In the name of development and progress, we modern humans have complicated our lives way more than needed.
And in the name of paying our bills or advancing our careers or earning a livelihood or being independent, we complicate them even more.
Isn’t this true? It is. It most definitely is.
This episode is an attempt from my side to make you, the listener, think deeper on this subject. It is an invitation to reconsider HOW you are leading your life, not WHAT you are doing in it.
We need to have the courage to identify where we are complicating things for ourselves and then to act on these realisations and simplfy them, so that we can focus our energies on our real needs, not the imagined ones.
I build on a real life incident from my life to expand on a quote from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, “The farmer is endeavoring to solve the problem of a livelihood by a formula more complicated than the problem itself.”
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Has it ever happened to you that you read or listened to something somewhere and you couldn’t help but feel that everyone should go through it too?
Well, firstly, if your answer to this question is yes and you haven’t shared that something with me yet, drop me a DM on my Instagram page. I’d love to hear about it. The link to my Instagram is in the show notes.
Anyway, this episode is dedicated to one such quote I came across a few years ago. I was reading Walden, by Henry David Thorreau and I came across a line that resonated with me so hard that I must have quoted it a gazillion times in conversations since then.
The quote goes like this, “The farmer is endeavoring to solve the problem of a livelihood by a formula more complicated than the problem itself.”
He wrote the book in the 1850s, and it is Dec 2021 as of today. And need I say that the formulae we humans apply these days to solve our livelihoods are only getting more and more complicated with time. And unpacking these formulae is the need of the hour.
Isn’t that true? I can say with complete conviction that it is. In the name of earning a livelihood or paying the bills as we like to call it now, we humans have gone so far beyond the line that we do not even see it anymore. Or as Joey would say, the line is a dot to us!
Seriously though, I honestly feel that in modern times, we have really forgotten that Life, at its very basic, is not eventually as complicated as we’re making it out to be. And that is primarily because we don’t know any better. In a fast-paced life, which a lot of us in “developed” or even “developing” cities live, you hardly get time to slow down, step back and look at your life from an observers’ viewpoint, from a zoomed out viewpoint. So we kind of keep doing what others around us do. It is monkey-see-monkey-do at a global level then!
Let me share an incident that happened with me a few years ago which really jolted me and forced me to think deeper.
I was returning back from work in the evening one day with a friend who used to work with me. It had been a long day at work I presume, because it was already getting dark. At least that is the scene in my head now. Usually after we got off the bus, it was a 10-15 minute walk to our homes. Except that on this day, my friend received a call from his roommate that they were out of groceries and he would have to buy some before he comes back home. My friend asked me if we could stop by the nearby supermarket so he could do so, and I obliged. So, we entered the mart, I was just strolling alongside him and I observed him just gunning through the process like The Flash. He picked up 4-5 bags from the counter, stuffed them with veggies, rushed to the checkout counter and literally within 5 minutes, we were out of the supermarket with a bagful of groceries on our way to our homes again.
But something about what just happened just didn’t feel right to me. A thought popped up in my head – That here is a guy who spent an entire day working in his office, and I’m pretty sure he made all the efforts and spent a considerable amount of energy that day like most days to ensure that whatever he does there is done to the best of his capabilities and sound knowledge – he was, and I’m sure still is, a very intelligent and diligent worker. But somehow, when it came to buying food for himself, he just rushed through the process as if this is just something secondary you know – Ahh not that important! And something didn’t feel right to me about this.
You know, granted that we were getting late in reaching our homes and the fact that his purchase of groceries would slow me down too. This would have been acting on his mind, he was a considerate guy. And so I do not blame him for rushing through his purchase that day – but that is not the point of me narrating this incident anyway.
The point is that that incident really did make me think how many times would I have done something similar. The answer, an extremely uncomfortable one, was a lot of times! And that made me really uncomfortable. But as is always the case, growth stood on the other side of the discomfort, and here I am sharing all this with you.
I have reflected many times on the thoughts this little incident triggered in me. And those reflections really did open me up to a glaring reality of our times – we do not even realise that our jobs, our careers, our businesses are a means to an end and not the end in themselves. Yet so often in our day to day lives, we act as if these things are much more important and deserve much more of our attention than a whole lot of other stuff. And more often than not, that other stuff IS why we are doing our jobs and our businesses in the first place. You know – to buy food, to take care of our close ones, to relax, and so on and on – only you can say where it all manifests in your own particular lives. But one thing is common for all of us – we certainly have complicated our means to earn our livelihoods much more than the original problem actually demands!
I know for a fact that a lot of us modern humans feel very teary-eyed about our jobs and our careers and value them a lot, in fact we value them so much that that is what we do all of our adult lives these days. And thereby we block ourselves from all other possibilities that Life has to offer. Don’t we do that? We do. And it’s high time we accept it.
