Achiever Without A Cause

A gifted friend of mine suffers from a continuous psychological dilemma. He wants to be more productive and become somewhat famous, but he’s pretty lazy and there isn’t anything in particular he really wants to do. So, despite being hugely talented, he often feels inadequate. His problem is that he wants to have done things, but he doesn’t want to do them.

We share many characteristics. I’m also driven by an internal imperative to be productive, and I also crave the appreciation of my peers. (I mean, look at me here, blogging.) The main difference is that I am, without having done anything to deserve it, by nature equipped with a strong working capacity and an even stronger sense of purpose. It’s easy to be productive when you know what you want to achieve and feel strongly motivated to get up and do it.

We often talk about these things, and my friend is really unhappy about them. But actually he’s far from improductive. He has a high-profile job that he does well even though he isn’t particularly interested in it. He just has this constant feeling that he should be doing more. Or rather, that he should already have done more. Written that novel, started that business, painted those paintings, recorded that album.

I always tell him he’s fine, that he’s doing far more than most, that the things he wishes he’d done usually don’t make that much of a splash, that most of the people who actually get around to doing them are morons. I tell him nobody will care a hundred years from now whether he achieved all the stuff he’d have liked to or not. I tell him the only sensible purpose in life is to have fun together, and that death is just the discontinuation of both fun and woes. I sincerely believe all this on the intellectual level.

But I understand his feelings completely. At heart, wordlessly, I too buy the idea that my self-worth is contingent on what I achieve. If I hadn’t somehow also received this drive, this purposefulness, this giftedness that is more focussed for being less broad, then I’d be as unhappy as my friend.


OK kids, comments?


6 thoughts on “Achiever Without A Cause

  1. He sounds like he hasn’t actually found something he’s interested in doing. This is okay. Most people never do, and are truly happy nevertheless.

    I tell him the only sensible purpose in life is to have fun together


    I too buy the idea that my self-worth is contingent on what I achieve

    I suspect your wife and son will disagree. In this, they are wiser than you are.


  2. Oh no, the kids (8 and 3) are always looking me up in citation indices and asking me how I dare come home to them yet another day without having achieved tenure. (-;


  3. As someone who suffers from the same malaise as your friend I find the following quote from Kurt Vonnegut a great source of comfort.
    “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart about, and don’t let anyone tell you any different.”


  4. I sure know THAT feeling…well I’m afraid there is no magic answer here. Just tell him to pick a project (any project) and go and do it. It really helps to take a month or two off work to pursue it – in fact, these days it’s about the only way to get things done. And he should go down in working hours to the bare minimum he needs to keep his level of comfort. Sort of a hunter-gatherer existence (with cappuccino).

    Becoming single also helps a great deal 🙂


  5. Working less is very good. I only put in about 35 hours a week myself. But becoming single would counteract that, because then the guy’s rent would double. Also, his wife is just lovely!


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