I tried to understand the words that came out of Jordan “J” Gross’ mouth, but the Hungarian internet network was really persistent in its unhelpfulness. Walking through the streets of Budapest —hoards of Asian(-looking) tourist taking pictures, untraditional restaurants advertising their “traditional Hungarian dishes” on sidewalks — Jordan, who is a #1 best-selling author, told me his story about the unimportance of numbers.
Thoughts about which Chinese take-out I would have tonight distracted me, but Jordan’s message came through. “I could see the sale numbers going up and up, but it didn’t do anything to me.”
There is something paradoxically exciting and hollow about increasing the size of one’s audience.
Having more followers on Medium or more people buying your book does not
On the other hand, if your content doesn’t serve that many people, thoughts about pointlessness will haunt you, especially on rainy Sundays.
Crucially, such a paradox does not apply to small-scale, real-life interactions. They do make a day awesome — they directly impact your daily experiences.
If solitary writing is going to be an important part of my life, then these are the interactions that I want to have in my non-writing hours.
This is why I don’t want to work in academia.
You’ll lecture over a hundred people at once, but the audience is passive. You’ll spend many hours on unimportant things like filling out funding applications that have a 90% chance of rejection, or on writing pointless papers, solely to hit the institutional publication target.
Life is too short for these time-investments.
One. Giving such lectures amounts to repeating a tape. You’re delivering a performance you’ve played many times before. MOOCs will make this skill obsolete (unless you’re a top .1% performer).
Two. Such papers don’t contribute to anything. Efficiently spitting out many of those is also not a valuable skill.
Two days after talking to Jordan, I went on a hike with two exceptional philosophers. D. won last years’ university-wide Best Dissertation Award. J. is defending her dissertation next month. Not bad.
We took the metro, bus, and tram to arrive at the Buda hills (just outside Budapest). The bright autumn sunlight had inspired the trees to put on their most beautiful brown, red, and green leaves. I took a deep breath and became aware of a calm, free feeling.
We’d been walking for three hours when I mentioned my lack of academic ambitions. J. asked me why I was obtaining a PhD if I don’t want to continue in academia. On the surface, this question seems legit. But I actually think that it gets things backwards. You don’t study philosophy and sharpen your thinking tools because you want to become something with it. Its point is not in the future.
I suppose I invite these questions by writing about these questions, but last week a reader and a friend asked me what my big dream was. Though I feel incredibly lucky to have such question-askers in my life, because I suspect that many people are never requested to reflect on these big issues, my answers always seem to disappoint people. I don’t have a dream. I wonder if there is an answer to that ‘What-do-you-want-to-do-with-your-life’ question to begin with.
When you see your life as a rich picture depicting an epic story, you might feel that the key to happiness lies in the broad components of the image. This is a mistake. You don’t live in the picture’s broad strokes. You live at all time in a single pixel of the image — a single Today.
Another breath. Another step. The trees still looked gorgeous.