Thursday, March 3, 2011

What's the point?

Life occasionally seems pointless to me. There are highs and lows, of course, and the truth is most days I don’t sit around pondering the meaning of life. But every once in a while I’ll find myself wondering what the hell I’m doing on this planet, at this particular time. To me, working hard to accomplish something “major” in my life has always resulted in short-term praise, before I have to work my way through the newest obstacle. I know some people are going to say, “That’s what life is, bro! You keep fighting through, and eventually it all works out!” and I feel sorry for those people. Not because I am inherently better than them in any sense, but because they are going to spend the majority of their lives waiting for that moment when all their hard work finally pays off. I’m just not wired that way.

Think about it. When you graduate from Elementary School, your reward for completing the first five years of your educational journey is a class party with everyone’s moms, and then you get sent to a new school to be the smallest and youngest kids, just like in Kindergarten. This happens in every aspect of life, though. Middle School, High School, even college. You “work” your way to the top, although of course you’re not really working as much as you are simply getting older. But this kind of thing doesn’t just happen in school.

Once you get a job, you’ll likely eventually complete a “major” assignment or project from your boss. You’ll receive the necessary praise, and then likely one of two things will happen. Either you’ll get promoted, or you’ll just be given another assignment to complete. Either way, it’s like you’re going back to Kindergarten again. If you get promoted, you’re likely going to be working with new people, learning to co-exist in an environment you’re unfamiliar with. If you fail to get promoted, it’s like you just completed a hand-painting assignment in Kindergarten. The teacher praises you, says what a great job you did, then moves on and tells another classmate how good their work is, too. A few days later your wonderful hand painting is forgotten, and you simply get another assignment.

The truth is, we all like to think our lives are leading somewhere; everything is a stepping-stone to the next thing.  That’s why the majority of us go to college, get a job, find love, have a family, etc. Sure, on some level we all want these things, but for the most part we’ve been taught that it’s the normal thing to do. Obviously nobody wants a job, but we all want the paycheck that comes along with having one.

Here are two completely made up but plausible scenarios concerning a completely fictional character I will call John Doe.

In scenario 1, John Doe goes to college, graduates in 4 years, gets a job and works his way up the career ladder. At some point during all of this he finds love, gets married and has a family. He makes good money during his life, provides for his family, and when he’s on his deathbed late in life his loving family is sitting around him, spending every last minute they can with the man they love.

In scenario 2, John Doe goes to college, but doesn’t love it. He transfers a few times, struggles with grades, and eventually after a few unsuccessful years he decides to completely drop out. He finds a job that doesn’t require a degree, and he begins making money. Without a degree, the odds are against him getting a promotion, and the truth is his career path doesn’t have a lot of opportunities for promotions. He receives minor raises over the years, never making enough money to really be comfortable with his earnings.  He doesn’t ever find love, never has a family, and when he’s on his deathbed late in life there’s nobody around to tell him they love him.

Those were entirely made up, and of course not having a college degree has nothing to do with finding someone to love, but for the sake of the scenarios lets just assume that’s what happened. The large majority of people are going to say they would prefer scenario 1 to scenario 2, and of course that’s normal. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make good money, have a family, and ultimately feel like you’ve provided the world with something of value, and it of course would seem to be the preferred option when compared to scenario 2.

But if you really think about the two scenarios, which really led to a more enjoyable life? Again, on the surface, it would appear to be scenario 1.  However, the John Doe in scenario 1 likely would have given up weekends, date nights and recreational drug use all in pursuit of his career. Sure, he has the money and the family, but does he have the joyous memories of his 10-year high school reunion when he got high with someone completely random? Probably not. The John Doe from scenario 2 would seem much more likely to randomly smoke pot at a high school reunion.

I’m absolutely stereotyping, but not intentionally. Dropping out of college does not automatically make you a drug user, and having a long and successful career with a college degree does not mean you don’t use drugs. But the majority of the human race tends to think of college dropouts as failures and drug users, and successful career people as major success stories and role models who clearly don’t use drugs. That’s obviously a horrible generalization, but it happens.

