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Ben Nadel at the jQuery Conference 2009 (Cambridge, MA) with: John Resig
Ben Nadel at the jQuery Conference 2009 (Cambridge, MA) with: John Resig ( @jeresig )

The School Of Practical Philosophy: Love - Week Five

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Coming to the end of week five of Love at the School of Practical Philosophy, I don't have too much to reflect on as far as interpersonal relationships go. But, I have been thinking a great deal about work and about loving my own life. I have had a lot on my mind these days; and, in the wake of Steve Jobs' death, something that he said in his Standford University commencement speech has been stuck like a bur to my mental socks.

For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And, whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

NOTE: You can watch the commencement speech down below.

I think there's no doubt that it's important to love what you do. And, as Jobs says elsewhere in his speech, the only way to do great work is to love what you do. But, what I think I find so wonderful about what he is saying here is that he embraces the fact that it won't feel great every single day.

Something needs to change only if the answer is No, "too many days in a row."

Not only does this outlook provide some perspective, I believe it helps to prevent using dogmatic thinking as a way to make poor choices. If you agree that you should love what you do, it's easy to slip into the mindset that you should stop doing anything that fails to make you happy. Conversely, if you don't believe you need to love what you do, it's just as easy to wallow in misery with the assumption that such misery is a necessary part of life.

In both extremes, we miss the point and ultimately do ourselves a huge disservice. What Jobs is saying is that you need to love what you do; but, you need to do so with acceptance that life has dips. The key to happiness lies not in the rejection of the dip; but rather, in determining which dips are worthwhile and which are not.



Reader Comments


One big takeaway I get from his speech is that it doesn't necessarily mean stop doing what you're doing overall, but do it differently. For example, I really dislike grad school and dislike group work where I inevitably am doing a large portion of the work. My new attitude is that it's almost over and I'll do my best to not take classes with group work, or take classes with students outside my department who (hopefully) have different work ethic, and at the least it'll allow me to meet new people I otherwise wouldn't've met.

I definitely agree though, Ben, that "too many days in a row" is what makes the speech usable and useful in a practical sense.



I like what you're saying. We don't have to do some full-stop; we can adjust our approach. Even after Jobs was kicked out of Apple, he said the Love was still there; he just needed to move in a slightly different direction with it.


@Ben, when I first read about this speech, it was misconveyed to me without the "too many days in a row" part. At that point, I remember I couldn't help but think, "well, there may be days when I don't feel great about what I do, and there probably will be for everybody." I later realized that I hadn't quite heard the whole thing in its entirety, and can agree with it now that I know that final part "too many days in a row" was a part of it.

The same can be applied to interpersonal relationships. There will be days when you may not feel great about the one you love, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's time to may mean it's time for a new commitment to be made to that person. And if you find that there are too many days in a row when you are unhappy with the person you have chosen to be with, you may very well need to re-evaluate your choice of a relationship partner.

I have found in the past in some of my relationships, if I wasn't happy with that person, I would at times be kind of quick to start thinking that they may not be for me. I have come to realize that sometimes, it may just be something I need to work through, and something that he and I can work through together, and may not necessarily signal that I need to rethink the relationship.

The thing about the dips, from a personal level, though is hard for me, because I have a condition which makes me "happy" nearly all the time. So even when there are things around me that would make a normal person sad, I am still overall usually fairly happy through them. There have been guys who weren't very happy about the fact that I seemed pretty happy when they broke up with me. Although, some of my friends say they wish in a way they could handle breakups the way I do, because I'm able to get over them fairly quickly and easily. But that may also be because of the fact that I haven't fallen too deeply in love too many times in my life, and maybe someday, when I do, it'll be much harder to get over.


Well, I've found I can do what I love, and make no money and struggle every week to get by, or do something I do well, get paid well for and be frustrated at work, but not have to struggle to get by every week. There doesn't seem to be a way to have it all - do what I love, get paid well for it, and have that be enough to over come the frustrations.


