Thought Catalog

Wonder What The Secret Of Life Is

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I think it was in Atlas Shrugged that Ayn Rand wrote something about how excusing one’s behavior with the phrase “I’m only human” is bullsh-t. I don’t condone the book, the woman and all her “philosophies,” I just want to give credit where credit is due, but the reasoning she offered for her dislike of the phrase did make sense to me, so much that it’s become one of those kernels of truth for me, something I think about sometimes and maybe even value. Rand’s dislike for the phrase “I’m only human” was more specifically a rejection of the premise of the phrase, which is something like “Humans are inherently lazy and lacking sufficient willpower to uphold personally- or culturally-assigned values.” I have the feeling that this premise is actually more true than false, Rand obviously didn’t, but despite my feeling regarding its truthfulness, I do think relying on that premise to justify, say, consciously allowing yourself to get into a four-hour long internet tunnel when you know that you’d feel like a much better human being if you instead worked on being a person you want to be (i.e., Writer, Well-Read, Physically Fit, A Good Significant Other/ Friend/ Sibling/ Daughter/ Son)… to excuse yourself from working on being a person you want to be because you’re “only human,” the idea being that you’re biologically determined to avoid ‘work’ and so it’s just your natural state to be somewhat of a sloth-like zombie and that that is an acceptable way to live, is just not a very healthy thing to do if you’re interested in feeling good about yourself.

Because I mean one of the truths about being a modern Western individual is that you likely have this idea about a person you want to be, and that person has a title even, a title like Young Professional or All-Around Good Person Of Above Average Intelligence, and to justify excessive ‘gaps’ in productivity by holding firm the belief that you’re “only human” and thus naturally lack sufficient motivation to do anything beyond obsessively watching YouTube videos and browsing reddit — where the premise of the idea of doing “anything beyond” obsessively watching YouTube videos and browsing reddit has, in a kind of relief, suddenly become sort of congratulatory, as if by doing “anything beyond” watching YouTube videos and browsing reddit you’ve become secretly heroic or are, just by not wasting oxygen, currently actualizing a person you want to be/ have always known you were/ are at your core — to justify your inaction with the belief that you’re “only human” is a behavior that stands in opposition of who you tell yourself you want to be and believe you are, if you have any Western-style aspirations at all. I know that no one’s perfect, on a scale of one to 10 I’m like a three on the ‘Bad’ to ‘Perfect’ scale probably, but I feel like consistently allowing yourself the luxury of the “only human” argument is almost infantile, or would lead to a more infant-like, helpless, non-productive state that I personally would find very meaningless and bleak.

I apologize for having started this piece of writing off with something about Atlas Shrugged, I know a lot of you feel very strongly about that book. The thing about personal goals of any sort is that for some people like me the existence of these goals alone — goals which can range from as concrete as Get Another Freelance Gig So You Can Start Saving Big Money to as abstract as becoming the person you want to be — serve to create the illusion of progress, of moving through time and space in a linear, structured fashion, even if you’re doing nothing to meet these goals. The existence of these goals also create the illusion of identity. So if you’re anything like me, a person almost helpless to his fixation on this narcissistic idea of becoming a Whatever, a Writer and a Very Good Person and a Successful Young Savvy Professional in my case, just a preconceived narrative really, buying into these types of goals is a way to delude yourself. Just having these ideas alone seems to be a substitute, however unsustainable, for consistently behaving/ being more in line with who you’re telling yourself you are. In this little navel-gazing paradigm can also exist, conveniently, the concept from above that you’re “only human,” because the existence of goals and the identification with those goals doesn’t necessarily mean — anymore, In This Day And Age — that you’re doing anything to complete those goals. Here’s a relevant video, NSFW language.

So that’s sort of a defense of productivity right there.

The thing about what I’ve written thus far is that’s not necessarily good advice, if it can be conceived of as such. Because what I described above can really just be distilled into the idea that being “productive” means “bettering yourself”/ “being happy” and that transitively being “productive” means “behaving like your preconceived notion of Self,” which is basically what people do when they buy environment-destroying SUVs as status symbols, or routinely mysogenize women because it affirms ideas about themselves that they for whatever reason find desirable, or work their asses off at work while neglecting individuals who love them very much and who might offer a much more meaningful connection than the one they have with their work, etc. Just as problematic but in a more abstract sense is the fact that the defense of productivity seems to have relatively little to do with what might be considered a deeper idea of happiness, one that isn’t already conceived or available to be bought into, one that doesn’t seek Answers From Within but instead relies on external cues and circumstances to drive an agenda of contentedness that most likely should be inwardly focused.

I’m trying not to be ironic about “Answers From Within” — what I mean to earnestly address is for example the pathos of the movie Office Space and the popular television show The Office, the feeling that the many grim versions of the Self are limited, unavoidable and completely unsatisfactory. Another example of what I’m trying to address is just general 20-something disillusionment: the problems of the rising tide of post-college humans who feel awkward about their parents who were expecting a more familiar, less alien narrative out of them, who tweet they don’t feel like “real people,” who enthusiastically place all their faith in the prospect of becoming one of the cliche definitions of an American, one they approach as if approaching a pristine rack of shiny, perfectly-tailored suits when, in reality what they behold and are so hopeful about is a dirty pile of worn out generic pieces of sh-t manufactured by Chinese sweatshop laborers and purchased from Wal-Mart 20 years ago.

