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Creative jobs are hard. Strategic jobs are hard. So for all the talk we have about pursuing inspiration, I believe we also need frequent hits of consolation. This is what philosophy can do for us.

I believe modern culture is broadly split in two philosophies: one where the world adapts to us so we can achieve more, and one where we adapt to the world so we can feel more contentment.

The first philosophy is probably best represented by "Hooked", the book by @nireyal. It offers a clear framework for why we do what we do:

1. To seek pleasure and avoid pain;
2. To seek hope and avoid fear;
3. To seek social acceptance while avoiding social rejection.

If you look at your phone’s homescreen and you'll find relevant examples. Instagram can be pleasant to browse (pleasure). We go to YouTube and see a video of someone doing awesome (hope). And Twitter opinions are often about getting feedback (acceptance).

The problem is we’re addicted. Research shows the typical user touches their smartphone 2,617 times every day. We live in a world where we’re promised we can be anything we want, and yet spend most of our time stuck in comparison cultures via our pocket supercomputers.

That’s where the second type of philosophy comes in. The philosophy of a life well lived. This is what you'd typically call "philosophy" as in old-book-with-impenetrable-language-philosophy. But philosophy's not about being clever, it's about acting. The difference matters.

So in other words, you could say one philosophy is about building our identity through individual achievement (where the world adapts to us, i.e. personalised services), and one where we do it through individual contentment (we adapt to the world, i.e. core beliefs).

I believe we spend too much time with the first philosophy, but not enough with the second. Mind you, I am not anti-tech. I am pro-humanity. This isn't about cutting phone usage (though that helps). It's about spending time with intent.

I also believe everything has a sacrifice. Modern age compels us to adopt the new philosophies advocated by these tools, but it’s worth pausing to consider what we might be sacrificing in doing so. We rarely do this, and yet our mental wellbeing so very much depends on it.

Having invested some time in the past several years with a fair share of philosophy books, I’ve found a few principles that have helped me navigate this fascinating and oh so often confusing new era – especially if you do creative and strategic stuff for a living.

First principle: "join the conversation" is ego talk.

This is based on the Stoic idea that we should champion actions over words, and to let go of our ego. Massively inspired by @RyanHoliday @TheStoicEmperor @dailystoic for this one.

We talk a lot. We do little.

To quote @RyanHoliday:

“Talk depletes us. Talking and doing fight for the same resources. Research shows that while goal visualization is important, after a certain point our mind begins to confuse it with actual progress. The same goes for verbalization.”

Most of our anxieties about wanting to know about the latest news, or being the first to comment on a given topic, ultimately deplete our energy and rarely give as many results as actually doing something about it.

It's hard not to give in. But it has a big trade-off.

It’s the difference between writing a 2,000 word rant and volunteering for a cause that matters. Or commenting on a friend’s Instagram photos instead of just calling them and going out for a coffee.

We need more of the volunteering. We need more of the coffee.

Another one: sharing tools are a blessing and a burden.

The abundance of options powered by our pocket supercomputers should mean that, given infinite choices, we go for the best ones and feel content about it. But we don't. We always want more. It's hurting us.

To quote @alaindebotton:

“Populations blessed with riches and possibilities far outstripping those imaginable by their ancestors have shown a remarkable capacity to feel that both who they are and what they have are not enough.”

The more we have, the more we feel we need.

So the more stuff we consume, the fewer marginal gains we get by each thing because, like a drug, no hit is as strong as the first one. We over-compensate, consume even more, trying to regain that initial high. But it never comes.

If we're not careful, it's pocket heroin.

The solution might be in recalibrating our expectations and actions around the role of these tools in our lives. And let's reiterate this – they are *tools*. They play an important role in our lives, but it’s up to us to create some ground rules (like with kids, I imagine).

Because ultimately, our social media apps answer to us, not the other way around. Technology is a great servant but a lousy master.

Don't believe the hype. We're in charge. Or at least we should always aim to be.

Now let's talk about this one: it's OK to feel anxious.

