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Transcendence: Admiration, Envy, and Effort

Last week, two friends and I and delved into one of our many deep existentialist conversations during lunch in a French Bakery. We really enjoy these talks, and it gets us firing the intellectual pistons at full speed, because we challenge each other’s thoughts at extremes.

This time we were talking about why people keep going, especially the entrepreneurs and very driven humans that we all admire. Why people that have “made it” already for the history books, put everything at risk to start all over again. Why is there no end to the discovery of human intellect? Why do we continue our journey in the pursuit of happiness not as an accident, but instead in self-awareness and consciousness? We talked Ghandy, Leonidas, Newton, Jobs, Hitler and Edison.

Food, Sex and Social Recognition were the “Crepe of the Day”, our answer to everything. This is not the first time we approach these subjects, but somewhat everytime takes a slightly different direction and new information surfaces. Food, Sex and Social Recognition turns out to be the only three things that cause human pleasure and happiness, and therefore the things we live for. We are not geniuses, nor the very first to arrive here, and we do get validation from Frankl, Nietzsche, and even Dale Carnegie. The food and sex part are easy, and almost everyone gets it… they put primal animal instincts at play when we are truly hungry and we eat, and when we have sex and feel aroused. There is no thinking, only enjoyment.

But what about social recognition? That one sounds out of the left field, with so many other “obvious” things to go for. Where do you leave the money? How about “making the world a better place”? Or family first? How come you can say social recognition if you only care about your children? Some people are not media friendly, how can they care for any recognition? How about the selfless acts of Gandhi, Mandela, or MLK? There’s your counter argument!

All self-driven individuals are so because they seek social immortality

The only way to prove that social recognition is the only leg self-driven individuals stand on, and what drives our human nature (and more prominently the entrepreneurship nature), we need to use a thought experiment. We’ll call this one thought experiment #1:

Place yourself in a world where you are all along. You are the only human alive in the whole world (and therefore, there’s lack of social context).

The great thing is, you can have all the pleasures you can imagine, there is magically new movies that come out on theaters everyday. There are stores full of the most exquisite and exotic foods you want and love. Unlimited forms of entertainment, technology, and power in your control. You have at your disposal all the cars, yachts, planes, and every single toy you may imagine. Robots that fulfill your every need all around you, waiting for your command.

Would you still be a driven person? Would you still want to make the world a better place? Would you still seek purpose, passion, mastery, want more of X?

If you feel that world is paradise, you are already NOT a self-driven person. And there’s nothing particularly wrong with that (although I secretly want to fix you), you are just not seeking alpha, and maybe you have a god.

For the rest of us, that world is hell.

What are you talking about Michel? That sounds like paradise! If you think so, you are either not ready to consider the proposition in a serious way, OR you are already broken and you are already a social parasite.

And what about the money? Well… if you have money, you have a lot more meta-freedom, which gives you influence and power, and that gives you the opportunity to change the world in meaningful ways (for better or worse)… aaaand that’s social recognition.

I’m a contributor to OSS, I do it because I love it, and I make no money from it. But contributing to it increases your craft, which increases your mastery, which increases your public profile as a master of the subject, which gives you social recognition, because you are making the world a better place. Would you still be a contributor to OSS in that world where you are alone ? (I’ll let you ponder the question — for what?)

Thought experiment #2 will help us further consolidate the cases that money, love and mastery are nothing more than avenues to Social Recognition, and it goes something like this:

Let's assume you have a Magic Banker, from “Magic Bank Inc”, and this Magic Banker is ready to serve you (and nobody else in the world) with UNLIMITED cash anytime you want. You have the absolute freedom to ask for any amount of money you want and he will give it to you and to you only. But there are two rules:
1. Every other person in the world knows you have effortless access to unlimited money. In other words, everyone understands that you didn't earn it, and that was given to you with no effort.
2. You can not do any action for yourself or anybody else if you think may elicit admiration from your effort in other people. 
In other words, you cannot donate your time in humanitarian causes, or help other people in any way, unless the act itself results in these people having a SOLID understanding that doing so required no EFFORT from your side, and therefore you will never receive any ADMIRATION, because you really didn’t give a flying fuck.

Would you still want to live in that world?

An interesting realization after thought experiment #2 is that people may still admire you for your wealth, but never for your efforts, which looks more like a source of envy. The other observation is that getting recognized for effort is key in the attainment of social recognition… and effort is something very personal, and you cannot trick yourself into believing you stretched yourself in achieving something, when you didn’t.

