Start to Care

Interesting thought by Ran Prieur on social class in the future: ((Most of Ran’s blog entries don’t have a permalink. You can find the relevant passages in his posts from November 28 and 29.))

Social class will no longer be about power or even standard of living, but valuable activity. The upper class will hold the few important jobs that still require humans. The middle class will be hobbyists, practicing difficult skills that are not necessary for society. And the lower class will be content to consume entertainment.

His post was triggered by a long article by Sister Y on the importance of demandingness in work and culture: If work is too easy to do (or, in a consumer culture, things are too easy to buy and own), it becomes fungible and won’t give us the deep satisfaction we get from doing things that increase our value (to ourselves and our peers) and allow us to get feedback on it.

Interestingly, a solution to this problem was published around the same time in an (otherwise unrelated) article by Cal Newport: Deep work.

Cal describes how knowledge workers don’t have a “culture of systematic improvement”, leading careers that neglect the qualitative refinement of work. His proposed solution is to engage in deep work, i.e. to look for harder things to do and spend more time doing them. The key benefits:

1. Continuous improvement of the value of your work output.
2. An increase in the total quantity of valuable output you produce.
3. Deeper satisfaction (aka., “passion”) for your work.

The intriguing implication of this is that by extending deep work we could actually choose our class affiliation (in Ran Prieur’s sense): Instead of being content with escaping from an unfulfilling existence into entertainment and distraction, we might as well accept the challenge and get better at what we do. Considering the increased satisfaction obtained from deep work, the reward will be much higher than mere monetary remuneration.

So how can we do more deep work? Cal lists four steps, but the one I would like to add (and put right at the beginning), is this: Start to care. Start to care about what you do and how you spend your day. Start to care about the quality of your work output and start to care about how you could improve it. Stop living life by default and instead begin to improve what you do, one step at a time.

This isn’t just true for the classic “white-collar worker”, mind you. It’s true for every blogger, creative, and solopreneur: Don’t accept to be mediocre anymore. Don’t take the shortcut to money and fame. Don’t just rely on SEO and “100 proven tactics to grow your e-mail list”. Instead, start to care – and go deeper.

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