My point is not productivity is bad, or that some preconceived notions of Self are Bad, but that the premise that they’re defined, concrete and of limited range is maybe Bad, and most definitely false. And if you use your willpower to leverage productivity in the pursuit of these ideas of Self, I think you have to rely on ‘rules’ and ‘guidelines’ that are external to you and have never and will never take into account how you actually feel and what you actually care about. So like just choosing a Self, as is encouraged/ expected by (and probably a premise of) Western society and powering your way into it like a mule can’t be the Secret Of Life, in my opinion. TC mark

image – karindalziel

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    • Damenhandle

      Generally I don’t read pieces that acknowledge Ayn Rand in the first sentence, but this was good.

    • https://twitter.com/iamthepuddles Jordana Bevan

      Loved it, Mr. Gorrell. In the immortal words of The History Channel execs on South Park: True dat, true dat.

      • Anonymous

        True what? His writing is a f’n mess.

        • https://twitter.com/iamthepuddles Jordana Bevan

          nbd. i (too) struggle to form normal-length sentences because my brilliance is constantly producing an impossibly large amount of interconnected ideas. i appreciate that he qualifies his statements (even if there are a few endless sentences) because things can get pretty general when you address the secret of life, and qualifiers make things relative yet relevant… so keep on drinkin dat haterade. as a reader (not a critic) i can say ‘tru dat’ to whatever i want and enjoy reading whatever i want. also my agreeing (..mostly) with his words has nothing to do with his writing style, so his writing being a “f’n mess” is irrelevant. the end. sigh.

        • Anonymous

          Do you even know how to write properly? Grammar. It’s your friend. Use it.

        • https://twitter.com/iamthepuddles Jordana Bevan

          lol whoops never took a grammar class, too busy being a rocket scientist :(

        • https://twitter.com/iamthepuddles Jordana Bevan

          **rock star lol always mixing them up

    • http://www.facebook.com/iamahmad Ahmad Radheyyan

      I agree with the conclusion, to an extent,  but I feel like having a more nuanced, modern view of a developing self is still important and necessary. It’s definitely not the secret of life, and most things aren’t, but I feel like refining and modernizing old concepts can be extremely useful, especially when young people today are struggling to find meaning/identity in the current world. Basically: nothing is “it” but everything helps, rather than hinders towards the pursuit of whatever “it” is.

    • Astra

      Little overboard on the comma splices man

    • Sophia

      You lost me when you wouldn’t stop apologizing for using Ayn Rand. Even if you don’t agree with the book, if you agree with something she said, agree with it, and stop apologizing to get people to like you.

    • guestck

      where do i find a larger version of this wonderful cloud picture???

      • Anonymous

        internet.

        • guestck

          more specifically, where in the vast interwebz?

    • Sarah

      can you just save me the time of reading this article and just tell me SIMPLY, in one sentence, what the secret to life is?!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

      rules… if only

    • bikechain

      give the book “stumbling upon happiness a read”. it helps with feeling like shit about yourself/being happy just where you are.

      i also heard a great quote the other day: “rand is the greatest children’s author of all time”

    • BlahBlahBlah

      Learn to write the English language properly. As in, use grammar.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mingus-Ah-Um/100001180708136 Mingus Ah Um

      This sounds just like an incomprehensible coke fueled rant by a Brown student.

    • Anonymous

      I generally prefer tripe that is cooked.

    • Anonymous

      You know that piece was so utterly trite, so completely turgid that I feel compelled to comment again. Reading the punctuation starved twaddle put me in mind of H G Wells’ comment concerning the writing style of Henry James;
      “He splits his infinitives and fills them up with adverbial stuffing. He
      presses the passing colloquialism into his service. His vast paragraphs
      sweat and struggle; they could not sweat and elbow and struggle more if
      God himself was the processional meaning to which they sought to come.
      And all for tales of nothingness It is leviathan retrieving pebbles. It
      is a magnificent but painful hippopotamus resolved at any cost, even at
      the cost of its dignity, upon picking up a pea which has got into a
      corner of its den. Most things, it insists, are beyond it, but it can,
      at any rate, modestly, and with an artistic singleness of mind, pick up
      that pea.”
      In this case it would only be a tiny molecule of Pea and the Hippo fails to even grasp that.

    • Anonymous

      You have failed every English teacher you ever had with this poorly written dribble. What a mess.

      • Jimmyjam

        The word you’re looking for is drivel. Nice try. Your comment, by some post-Christmas miracle, is actually worse than the post. Good work.

        • jammyjim

          Yeah it’s “drivel,” but dribble works too, I reckon.

        • Anonymous

          Awww you can’t read. Trying to correct something that isn’t there. Awful work.

    • Anonymous

      Kindly read anything written by George Orwell before ever posting your vain, undergraduate claptrap again.  Perhaps after that, and assuming you can indeed be taught, you’ll have learned how to convey ideas – no matter how sophomoric their essentialist premises – in comprehensible sentences.

    • Geoffrey Day

      Who the fuck decided that “good” writing means “bastardize DFW and get angsty”?  If I had one of those press-this-button-and-a-random-stranger-dies-boxes, I would stand in front of you and smack the shit out of it until your meaningless #firstworldproblem-Brooklyn-existence was over.

    • Sparkle

      This was not the best article. But I wouldn’t really know, because I didn’t even get to the 3rd paragraph.

    • Enah Cruz

      Decided not to read after reading the comments. THANK YOU GUYS

    • Maxine

      I personally enjoyed reading this, and I found your ideas interesting- however, maybe make your sentences and way of presenting them a bit more reader friendly.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Alejandra-Clippard/1265070174 Alejandra Clippard

      I was really surprised by all the mean comments below. Grammar, shgrammar. I thought this article was great, really. P.S.  “How To Say ‘I love you'” is one of the most beautiful things I think I’ve ever read.

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