Why my friend called me a capitalist

Do you ever dream about quitting your job and just traveling the world? No responsibilities, no stress, just fun and adventure.

I was talking about this with two friends the other night over dinner, and the conversation turned into an interesting debate, where I ended up being called a capitalist (which I’m not ashamed of 😉).

My one friend was telling us about how he took some time off after college to travel for about six months. He went around the world and saw a lot of things and had a great time. By the time he got to Southeast Asia, though, his excitement was dwindling. It wasn’t because of the region itself, but because he had been traveling for so long and not really doing much else (besides having a great time), that he was kind of over it. Sounds crazy, right? You’d think that traveling to different countries would offer so many diverse experiences that you could never get tired of it. Your only responsibilities would be to find your next meal and book your next Airbnb. Nobody would have expectations of you; life would be blissful.

My other friend said that sounded like a dream and couldn’t understand why someone would ever get tired of traveling like that. “I would love to never work again and just travel the world and relax. I could do that forever!” he said.

But here’s why I disagree.

Disclaimer: Traveling is one of my favorite things to do, and I’ll never pass up the opportunity for another adventure. I love vacations, I think they are totally necessary, and I think people in the US don’t take as many as they should. Traveling teaches you so much about life, about the world, about yourself, about empathy; I could write a book about it but I’ll leave it at that.

Despite my love for travel, I completely understand why my friend hit an excitement plateau later in his trip. Although it’s nice to have no work, no responsibilities and no alarm to wake up to, it’s not sustainable long-term. When pleasure is all you have, your life begins to lose purpose.

Although work can cause a lot of stress, I think the most beneficial aspect of it is that it gives you something to strive for, so that by the end of the day, you can look back at what you accomplished with a sense of fulfillment. It’s like that feeling you got in school when you finally turned in a paper that you stayed up all night to write. Yeah, it sucked writing it, but now you feel great!!

I’ve written before about the importance of having purpose in life. I don’t believe that purpose comes solely from work, but I do think that working gives you a sense of purpose that, when missing, leads to disillusionment about what you are doing with your life. When my friend was traveling for so long without work, although he was having a great time, he started thinking to himself, what am I doing?

When I say “work,” I don’t necessarily mean sitting behind a desk in an office at a 9-5. Work can mean different things to different people, but in general it means putting forth mental effort to achieve a result. For example, if I were in my friend’s shoes and began to feel indifferent towards my travel adventures, I would write a book. Finishing the book would be a solid goal to have, which would give me something to work towards every day and give me a reason to wake up each morning. I might have a bit more stress than if I didn’t write the book at all, but I would also have a bunch of mini accomplishments throughout that would give me fulfillment. Each chapter finished would give me a sense of pride and motivation to keep working towards the goal. Think about how I would feel once I finished the book, versus if I had never even started it in the first place. That’s what I mean when I say that work gives you purpose.

I’m obviously not saying that to have purpose, you need to lock yourself in a room and work until you’ve achieved a tangible result. That’ll just make you go mad. And we know what that can lead to…

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Although I did feel like this every finals week in college…

Nobody knows the purpose of life here on earth, but I believe that everyone’s life here on earth has purpose. We’re all intelligent creatures with so much more potential than just floating through life, enjoying the scenery. Unlike other species, we have the ability to reason and think critically and create works of art like Moonlight Sonata or E=mc^2, which continue to impact the world decades after their creation. Doesn’t that inspire you to strive for more than just pleasure as your ultimate goal?

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with work to the point that you just want to veg out forever, but you’ll find that vegging out for an extended period of time takes its toll. Although traveling is far from vegging out, if you are just repeatedly taking in the pleasures without ever achieving anything, your journey can start to lose meaning. That’s why it helps to have something to work towards, so every day you have little accomplishments that will keep you motivated and keep you aware of your contribution to the world, no matter how small.

“That’s the most capitalist thing I’ve ever heard,” my friend said to me, after I explained my appreciation for the role that work plays in a fulfilling life. Although he might be lacking an adequate understanding of capitalism, I took it as a compliment. I don’t believe in living solely to work, but I do believe that some form of work is vital to living a life of purpose that you can look back on when you’re nearing the end and have a feeling of accomplishment, like when Beethoven was turned around at the end of his Ninth Symphony to see the crowd’s response.

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Overlooking Bamako, Mali
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