Yesterday, I showed that the career, an all-or-nothing model, amounts to high-stakes gambling. Either you get and secure the $100,000-200,000/year position, or you do not. If you do secure the position, you fear losing it, fear being sick, fear being unable to pay off your debts, and so work yourself/are worked to the bone, thereby realizing many of your fears. If you don’t, then you’re not sure what you can do otherwise and you’re incentivized to up the ante (relocate, hustle, etc.) and gamble again. Either way, the house wins.
If you conceived of a career as a certain kind of game and knew how the game worked, then you’d conclude before you even began playing that the house always wins. Consider how much you’d have to ante up simply to be able to come to the table:
- Time: Somewhere between 4 years minimum and 15 years maximum (BS, MD, residency, post-doc fellowship) of your life;
- Resources: Approximately $20,000 to $200,000, typically in loans;
- Excellences: The acquisition of a highly specialized set of tools, skills, and a discrete body of knowledge that may or may not–after 4 to 15 years–have any, or as much, market value.
Now consider the risks:
- Volatility: A job market which is highly variable and not, contrary to what some economists would have you believe, all that predictable;
- Potential Earnings: These fluctuate. Sometimes, the payoff is quite high. Sometimes, due to a streak of bad luck or bad hands, the payoff doesn’t come.
- Specialization: The claim that you can do this one thing very well does not entail that there are careers in which doing this one thing well yields material rewards.
- Stuckness: You’re early 30s to mid-40s, you’ve done this one thing for 1 to 2 decades, it’s awful for any number of reasons, but because you’re in debt or because you’ve overspent or because you have dependents (etc.) or because you’ve no clue what you could do with your life, you’re stuck: you can’t roll back the clock, and you can’t go on this way for another 10 years.
The career is high-stakes gambling. First you’re encourage to bet high, then you lose. Then you notice that you keep losing, but you’re forced to stay in the game because you’re incentivized to believe that it’s the only way you can make up for your increasing loses. Walking away is too risky, but staying in the game is too costly. The House always wins, therefore, because even when on the rare occasion when you win, in the long run you lose.
Tomorrow, I’ll propose that there’s a good way out of all this.
How can we get the hang of being surprised?
In Part 1, I discuss the importance of being surprised, arguing that philosophical inquiring presents us with two kinds of surprises: perplexities and illuminations. In Part 2, I discuss the cultivation of lightness in the presence of surprise. Today, in the final part, I explore the difference between other states of mind and an inquiring state of mind.
An Inquiring State of Mind
Inquiring springs from a simple human urge: the desire to know something about ourselves that we do not already know. Once voiced, this sense of unknowing can repeat itself indefinitely in the guise of ‘I don’t know,’ can be denied and refused as though it had never been uttered or experienced, or, through proper training, can be transformed into a way of setting out. This last mode is an invitation to take a risk in the hope of finding something out together.
In Part 1, I discuss the importance of being surprised, arguing that philosophical inquiring presents us with two kinds of surprises: perplexities and illuminations. Today, I discuss the cultivation of lightness in the presence of surprise.
2. The Cultivation of Lightness
One important benefit of learning the art of inquiry is that we become prepared to face up to the ordinary surprises that life reveals to us. Let’s suppose, as I believe we have reason to do, that everyday life is comprised of ordinary surprises, plenty of events occurring in ways or at times that we hadn’t expected, anticipated, or foreseen. We may be disposed to ‘face up’ to these ordinary surprises in any number of unfruitful or problematic ways. In the eyes of the untrained and unvigilant, most attitudinal and emotional responses seem almost like reflex actions, simply–and incorrectly–a deep part of ‘our nature.’
On the one hand, we may respond to an ordinary surprise by raising the intensity of its significance too far up the positive scale. We may simply be astonished, amazed, or nonplussed. Should we accord the event an even greater importance to our lives or our projects, we may experience unwarranted jubilee, ebullience, elation, or ecstasy. A trifle of a surprise gift shouldn’t make us overjoyed to the point of ‘losing ourselves,’ as though our flourishing depended too much on good fortune, the latest news, or good reputation.
On the other hand, we may be disposed to be startled or shocked by surprises, the implication being that this event is creeping up to the status of a threat. In some cases, we may be disappointed or dismayed, and in others frightened, horrified, or paralyzed.
In the following series of posts, I’d like to say some things about the kind of genre philosophical inquiry is and about the kind of character the practice of inquiry can cultivate. First, I’ll say some things about the nature of surprises in general and about the kinds of surprises–perplexities and illuminations–that emerge during philosophical inquiring. Then, I’d like to offer the thought that inquiring prepares a conversation partner to be on the look-out for ordinary surprises and, when these occur, to suspend judgment and to be courageous and light. I’ll conclude with some thoughts about how inquiring can train us to see surprises as occasions for moving from perplexity to illumination. This inquiring cast of mind, I’d venture, can be discerned as much in inquisitive children as in joke-tellers, in mathematicians as in Nietzsche’s playful gods.
1. On the Importance of Being Surprised
We’re surprised, naturally, when we don’t see it coming. Some event occurs unexpectedly or contrary to our expectations and, during the occurrence, the event shows itself, going unnamed. The pronoun without an antecedent is apropos in this instance, and the name has to ‘grow some legs’ so that it can ‘hurry’ to ‘catch up.’