There’s been a fair bit of controversy recently in my corner of the internet. What does my corner mean, you ask? Well, my corner of the internet is where I focus on figuring out how to help people (young folks in particular) learn better. Anything related to this topic is my specific area of interest, and anybody who writes on this topic is my tribe.
And as it so happened, a recent column, a recently deleted tweet and an old Substack coalesced in my mind recently.
The recent column was written by Nitin Pai. The title of the column is “The Misleading Outrage over 18-Hour Work Days“. As always, it is an interesting, thought-provoking read. If the Livemint article is behind a paywall, Nitin has a version up on his own website, available here.
Earlier this month, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Bombay Shaving Company was forced to apologize for advising people in their early twenties to put in 18-hour work days for 4-5 years, and work hard. The social media backlash accusing him of promoting a toxic work culture was so strong that he quit that platform entirely.https://www.nitinpai.in/2022/09/12/letter-to-a-fresh-graduate
I have not read the original post, and if the person who came up with the post has now deleted his entire profile, let alone the specific post, I suppose digging it up will be quite difficult. If you’ll permit me the indulgence, I won’t go around looking for archives of the post.
Nitin’s next paragraph is where things get truly interesting:
The man would be wrong if he had demanded that his company’s employees work such long hours and judged them solely on that basis. But to the extent that he was counselling young people on the attitude you need to adopt early in your career, he was speaking in your interest.https://www.nitinpai.in/2022/09/12/letter-to-a-fresh-graduate
Remember, all those people on social media stoning the folk devil of the day don’t care about your interests. I think you have a better chance of success heeding his advice than of those who criticized him for what he said. For those of us who started from humble beginnings, hard work is the surest ticket to upward mobility.
And I’m sure somebody on Twitter will tell me why I’m wrong to agree with these two paragraphs, but… I honestly do not see why what Nitin has said here is even remotely controversial. The attitude that Nitin is speaking about is, in my opinion, indispensable. There’s no alternative to hard work, and you can pick any number you like – 18 a day or 10,000 in total, or any other. But it’s not so much about the number as it is about the attitude – and the attitude is about being willing to put in the work.
And because there is no such thing as a free lunch, putting in the work might mean having to cut some things out of your life.
Now, you might well decide that 18 hours of working is far too much. Or you might decide that you might want to put in 18 hours five days a week. But don’t get hung up on the specific number – put in the hours that you need to put in, and you need to figure out what those hours look like given what you know about yourself and your own life.
And if this is deemed controversial, so be it. This was good advice to me when I started on my career, and this is advice that I give to young folks today.
But there was another line in Nitin’s column that caught my eye.
“Your family and well- wishers would have advised you to sacrifice some of your leisure so that you can improve your life prospects.”
A person I follow on Twitter recently came up with a somewhat similar tweet. He’s since deleted it, and I’m afraid I cannot quote it in its entirety from memory, but here’s what I remember of it:
The tweet advised one to have more serious pursuits/hobbies at a young age. Sports might come later, as might dance, for example. If you’re seeking out leisure, try and develop hobbies of a more serious nature.
Again, let me be very clear. I’m telling you what I remember of the tweet, and I may well be not remembering it entirely accurately. But while in Nitin’s case I found myself in complete agreement with his column, I find myself in slight disagreement with this tweet.
Disagreements are fine! Please feel free to disagree with my post, and please feel free to tell me, whether on social media or by way of commenting on this post, or by email. I hope we can get into a lovely little argument about why we disagree, and figure out for both our selves about what is the correct way to think about this issue. Not, note, who is right and who is wrong between the two of us. But rather, what is the right way to think about it. That is the point of an argument – figuring out what is the correct answer. Not winning it.
I should note over here that this is easy for me to write, but difficult for me to practice. I struggle with it every time I get into an argument, but this is one of those things that is worth the struggle.
But let me now tell you why I disagree with the spirit of the tweet. Because the tweet was telling me what to do to get the best out of life, not how to go about it.
The YouTube channel MKBHD produces some really good videos, as does 3Blue1Brown, and they both work extremely hard at both creating fantastic videos, and also at doing so regularly. You might say that one is frivolous and the other is not, but trust me, both require a lot of extremely hard work.
In my opinion, it is not for me to tell you what you should be doing at any age. That answer can only come from within. The answer (for you) may well be making Instagram reels, or TikTok videos. Or it could be composing a saga in Sanksrit. Or it could be becoming the next best thing in Indian cricket. Or something else altogether.
But once you’ve decided what that something is, Nitin’s point becomes applicable. Boss, you want to be the best at this thing you’ve chosen to do? Start working!
Which brings me to the Substack post. So you should work hard, no matter what you chose to do. But what should you choose to do?
Well, as I said, not my place to tell you – that choice must come from you, and you alone. Not me, not Nitin, not the person who wrote the deleted tweet, not your best friend, not your parents, not your significant other. You, and you alone.
But I’m happy to tell you that I think I can give you advice in this regard. If you’ve chosen to do something, do you enjoy the process of working at it? Do you enjoy the hours you’re going to have to spend on working at it, day in and day out? Do you, in fact, enjoy this so much that this – the journey – ends up becoming its own reward? So much so, in fact, that the outcome doesn’t matter that much in comparison?
If yes, then congratulations, for now you’re not working 18 hours a day. For it’s no longer work, is it? It is something that you truly enjoy doing for its own sake. And a positive outcome, however defined (a prize, first place in class, a great career, awesome pay packages) is a bonus, but not the point. The point is the process.
So, your motivation should not be primarily based on the goal/outcome/results. Success is best achieved by those who find motivation in the process, rather than the outcome.https://futureiq.substack.com/p/karmanyevaadhikaraste-in-modern-life
So what should you do in life? You know best! But don’t choose to do something for the sake of the expected outcome, choose to do something in which you enjoy the process.
“For example”, I hear you ask? Well, I enjoy the process of trying to write (and then post) everyday. Do I manage to do so every single day? Alas, no. Life sometimes gets in the way. But do I enjoy the process of reading stuff, and asking myself if what I’ve read will help me help young folks learn better, and then writing about it?
I love it. I adore it, I am besotted with it, and I never want to stop.
Try it. And by it, I mean optimizing for the enjoyment of the process, rather than the potential outcome.
And if it clicks, I envy you the happiness you’re about to feel. 🙂