@James, F.E., I'm sorry to hear you feel that way and that it is your particular situation. I, for one, love what I do. Not hardly does a day go by where I am don't go into work and am completely amazed at what I get to do for a living and what I am able to do for work. It's just a pretty cool field to be in, I think. And I can't complain too much about the pay, either. I make it...I get by. I make pretty good money at what I do. Would I like to be a millionaire and make a million a year doing less and/or something I loved? Absolutely! I don't get quite that, but I also don't expect it. I think some people's expectations as far as this is concerned are a little bit skewered. I dated a guy who was an artist and fully expected to do what he wanted to do every do it his way, and make a lot of money off of it. That required a reality check. It simply isn't what pays do exactly what you want to do every day and get paid tons of money for it, especially if something like painting is what you like to do. Sure, some artists/painters really make it big, but more often is the case that people who do that kind of thing either do it for a hobby on the side of their 9-5 job, or they really struggle.

Something else I was going to say in my last comment. There is a lot of talk to "live like you were dying", but quite frankly, that would probably be a little irresponsible. Because I know a lot of people who, if they knew they were dying, would do things that they felt were necessary before they died, but that were highly irresponsible. An example is, I doubt there would be many people who knew they were dying who would go to work during that day before they died. Heck, most people I know wouldn't even go to work the entire week before they died, probably. It seems like it would be a waste, when there would be so many other things to take care of before you die. I think @Ben hit the nail on the head about the dips and about how you may not be satisified with your life and your life's work every second of your life, but it's really about the combination of it's the sum of the parts rather than about each particular part of the equation. Every day's a new day, and the ultimate satisfaction is how each day adds up and how happy you are with something over time, rather than merely being unhappy in a moment.



I should hope there's nothing wrong with being happy most of the time :) Unless you have a condition which doesn't afford for sympathy, I wouldn't worry about it. And, who cares what ex-boyfriends think!


I think this is definitely a very hard thing. Even I, who tend to love what he does, have long periods where I'm not necessary excited to go to work. If there is something that is monetarily beneficial for you and you are a good at, perhaps there is a way to make it more of a passion somehow? In my own work, I've found that if I can exert some more autonomy over my work and put my "DNA" into it, even if it's not something I'm crazy about, I can start to feel more satisfied with the work that I do.

At the end of the day, though, I do feel like I have a calling (programming) and the days that I don't spend programming (which is often) are days where I have to work harder at making the work more satisfying.


@Ben, Thanks! I try really hard with the sympathy thing. I was literally working out in my home gym I had in my room one time when a boyfriend of mine called me to break up with me over the phone. I had a knee-jerk reaction and laughed out loud when he broke up with me. I didn't mean to, but it just happened. As soon as it did, I realized what happened, but it was too late. I was really just so happy to be working out.

And about money and loving what you do, it is the case that a lot of times, what you are good at makes a lot more money than what you love to do, but another way to look at it is that sometimes, when you make more money, it enables you to do more of what you love to do, because you have the money for it. Some hobbies are expensive and cost a lot of money, and sometimes, you work so that you can have the money to indulge in doing some of those costly things that you love. So when you go to work, you may not be like, "yay, I get to go do this", but you can be like, "yay, I'll get to do what I love (as an example, let's say travelling and scuba diving) because I work doing this and it enables me enough money to do what I love.


@Ben, received you welcome email, appreciate the touch mate, thank you.

Which lead me here, more importantly, I found this blog.

Do things happen for a reason?

I certainly think so. The "too many days in a row" statement is ironically a poignant topic for me of late. Turned 50 in July. I've lived a fairly exciting and fulfilled life and always believed a mid-life crisis is only had by those who got married early and never got the opportunites to live their dreams.

Well that theory has been officially busted my yours truly.

What with my partner going through the early stages of menopause and turning into a vomit spewing beast at the drop of a hat. I addition to me falling apart at the seams (not to mention our neurotic puppy), life at Dave's place is anything but normal!

One thing which keeps me centred and happy are my web-sites, blogs and the ability to step away from things, retreat into my "man cave" and get creative with not only my programming but also my thoughts and experiences. I'm also fortunate to be self employed - for this I'm very greatful. Although I've been a workaholic (maybe I luv it too much), this month I've vowed to commence taking mini breaks ever couple of months for 3 or 4 days R&R. I have a bad habit of procrastination, seriously I do. But since things have gone pear shaped, I'm going to try and enjoy myself.


