It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?
As the world becomes increasingly connected, we will continue to find more opportunities to express ourselves. This creates the temptation to spend more time on the expressing rather than that which is expressed.
Mankind still competes with one another for our survival. Where we once fought for mating rights and the best cut of meat, we now fight for advertising space, and likes and shares on social media. The goal of a business is to convince others of its worth, and ultimately, receive compensation for it.
Again, we must remember that time spent convincing others of our worth is time spent not increasing that worth. There is a need for extending one’s social reach, but it often comes at the cost of creativity and production. The effort we put into one endeavor cannot be placed into another. Rather than take part in this practice, I have always ascribed to the If you build it, they will come philosophy, while remembering the words of Cal Newport:
“Become so good they can’t ignore you.”
Our progress walks hand in hand with our ability to delay gratification, whether it be financial benefit or social esteem. The dopamine fix that comes from likes on Facebook is a result of an effort that requires little concentration or time investment (meaning, little to no personal development). The men and women who will add value to the world are those that can toil away in solitude, performing the deep work of concentration and attention, eschewing one donut now in order to have two, or two hundred, later.
The value of a task is proportional to the investment of time and effort.
As the world moves toward these endeavors of minimal concentration, there will be a void waiting to be filled by those willing to put in the work. With increased accessibility to endeavors which misuse our time, we may actually find less competition in the pursuits that prove most meaningful.
“It’s lonely at the top. Ninety-nine percent of people in the world are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre. The level of competition is thus fiercest for ‘realistic’ goals, paradoxically making them the most time and energy-consuming.” -Tim Ferriss
Our culture is spending more time in matters that create less value. We find a subtle example of this in nature. Trees grow toward the forest canopy as they compete for exposure. As a result, nearly all of the tree’s energy is used in its promotion, growing the branches which raise the leaves, rather than its product, the leaves themselves.
Yet, unlike the trees, we have a choice.
Spark Your Growth
I believe that if you invest in yourself, and become valuable to your society, you will eventually be compensated for the value you provide.
Let the world flail about in matters of little importance. They may prove beneficial in the short-term, but, ultimately the return on investment is minuscule. When determining a course of action, my internal dialogue has always been, "Will this lead to the best possible version of myself?" This self will be achieved by paying close attention to my daily habits, and avoiding those which do not serve my aim. After all, in the words of Annie Dillard,
"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."