The colorful wolf

February 4, 2011

The meaning of life (yet again)

Filed under: Thoughts — randy @ 1:13

I am in the fortunate position of having friends that always seem to more depressed than myself. This is probably part of the reason that I am still sane, because the topic of depression comes up a lot. Oftentimes though, the underlying reason is the same: we all don’t know what to do with our lives.

This article, which is worth reading (and so is the article it refers to), talks about two kinds of motivation: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. We are taught extrinsic motivation in school and by our parents. They force us to do things we don’t like, and after a while we get good at it and we are rewarded. We grow to like those rewards, and as such we grow to like that which we are good at. Extrinsic motivation is easy. Find something to do, find an appropriate reward, and you’re set for life.

Extrinsic motivation is easy in that you just have to do what other people tell you, and you can feel that you are satisfied by doing that. But if ever your extrinsic motivation fails you, then you will have to look inside yourself for motivation. And that might not be the easiest thing if your main experience is with extrinsic motivation. You will need to learn to reward yourself for whatever it is that you do, and that seems a bit fake to me.

Intrinsic motivation is what separates the machines from the humans, the garbage workers from the philosophers, the masses from the enlightened. I would go so far as to say that if you don’t have intrinsic motivation, your life is not worth living. If everything you do is to get praise from others, then what value is there in your life?

Obviously I wouldn’t say this if I was very extrinsically motivated. But the truth is, although I am very intrinsically motivated, I do not have any strong intrinsic convictions or goals. I’ve got a whole list of things that I don’t care about in life, but I haven’t quite found what I do want to accomplish. I’m searching, of course. I quit my job in London because I realized it was not motivating me at all, and I decided that having no job or working for myself for a while is a better match with my intrinsic goals. I still don’t know what those goals are! For the moment I’ve put in two placeholders: travelling and learning.

Why travelling? Because new experiences will open your mind to new ideas, new concepts, that you would never get if you stayed at home. The Travel Channel on your TV is not a substitute, you actually have to go somewhere to experience it. Travelling is not an end goal for me, but I believe I will get a better understanding of the world by travelling, and as such it should help me to figure out what I want to eventually do with my life.

Why learning? Learning is rather generic. Very practically speaking, when I think about learning, I am thinking about learning new programming languages, new frameworks, new techniques. It is the niche that I am quite comfortable in and in which I can learn new things the fastest and with the least amount of frustration. The other side of learning is actually trying out new things that I know nothing about, like scuba diving, starting a company or investing in stocks. (Note that I generally hate money, but I do think there is value in absorbing information about it).

Some people I know are very extrinsically motivated. The article I cited earlier mentions that being very extrinsically motivated harms creativity. Based on the people I know I can confirm that. But most people I know do have some level of intrinsic motivation. And most of them don’t know what it is that motivates them either. I wonder if people who are both truly intrinsically motivated and know what it is that drives them, are happier than people who are completely extrinsically motivated. Or one might rephrase that as: are stupid people happier than smart people? Probably they are.

I haven’t posted my thoughts on this blog for a while, but reading about extrinsic and intrinsic motivations made me realize something. Lately I tend to be careful with my wording on this blog, especially when I was still searching for a job. I didn’t want potential employers to read something they didn’t agree with. A very cowardly move, in my opinion, especially considering the kind of craziness I would put up on this blog a couple of years ago when I was living the (not-so) wild life in Japan. Right now though, I am committed to my way of life, and writing whatever the hell I want on the internet is part of my way of life. Abstaining from doing something might gain you one thing, but doing it might gain you something else.

Oh, and the meaning of life? 42, of course.



  1. >Lately I tend to be careful with my wording on this blog, especially when I was still searching for a job. I didn’t want potential employers to read something they didn’t agree with.

    Haha, success! Thanks for re-affirming why I don’t feel so cowardly for always hiding behind a veil of anonymity with all of my “compartmentalized” blogs. I think for people that don’t know me or wouldn’t care to listen to my explanation, it comes off as frighteningly “tin-foil hat.” Of course, those people are the ones I care the least about, so no worries. When I write (much like when I speak, unfortunately), it’s raw and uncensored – sometimes bounding across the proverbial “line” at the expense of various races, ethnicities, and (heaven forbid) myself.

    It’s simply more fun that way!

    As you’ve thoughtfully mentioned, the idea of some HR department head taking my drivel seriously, getting her panties in a twist, and ruining my career is an all-too-possible reality I don’t want to experience. (On the other hand, it would probably make me focus much harder on entrepreneurship!) It’s frankly terrifying how quickly the “politically incorrect” things a person has SAID can be used so effectively to eclipse and ruin those who have actually DONE. What a bunch of pathetic gossip it is…

    Anonymity is the best shield against these “easily-offended” twatsticks until they all die off. I pray to Bill Hicks that this next generation – those who have grown up online and have been swimming in its limitless supply of baseless hate, appalling violence, and shockingly inventive ways to fuck anything and everything – won’t be whining and crying about something they encountered that was “offensive.” (The obvious next step in this evolution is people finally being able to omit the requisite “I’m not anti-semetic, but..” before they can point out how inhuman Israel’s policies and actions towards the Palestinians are.)

    Anyhow, this world free from fear of repercussion for stating one’s ideas is a long way away. Freedom of speech will probably forever be under attack by governments and the panty-twisting humourless. After all, supporting freedom of speech means supporting the right of others to say all those things you disagree with!

    Don’t Jew me out of my freedoms.

    Comment by b — February 5, 2011 @ 13:08 | Reply

  2. Well, I think both our feelings about freedom of speech and what we are actually able to say online are quite similar. But with this kind of post I believe I can make a statement about myself, stating that “Whichever potential employer reads this and takes it seriously, is probably not an employer I want to work for”. Therefore, by stating my actual thoughts online, I am reducing the chance of potential mismatch. And who knows, perhaps someone who does somewhat agree with my views of life will read it and give me a chance to do something incredible. You never know. Anonimity as an online lifestyle is a given, and cannot go wrong. I’m betting on honesty.

    Comment by randy — February 5, 2011 @ 13:17 | Reply

  3. I guess I just wrote what xkcd already said:

    Comment by randy — February 5, 2011 @ 15:46 | Reply

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