@Ben yeah, I do what I can to make my job more entertaining but it doesn't always help. I think it is better to be frustrated at work and have the rest of my life going well, than the other way around. Fortunately work is not my entire life, but it does tend to drain a lot of energy from the other parts. It is difficult to work on the 'fun parts' when you're exhausted from a long day at the office. For now I keep on keeping on. Somehow it will all work out in the end.


@James . . . don't you have any type of hobby, something, that could fulfill part of you that needs to feel satisfied and accomplished?

I may not always be happy with what I'm doing in my professional life (although, at this point, I'm pretty happy doing what I'm doing in my startup), but there is my fiber arts work that has plenty of room for me to be happy about. Nothing beats the feel of knitted fabric on size 3.25mm needles, working two colors to create a colorful pattern and feeling the "swoosh" as I spread out the stitches on the right needle to smooth out the tension.

And then there's the magic of watching a wet, wrinkled lace shawl gradually reveal the pattern as I stretch it out and pin down the scalloped ends with T-pins on my carpeted living room.


@James & @Lola,

don't get me wrong...I often seem like I am bragging, I am sure, about the great job I have, and it is awesome! But I have been there, @James, even with a ColdFusion job. I had a job that was just awful, in terms of pressure and in many other ways. I hated my job. I remember there were times when I came home, and wanted to just go to bed. It wasn't just me, either, many of the people with whom I worked that were just downright depressed. The job we had sucked all energy out of us that we had, and we weren't able to do anything, really, after work, besides go home and go to bed. That's really all we wanted to do, or had energy for. That's why I feel for ya if you are in that situation -- because I know what that's like...and that was a ColdFusion job. And it was very much a matter of money...we made quite a bit at this job, and that was very much are reason why we didn't just get up and leave. Had I made any less than what I was making at that job, I would have up and left it in a heartbeat. That's what this company did...they paid a lot of money to bribe you into taking the job and hold you there, because they knew that it was unlikely you would leave such a great salary, even though the work situation sucked. Before that point, I really thought if I had a ColdFusion job, I would be happy, but that setup showed me that wasn't the case at all.

@Lola, at the same time, I can definitely see what you're saying. I love my job, but I have so many things outside of my job that in themselves make it so much worthwhile. If I had a job that sucked, and still got to do these things, they would totally make it worth it! And I would hope that I would get to, and I would try to if at all possible. And it's not like my job is "perfect" either...I have my off days. But on my off days, I know that it's only 8 hours (hopefully), and I will get to go home and/or where ever and do the things I really enjoy, and that puts a smile on my face. :-)


@Lola Yes, I have many outside interests beyond coding and work. But @Anna hit it on the head in that there are many days when I'm so tired at the end of the day that I just don't want to do anything when I get home.

I think what I want is a situation like Leonardo da Vinci had. He had a Patron that paid for all his expenses while he got to spend his time working on anything that interested him. Of course, a lot of what the Patron expected from da Vinci was new ideas for military applications so I guess that was much like an ordinary job. I guess you could say my job is my 'patron' which allows me to pay all my expenses and they demand that I spend my time working on their projects in return. I just think I'd get more productive things done working on my projects instead. :-)



or you could have a sugar-mama wife who made all the money, and then you could just work on whatever you wanted and not have to worry about money. :-) That's what that one guy should have done who didn't want to do any kind of work except what he wanted to do...he should've stayed with me, because I would've worked so that he wouldn't have had to, and he would've been supported and would have been able to do whatever he wanted to do instead of having to worry about money like he does now, having chosen another woman over me who does not make enough to support him. Oh well, his mistake.

The other day I heard about an article about bad career advice. In the article, it was talking about how it is a bad idea to circulate a general idea that if you aren't passionate about your work, or you aren't doing what you love, you should quit and go pursue what you love for a job. This is especially true in this economy, and especially true for people who don't love to do anything that is helpful to society or a good way to make money. There are tons of people who don't really care to "work" or do anything but sit around and do nothing, basically. Should these people be encouraged to think that they will be able to get a job getting paid to sit around and do nothing? Most likely, there are jobs like that out there, and some of the people like that could probably get a job like that. But for a majority of people who feel like there, there probably isn't a job like that for them. The point of the article was that it is reckless for everybody to take this advice as is, at face value. According to the article, a lot of people would be giving up jobs too quickly, and would end up with a resume that had 6 jobs in 4 years on it, and it would be really difficult for them to get a job with a resume like that, unless they were in a field that expected that or wanted that kind of job history on a resume.

