Do what's valuable

. 2 min read

There's an abundance of career advice videos online. Some of them tell you to follow your passion; some say do what you're always procrastinating to do; some tell you to ditch passion and fulfill a need. One I watched yesterday told me to be "altruistic", aka "do what's valuable".

Three things:

first, the speaker probably doesn't know what altruism is,
second, acts of true altruism are hard to do, and
third, altruistic and valuable are hardly the same thing.

(There's even a Kurzgesagt video on YouTube that talks about "egoistic altruism" - as if that was not a clear and unresolvable contradiction of terms. Making the world a better place selfishly is obviously not altruism.)

Altruism means placing the needs and wants of others above your own, so much so that the happiness of those others are at the cost of yours. In truly altruistic acts, you are not even allowed to feel good about yourself when helping others. You must resent the help you give with all your heart for the act to be truly altruistic.

So if the path to a good life and a good career is to be altruistic, meaning, making others' lives better at the cost of your own happiness or quality of life, won't you then get the reward of having a good life and a good career? If the result is the betterment of your life, how can your work have been altruistic?

There is no intrinsic value in suffering. It can give you meaning if it's inevitable and you're a prisoner in a labor camp, and it can be worth it on your way to something bigger. But in itself, when it can be avoided, it's pointless.

Helping others can be a good idea, as long as it's not altruistic.

Doing something valuable is a good idea, as long as it's not altruistic.

Create value, but create it selfishly. Pursue excellence, and pursue it selfishly. Help others, but do it because it makes you feel good.

Making your life better is a process that makes the lives of others better as well. It's a non-zero sum game. Play it.


Photo by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash