts?

Is Excellence Achievable?

Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

Does it Satisfy You?

We’re not talking Snickers here. We’re talking about fulfillment.

The Great Abstraction

Let’s repeat the exercise. This time let’s replace it with the things you currently spend most of your time doing. Be honest with yourself. Likely answers include (taken from a sample of my coworkers found in my immediate area: [Your Career | Your Hobby | Playing Video Games | Watching TV | Gossiping | Volunteering | Cleaning up after Family | Reading about other people’s lives | etc]

Chances are there are some things that warm your heart in that list and make you feed alive. Chances also are there are a few things that you are spending your time on that you absolutely hate.

Now let’s go through the exercise twice more:

First With the Bane of Your Existence

For many people this is work. “Search your feelings, Luke.” Be honest.

[Bane-of-existence thing] is also a way of life. It is an entire philosophy of how to live, a value system that gives specific answers to questions that concern so many of us these days – questions of what is worth doing and what value to give excellence and achievement. It is a way of pursuing self-worth and personal validation, of finding satisfaction in your ability to set goals for yourself and working to reach them.

Chances are that sentence did not make any sense whatsoever. We’ll address that in a second. Let’s move on to the next activity for now.

Again, This Time With Feeling!

Now, with whatever you spend your time on that makes you proud:

[Proud thing] is also a way of life. It is an entire philosophy of how to live, a value system that gives specific answers to questions that concern so many of us these days – questions of what is worth doing and what value to give excellence and achievement. It is a way of pursuing self-worth and personal validation, of finding satisfaction in your ability to set goals for yourself and working to reach them.

I bet that made you feel a lot better. Both satisfactorily and grammatically.

What Can We Make Out of All of This?

Spend more time doing the one that makes sense. The one that makes you proud. Spend less time doing the ones that don’t. You smurf?

Comments

  1. Hey there. I got your site through Josh and I am very impressed. You have a very good presentation of analogies to bring your point home. “I’ll be Back…” ha! ?this sounds like one of those spam comments that comes in with a bunch of links. It isn’t! 🙂 I am off to read more.

  2. Hey thanks, Justin! I appreciate the warm comments. I’m enjoying your writing, too. Your kids are very lucky to have a Dad who shares those important lessons with them! Hope you and the family enjoy the Memorial Day weekend!

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