Over the past month or so, I was struggling to think of topics to write about for this blog. It felt like nothing was going on in my life that could inspire me to write something for this blog on productivity and soft skills as a developer. To my surprise, the inspiration for this post you are reading came from an unlikely place... a Netflix show I was watching with my friends.
For those interested it's a comedy show called The Good Place. Major-ish spoilers ahead for those who care.
In the finale, the main characters finally reached the show's version of heaven (The Good Place) but found a major flaw in it. Because everyone there was given their paradise to enjoy forever, they would be overstimulated for so long and it would eventually feel meaningless and not satisfying anymore. From all the stimulation, they grew weaker in mind and didn't find meaning in all this constant leisure. The angels in charge of the place couldn't find a way to fix the issue and fled, leaving the main characters to solve it for them. The angels tried everything they could to make things more satisfying for everyone by adding brand new things or improving what was already there. What was the solution the main characters found? It was to allow everyone to leave and fade out of existence once they feel satisfied with their stay at The Good Place. The episode subtly and sometimes explicitly gave a deep message surrounding death and life that was legitimately inspiring to be. I thought I would share with you my thoughts behind this idea and how you could apply this to be more productive in your day-to-day life not just as a software developer but as a human being.
WARNING potential existential crisis ahead
Our Time is Limited
Like the people in The Good Place, many of us go through life like our time here is unending. It's like we forget that we are not immortal. Because of this false belief, we often waste our time on things that might be incredibly pleasurable in the short term but don't give us long-term fulfillment or a real sense of purpose. As soon as death comes into our consciousness, we begin to work on the things that matter to us the most for the greater picture of our lives. The main characters, once they implemented death in the afterlife, started trying new hobbies and making great things out of their time because they wanted to make an impact before they inevitably are satisfied with all they experienced. The same can be true for us if we keep the idea of death in our consciousness. Why do you think we always hear about people who go through near-death experiences or are impacted by the death of loved ones trying to do meaningful things with their lives after they recovered? It's because death is the ultimate reminder to use your time wisely or you may never get it back.
Unlike the characters in the show, we can't even choose when we die; it could happen much sooner than we can imagine. The stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius even noted that a significant amount of our years will be ones of old age where we are too weak or not as mentally sharp to do the things we want. Because of these things, each of us may have much less time on our hands than we act as we do on a day-to-day basis. Most of us (including myself) have probably already wasted it being anxious, afraid of failure, lazy, or even hedonistic at times. If we could be more conscious of death, we could get more done from this harsh reminder that we are slowly dying and can't get any of the experiences and opportunities of life back again. Do you have unfinished business? Could you be working harder towards your goals? If you were to die tomorrow would you be happy about how you spent your days? With these questions in mind, go on your journey as a human being and as a future or current developer, using your time as suited towards these goals.
The Reminder of Death Erases Fear
This may be going into Nihilistic territory but let's face it, once each of us die, probably much of the actions in our lives and their impacts will be worth very little in the grand scheme of history and the universe. Damn, that sounds painful and depressing but there is a good side to this and a practical reason to mention this. With this fact in mind, many of the things we fear and are anxious about may not be the end of the world as we know it. In this way, all this anxiety we face begins to almost seem self-centered. We see petty things like what is this person thinking of me and does this person like me as meaning the world to us when in the end, it won't be anything for the entire world. Do you have a relative that is doubting your career goals as a developer? Well, what harm does the thoughts of others, things you can neither control nor sense, do to you? What will it mean in the grand scheme of everything? Is this worth wasting your limited time and energy that you will never get back? In the words of Marcus Aurelius:
At all times, look at the things itself - the thing behind the appearance - and unpack it by analysis:
- and the length of time it exists
With this and the inevitability of our death in mind, we can begin to judge things with clarity towards the purpose we seek for ourselves.
Furthermore, this mindset also allows us room to take more risks than we normally would be willing to take. With this new perspective of limited time and things being not nearly as fatal as we think, suddenly our limiting beliefs and fears seem silly. Do you want to waste your limited time and energy by being afraid of what others may think? Risk-taking is an important part of the learning process and achieving our goals in life and with this mindset, you can be more mentally prepared to do so. Again, in the words of our friend Marcus:
It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.
Don't fear letting your ego die but be afraid of that fear getting in the way of your mission in life. Don't even fear physical death because through it our lives get more meaning as I showed you. So go ahead and chase your dreams based on your own judgments and not that of others. Do more things out of your hopes and values than out of your fears.
But John... by this logic aren't my goals in life futile anyways? Can this not be an excuse to just do whatever the hell I want to do while ignoring the consequences? That doesn't sound right to me.
You do bring up a good point there. The way I see it is that while you alone are very limited in your impact, that isn't an excuse to not do whatever you can to make an impact according to your values. While you can have the depressing Nihilistic mindset that nothing matters and so you shouldn't try anyway, why chose to live with the dread of that thinking? You chose the meaning there is in life based on the values you hold. Value the things that help you make the most out of our short time here. Those values can be in being the best developer you can be, teaching others, creating a startup that improves the quality of life, or whatever suits you. In the end, while you may not be able to move mountains, your contributions will help the collective move them inch by inch. Who knows, maybe you can end up moving it much further than you could have imagined.
In short, if you want to maximize your time, you need to keep in your consciousness the futility of life. Through it, you are given the ultimate reminder that your time here is limited and if you misuse it, you may never get to experience what you truly want. Embrace the futility of it all, remembering that much of what you experience, the fears you thought were overwhelming, the good memories, and likely all of your accomplishments, will eventually be long gone. Yet, this isn't a reason for you to not care about anything. Enjoy what time you have to its fullest; explore, learn, enjoy, strive, accomplish, and don't take for granted your time, energy, belongings, and relationships. As a rule of thumb, think more often of what you would regret or look back to on your deathbed and use that to guide you in your endeavors. As the stoics would say: Memento Mori; remember death. Thanks for reading.
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