Sorry I got on a tangent.



You seem really cut up about this guy leaving you. Unstandble if you had strong feelings for him or were in love. Had a friend going through break-up which she wasn't handling at at too well. I wrote her the following. Whilst healing takes time, maybe this might help you...for what it is worth.


Everyone in this life meets for a reason. Sometimes they're short live moments. When that person leaves we have a tendency to hurt and feel sorrow that they couldn't stay longer. However, looking beyond personal needs and wants, maybe these connections are the catalyst of change within us.

Try not to lose sight of what's important to you, nurture and spoil yourself once in a while. Don't feel you have to be sorry for making choices.

No matter what anyone may tell you, or what insecurities echo from your past - be strong for yourself whilst being kind to others because we only get back what we ourselves put out!




@Anna, want to be my Patron? You pay my bills, I'll work on what I want, and I might even come up with something along the way that is financially viable that I could eventually repay your investment. :-)


@Dave, thank you for your words and comment. I think one of the things that bothers me the most about that particular situation is how it ended...he led me on in the end to think he was trying to work towards us getting back together, when the whole time, he was trying to first secure another relationship with another woman before finally ditching me. He had absolutely no intention to get back with me, he just didn't want to be "alone" for any significant period of time, because he is one of those types of people who can't be alone (or can't stand being alone). So he would rather lead a girl on and end up hurting her more than be alone for one second and giving it time to heal and to get over the last one before jumping into another one. I resented the fact that he led me on and was willing to hurt me just so that he didn't have to be alone. I also resented the fact that he led me to thinking we could possibly work towards patching something up, all the while pursuing these ridiculous liasons with other women he had little chance of being with or with whom anything could actually feasibly work. Even though he wasn't really "cheating" per se, because we weren't really "still together"...we had ended things, but he was leading me to think that we were working on getting things back together, I still felt he was unfaithful even though he wasn't really cheating per se.

Had he just been honest with me and told me things were not going to work out with me and ended it completely before he started pursuing other women heavily, I would have been fine with it and wouldn't have been resentful towards the way he handled things. I may have been a little sad at first...if I had really had true, deep feelings for him, obviously, I would have been a little sad that things weren't going to work out with him, but I wouldn't have been furious that he was deceiving me, leading me on, and talking to all kinds of other women behind my back, intending on leaving me the second he secured a relationship with one of them. It's just not really right to treat another human being that way. I treat others with respect, and when I date someone, I pretty much expect them to treat me with that same kind of respect. If I was with someone, and it was obvious it wasn't going to work out, I would do the humane thing and break things off with them so that they could try to find someone who was a better match for them instead of hanging on to them, leading them on, while I searched for a replacement.

When I date, I have a standard of fairness I like to keep with the people I date, and I really appreciate them returning the same to me. There is a certain set of unspoken (or spoken in some cases) rules that I think people who date should adhere to, no matter how badly the relationship goes. As human beings, I feel that we should treat each other with respect regardless of the relationships or how things go. I know that with dating, sometimes things can get heated, and sometimes things don't go exactly as you wanted or planned, but I still think that we should treat each other with respect regardless.

@James, haha...I'm afraid I have burnt out on agreeing to do that for someone long ago, after I had already been willing to do that for a couple (at least) of people and getting burned in the process. :-/ Too bad you hadn't met me before I got burnt out! :-P I'm also seeing someone right now, and he might not like me making arrangements with other guys like that, either, no matter how innocent the arrangement. :-/


@Anna, oh well, it was worth a shot. :-)

If you happen to know anyone who wants to invest in a creative, eccentric individual with a wide variety of interests that may or may not eventually hit on something that pays big bucks, send them my way.

And good luck on the new relationship. I hope it works out for you.

I believe in love. I believe in compassion. I believe in human rights. I believe that we can afford to give more of these gifts to the world around us because it costs us nothing to be decent and kind and understanding. And, I want you to know that when you land on this site, you are accepted for who you are, no matter how you identify, what truths you live, or whatever kind of goofy shit makes you feel alive! Rock on with your bad self!
Ben Nadel