Remember Google Reader? Yeah I used to be hooked. I spent three or four hours each evening trying to catch up, but when I did manage to catch up (rare) something weird happened.

As soon as I'd finally mark everything as read, I'd have the oddest of impulses – I’d look for more things to subscribe to. Irrational? Yep. But such is the nature of addiction, whether you’re hooked on a drug or information.

For better and worse, information IS a drug.

This taught me something big about myself. To not have that challenge of keeping up made me anxious, so I perpetuated the challenge to avoid dissonance.

Letting to is hard because we can’t imagine what we’d do without the things we’re holding onto. (Still working on this.)

This is where I take some inspiration from existentialism, especially @Sarah_Bakewell's book "At the Existentialist Cafe". If you want a primer and to rethink your definition of what "having an existential moment" means, read it.

(The answer is probably not what you think.)

To quote:

“Other entities are what they are, but as a human I am whatever I choose to make of myself at every moment. I am free and therefore I’m responsible for everything I do, a dizzying fact which causes an anxiety inseparable from human existence itself.”

According to existentialism, as portrayed by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, to be authentic is to have full agency over our decisions, and to decide with intention at all times.

Intention is the key word here. We seem to have little when we open our phones.

The challenge is that by embracing this sense of absolute freedom, we’re also conditioned by a sense of absolute responsibility and absolute anxiety.

Being free to choose our way means anything goes, and therefore we must find meaning in things, whatever shape they take.

Sartre and de Beauvoir suggested that life ultimately has no meaning because that meaning is up for us to create. And that creative act never stops, it’s ever-evolving. The only wrong choice is to do nothing about it.

THAT's what "being existential" means. Wanting to be so free you suddenly have no easy rules for what you want to do. It's a common theme among people who want to work independently.

We need to talk more about this. Again, philosophy as much needed consolation.

Back to modern culture: we're obsessed with our devices, but I see more and more people hacking their way to being less so. Not to stop using them, but to use them with intent.

"You can do anything on your phone" is a pretty big fucking existential problem.

To be anxious about our separation from our devices is normal, but only because it’s a type of hangover that we must learn to control in order to avoid relapsing.

Like any rehab, it gets worse before it gets better.

Part of this comes from cultivating more empathy. I'm increasingly a fan of walks in the park, board games, wandering, observing people and staring out the window for these reasons. They help us be more ok with being with ourselves and others, without needing extra stimuli.

This is also why I've been trying to evaluate my days less in terms of "what I did", and more in terms of "how it feels". Productivity and individual achievement are important (philosophy #1), but not if you implode your brains and soul in the process (philosophy #2).

Which leads me to a beautiful poem by @katetempest:

“Sometimes things are as
simple as they seem.
It’s as much about instinct as it
is about intellect
And if you feel it, it’s alive.”

Poetry, after all, is its own form of philosophy.

The world is far bigger than our perfectly tailored Facebook feed. We need more things that are not already perfectly tailored to our interests. That's what growing as a human is all about.

There’s far more richness coming from discovery than relevance.

These small moments of unexpectedness matter precisely BECAUSE they’re not tailored to our claimed interests. And they’re something you feel but can’t quite put to words, which is brilliant.

If you feel it, it’s alive. Feeling alive is awesome.

All of this is a work in progress, driven by daily rituals, small actions and frequent mistakes instead of just big thoughts and complex contemplations. But they do imply a choice in what we’re proud of having thought, felt and done.

Do what you want. But do it with intent.

And that’s why I don't really buy into philosophy not being needed in a world that moves too fast. If anything, we need it more than ever before, especially if you do creative stuff for a living.

Again, we're full of inspiration. But sometimes we sure need some consolation.

And that is the real point of philosophy: to help us think wiser, but also act wiser. We obsess about "doers". Contrary to popular view, philosophy was made for doers.

Philosophy isn't impenetrable language or convoluted thoughts.

Philosophy is what you do.

If you've made it so far, thank you. I had to get some of that out of my chest.

Elsewhere, I do write a weekly newsletter about philosophy for creative and strategic minds. If this sounds like something you'd be into, subscribe here:


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