Monday, May 26, 2014

Eric Hoffer's Patience in Mundane Labor (and How to Cultivate It)

I'm at a particular point in my life where I'm trying to regain my career direction after recovering from my prior stagnation, and man am I chomping at the bit to either make some progress or move onto something else. Staying for so long in one thing, dish washing, puts friction on my nerves sometimes. It's so monotonous and frustrating that it's amazing that I've tolerated it for this long, and it particularly frustrates me to not make headway, so I've either got to push extra-hard or find something else.

Though, at the same time I've got to heed the wisdom Eric Hoffer bestowed in his own life of physical labor, for he has some mental fortitude techniques that are perfect for anyone in a physically strenuous job, especially ones that drag on the mind with their repeated motions. (This is especially for you guys that are discontent in those tough jobs.)


Eric Hoffer is a famous writer known for aphorical works like The True Believer, and one of the most interesting things about him is that he intentionally chose to keep himself committed to physical labor, even as he could had made a living off his writing or of other intellectual work.

In fact, there's a funny tale that apparently in one job where he had to work near a mine, he fretted to learn that some of his coworkers were finding traces of gold about, so fearing that he might become rich he immediately quit that job and found another "where there was no danger of sudden enrichment." Despite being so valuably intellectual and primarily known for his classic writing, it seems he preferred to stay in low-paying physical work, and even kept himself purposely living from paycheck to paycheck to justify the lifestyle, which is kind of strange considering you needn't be poor to voluntarily stay in muscular work.

I don't remember reading him thoroughly explain why he wanted to stay in those jobs, but it's easy to ascertain: It gave him time to think. He probably did most of the thinking that became his books while he was doing things like working as a longshoreman.

And for all my complaining of my own discontent in menial work, I've failed to appreciate that Eric Hoffer, here, provides a precise detail as to how we can equip ourselves to tolerate and even enjoy mundane work. Sure, most of us may want to get out of it, but learning the right mental techniques will do well to help us stay content in the meanwhile, and more likely than not even supercharge our performance.

What I've found is that by keeping myself as mentally active and focused as possible -- conducting a lifestyle involving a lot of reading, writing, concentration work, etc. -- it "primes" my brain so that once the night comes and I've got hours of dish washing to do, my mind is totally able to entertain itself for the entirety of the shift, even if in just vivid daydreams. Interestingly, oftentimes my mind may not even be dwelling on the subjects I partook in before the shift: Before work I might read lots on science, but at work find myself enticed by poetry, comic books, my ideal lifestyle, and so on.

Even better is that by being so intellectually satisfied, the good energy flows from my mind into my body, and I find myself able to exert strenuously, to lift heavy objects harder than before, move faster than before, and persevere the pacing. A lively mind leads to a lively body.

When I'm so mentally satisfied like that, it ceases to bother me that I'm in a low-paying career that demands mindless muscle. In that state I can plainly see why Eric Hoffer wanted his labor jobs: The "mindless" motions gives you the utter freedom to think and daydream as you please. Now that I think of it, I'd be far more unhappy in an office job, for not only is one physically idle, one has to exercise the mind in ways one may not want to, having to put off valuable thinking and other mental activities for later. Pity.

If we all want to adopt Eric Hoffer's form of patience in labor, the formula is simple:

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1.) In your lifestyle as much as possible, before and after work, intensely engage in meaningful activities that require focus, such as writing (anything), reading, watching thought-provoking videos, editing a website, listening to educational podcasts, and so on.

2.) As a consequence of working the mind like this, it will be provided enough sustenance to entertain itself in the hours of "mindless" labor, and as stated above, an ironic thing is that it tends to prime the mind to be content with odd things. What was done in the morning may not be the source of entertainment in the night shift: You might spend the day reading books and the night daydreaming of all the great movies you saw.

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Given this detail, it is, from here on out, my own fault for being discontent in menial labor. I've just got to keep the mind fed.

At the same time, as an aside, I have to admit that I also think I would want to keep physical labor a part of my life always so that I never go "soft," even if it were to mean I obligated myself to something small like cleaning my house every week regardless of how much I could afford someone else to do it. An annoying thing I've noticed of certain individuals, particularly in the restaurant industry, who get promoted above the "dirty work" tend to lose their tolerance of it and decline in their abilities. When, in past jobs, these kinds of people are my managers, it is, of course, hard to see how they could be my "superior" when more and more of their job just entails watching and looking at things.

At present I still plan to move towards self-employment, as I think I'd be happier living life more on those terms, while at the same time keeping the Eric Hoffer elements, such as by having a large garden, doing my own butchery, trying out carpentry, and so on. (I also have a thing about doing my own laundry. Only I can do it! No one else!)

But until I can, or any of us, can reach that point, it'd be best to adopt Eric Hoffer's patience until then.

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