I cannot point it to you specifically, but if you’re listening to this right now, I invite you to think deeper on what decisions you might be taking right now in the name of advancing your career or paying your bills or earning your livelihoods or being independent which are really not that important from a zoomed-out point of view. Our careers, our jobs are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. And in that sense, they aren’t that important! Yet somehow, we have made them the cornerstones of our lives.
Have you ever heard about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? If you haven’t, I’ll give you a very brief overview. It essentially says that there is a hierarchy of needs that every human being has. You start with the most basic ones – your physiological and safety needs – food, water, clothes, shelter, which is what we call roti, kapda, makaan in Hindi. Then there is a belonging need, a need to be a part of a family, a group, a society, a friend-circle, anything. Then there is an esteem need – a recognition, respect, freedom need and so on, and the hierarchy goes all the way up to self actualisation – manifesting our truest potential. And let me tell you, a human being’s truest potential, just so we are very, very clear on the subject, is not becoming the CXO in some company, even if it is your own company! That is merely a very small part of the game we are all playing here collectively. There are bigger things to do, people! Bigger realisations to be had! Bigger jobs to be done! Rise above this slumber!
If you wish to see just a glimpse of what truths you might be missing in your everyday life as to what Life really has to offer, check out episode 5 of this show. It is about an objective truth about Life that everyone must understand and not just believe. But remember – the pointer in that episode is just a glimpse! This is a topic I will come back to many times in this podcast, but as of the date of recording of this episode – I would refer you to that episode of my show to plant the seeds for the same.
Anyway, so back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I think that it’s reasonable to say that a hierarchy exists in our needs, but what we tend to miss out on is that no one will ever come and tell us where we are on the hierarchy, and when it’s time to move on. It’s not a strict hierarchy anyway, in the sense that you always have to provide for your physiological needs of food, clothes, shelter – no matter how actualised you are. So you’d always work a job, own a business, make money, etc – it is not that an actualised person wouldn’t do any of these things, and so, it is also not true that you would have to stop doing these things to achieve actualisation. The crux of the matter is “how” you’re doing it and not “what” you’re doing.
I mean to say that at the very heart of this entire discussion lies “how” you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing. How much value you place to your job, your career, your business, etc. Is that the central part of your life? If you’re an actualised person or are consciously on the path to it, it’s fine to have your work as the centre of your life. But if you’ve never done anything else apart from your work, have never stepped back and observed the flow of your own thoughts, have never meditated on God and Life and what it means to be complete, it’s extremely likely that you are the farmer Thorreau was talking about – the one entangled in a solution more complicated than the problem itself.
Now, none of this is an invitation to become an obnoxious worker who uses this as an excuse to justify getting away from work. Or an invitation to renounce everything and go live in the mountains to actualise.
Consider this an invitation to re-evaluate the value you’re placing on your job, your career, your business, etc. And you can do that only from the situation you’re in at the moment. Of course, if you are a student who hasn’t even started working professionally yet, or if you have some loans to pay off, or some other needs to address urgently, none of this would matter to you until that block is cleared. And that is normal. It’s OK. I myself know that just a few years ago when I had debts to clear, I would not have been able to act on this invitation even if it resonated with me at the time. Consider someone who’s living without even their basic physiological needs being fulfilled for example. It is normal for there to be situations where one cannot act on any of what I’m talking about.
But there are a whole lot of us who aren’t really in such situations, but think ourselves to be so. Only you can say that for yourself. It might be an uncomfortable fact to digest – not that you’re in a good position in your life, that is always good to realise. But what might be uncomfortable is that the actions you hold very dear to yourself in your day-to-day life are actually blocking you from realising your own truest potential.
This involves a whole lot of unlearning, unlearning the value you have invested in your work, unlearning the seemingly desperate situation you think yourself to be in, unlearning the false narratives in your head about what is more important and what isn’t, unlearning the ideas that the next promotion, the next car, the next house, the next step on the ladder IS the most important thing in your life, unlearning the conviction that you’ll act on all of this someday in the future when everything else is settled, etc etc.
Know that there is more to life than earning a livelihood.
Know that the jobs and businesses we’re engaged in, even if our own, are a means to an end and not an end in themselves.
Know that this is an invitation to reconsider “how” you are approaching life, not “what” you are doing in it.
Know that the problem of livelihood isn’t as complex as we’re making it to be.
Know that excelling in your job is not the highest potential you can reach as a human being.
Know all of this, and then act on it. If you do so, and do so diligently, you would contribute to humanity in ways no one may even fathom.
Because if you don’t act on it, and don’t lift yourself above it all, how do you expect to help someone who is not in your situation today but would be in some time to come? That someone could be your partner, your children, your friends or even your parents! So, consider the work that you do on yourself here as a service you render to all the ‘others’ you would help later.
As that man Ram Dass said, “I can do nothing for you but work on myself. You can do nothing for me but work on yourself. In the end, we’re all just walking each other home.”
Check out the episode on The Unlearning Playground YouTube channel here