Now, to some people, ‘giving up recreational drug use’ is a good thing. They will say they enjoy their life without drugs, don’t have any interest in it. That’s fine. I used the drugs as an example; there are obviously other examples that could be made. Maybe John Doe from scenario 1 is somewhere on a business trip because his boss needed him to make a presentation, and he misses his child’s birth. One may argue that John Doe in scenario 2 doesn’t even have the joy of having a child, but to me that’s pointless because the John Doe in scenario 2 won’t be spending his night wishing he had watched his kid being born. There is no regret to missing his child’s birth, because there is no child.

I’ve been systematically programmed by the educational system over the last fifteen years to believe that no matter what I achieve, it just means I’m going to have to do more work when I finish my current assignment. When I finished a huge paper my sophomore year of high school, the dreaded I.S. paper, I wasn’t rewarded with a month off to enjoy myself and feel proud of my accomplishment. Instead, I got a big red B+ written on the paper, a few notes about what I could have improved, and then I had to go home and read Huck Finn because that was the assignment for the night. Today, I couldn't even tell you what my paper was about.

When I played well enough in high school to get some college recruiting letters for baseball, there wasn’t a plane ticket enclosed that told me to go enjoy my accomplishments in Mexico because I had earned it. Instead there was the promise of a college education, playing time, and winning. All of course required exceptionally hard work.

Whenever I finally graduate college, I’ll get the congratulatory praise that comes with a college degree from family members and loved ones. And you know what my reward is for spending 5+ years of my life getting the degree? Most likely I get to work for the next 45 years of my life, pretty much every day of my life.

I have nothing against working hard. But it seems to me that a lot of people work hard without having any idea why they are working so hard. Again, this can be compared to Kindergarten. All the kids are pretty much doing what the teacher says, even the loud obnoxious ones, because they are taught almost immediately that the teacher is the boss and is in control. Nobody expects a kindergartener to wonder why he or she gets to take a nap in the middle of the day—as far as they’re concerned, this is exactly how life is supposed to be. It’s the same concept regardless of what you’re doing or how old you get. Sure, as you get older money is the motivational factor rather than simply “following the rules” but the truth is we could all make enough money to live day-by-day doing just about anything we enjoyed. Of course, making enough money to live day-by-day and making enough money to send multiple children through college are two entirely different things.

I think I want to have kids some day, and a family, and a career. I want to own a house, a car, a boat, etc. I want all the things most people want. But sometimes I wonder, again, what’s the point? The world we live in is great at times, but it corrupts everyone eventually. I realize most people are corrupted in minor ways, like smoking weed or cheating on a test. Those are not big issues, and while I would obviously prefer my children to never do either of those things, I don’t think I’d be all that upset if that was the worst thing my kids did. But what if my kid is crazy? What if he or she kills someone for no reason? What if someone for no reason kills my kid? Is that something I want to put myself through?

That may sound selfish, but it’s not. I’m talking about a hypothetical child right now; I literally have the choice if I want to conceive a child, assuming of course there is a woman who shares my feelings. There’s no doubting a child would bring me immense joy, I would love he or she unconditionally, and likely at the end of my life feel like I had contributed to society. But even with all of that, I still am not sure if I’d want to bring someone into this world. That’s not because I think the world is a depressing place, but rather because if I have a child that means I have to start being the responsible adult, which isn’t my idea of enjoyable.

Ultimately, all we need to ask ourselves is how we want to remember our lives in the latter stages of it. Do I want to look back and remember my children’s births, buying my first house and buying my first car? Of course. But I know that in order to have all of those memories, I also need to remember the countless weekends and late nights I spent doing work which really had no real point to it besides getting a paycheck at the end of the week so I could buy those things. If I have a family, I will feel obligated to buy those things. If I'm on my own? Who knows.

We all say we want to do something we’re passionate about, something we love, and my question to you is simple: Why are you waiting? Start doing what you want to do right now, because no matter how pointless life seems, it’s all we’ve got. At the end of the day, everyone ends up with the same result: death. So enjoy yourselves, for God’s sake.