Social recognition is almost a recipe with some ingredients that come from you, like how much EFFORT was required from you, and some ingredients like ADMIRATION or ENVY (or disdain) that come from how society perceives your efforts. That’s why:

  • Self-made millionaires, entrepreneurs: admired from overcoming adversity (effort)
  • Leaders, Heroes: admired for leading others overcome adversity (effort)
  • Inventors, Artists, Athletes: admired for their talent and skill (effort)
  • Lottery winners: envied for their luck (no-effort)
  • Son of a Billionaire: envied for their family’s wealth (no-effort)

It doesn’t matter if you are Hitler, Jobs or Gandhi, had it not been for your efforts and some form of admiration or hate from others, you would’ve not ended in the history books.

Admiration can come from different sources, not only the popular vote. A father whose life has been devoted to the growth and success of his children, is admired by his family, and that may be enough for him. Many people receive a huge source of their happiness from the recognition they get from a handful of close people, or even one other person. That’s still social recognition, and they feel immortal because of it. It transcend life, because you exist through someone else’s perception of you.

Immortality. That’s the fuel that keeps us going.

We had coffee and french pastries, and left with more clarity around what makes people tick, and keep going, and it looks something like this:

Conscious Effort + Social Recognition = Happiness

Everything worthwhile in life, looks like a battle that is worth fighting, is never an easy one. No effort, no story. No people, no transcendence. No conscious decision, no admiration. Without effort and admiration, there is no happiness… unless you are having sex or eating out of pure animal pleasure… which is also amazing!

PS: Thanks to Leo and Christian for helping craft the ideas on this post; and for their unwavering desire to explore human nature.



Personal Development: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Life

Don't PanicIts 4:00 AM and the last day of 2012. I was in bed, but an earlier conversation with my wife was keeping me awake, so I jumped out of bed to put my thoughts down in paper. I’m hoping right after I finish my brain can rest and go back to sleep. We have a long day tomorrow (today?) to celebrate New Year’s Eve with friends in Miami, and I need to rest a little before the drinking and go crazy with my Cuban crew. Earlier today (or rather yesterday) my wife and I were recapitulating the year 2012 in events, the pros and cons, etc., just like many of us do every year. Well, it turns out 2012 hasn't been a great year for me, or for us both in general. But why, we were asking ourselves. After so many good things that happened and so many accomplishments, and stories of growth? Why did it feel as such when we looked at the overall picture?

We were trying to figure this out together, and I after I went on a rant about how things could be better if I had done X or Y or Z, it hit me in the face like a sack of bricks; then I said it, out loud, and clear as a crystal for the first time in my life, I felt I had the formula for living. It turns out it is quite a simple thing we all already know, but only the thought of giving it shape and structure made me feel great. So, I decided to put a framework around it for myself, and I’ll live by this framework on 2013 and see what I have to say a year from now.

Some people call this self-improvement theory Personal Development, I just call it my Hitchhiker's Guide to Life. And my own theory goes something like this: Happiness and fulfillment are better realized when you balance time, dedication and apply the scientific method to these seven categories in life:

  1. Health
  2. Love
  3. Family
  4. Relationships
  5. Individuality
  6. Wealth
  7. Dreams

I've been taking good care of some of them, but not all of them, and not with the same balance I consider necessary for my complete happiness.

Some people may think “What about travel, or having fun?”… and what I realized is that traveling or having “fun” can fall into different buckets depending on each individual. Someone that loves to travel with friends will put it into the Relationships bucket, while someone who enjoys traveling alone will put it in the Individuality bucket. Meanwhile someone who doesn't like to travel at all, doesn't need to classify this, just because it works for other people. The same idea applies to all things susceptible to personal taste or believe system, such as religion or spirituality. Other important things such as laughter and learning are more of a practice within each category.

Having friends from different countries to whom I talk regularly, forces me to have to explain things with an international and intercultural perspective quite often. I find myself helping people mostly through advise about how to find a job when they come to the US (Wealth and Individuality), or how to brand themselves and sell their abilities and characters with a positive spin (Individuality and Relationships), or even how to aim for the impossible if that is what really makes them happy (Dreams). I also find myself learning from people every day, from life tips, to lessons and methods that I try out incessantly.  These practices and methods that surround us and aid our growth in life, fit rather nicely into these simple categories.

The survival of the fittest may not directly dictate death to the lesser established in a civilized society, but it surely widens the distance between those in with high and low doses of happiness. Note I didn't say upper class vs. lower class. Economic class and status, although for many does play an important role in their happiness, it is never measured with the same rule. Instead, I’m talking about happiness and balance in life, ergo the important categories, since they do not dictate what makes each individual happy or not, but only a skeleton to classify those things that do.

I’ll make an effort to publish some tips that have worked for me on some of these categories. I’m also thinking in developing a method to keep track of conscious progress done on each, to help me keep a balance so 2012 doesn't repeat again in 2013. Who knows, if this Hitchhiker’s Guide to Life turns out a good learning journey, I'll make a conscious effort to share more about my voyage and adjustments as it develops.

All the best for 2013!!!