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April 24th, 2021
It feels far more satisfying to knock off a whole bunch of things from the to-do list than just one. It’s similar to the difference between reading a bunch of short chapters versus one long chapter. Though the same amount of time may have passed, one instance is more varied in composition and because of this it feels longer, as opposed to doing one thing all day. Though doing one repetitive thing might drag in the moment, at the end of the day there’s often an eerie wonder about where it all went.
These points about a single day extrapolate to weeks, months, year, and a whole lifetime. Doing the same thing for a decade makes it feel as though the decade flashed by when it finally is over. Switch jobs a dozen times, take on different projects, and then it’s as though that decade was packed. And there’s probably a fairly straight forward explanation for the different experiences of time.
Doing the same thing repeatedly requires less and less mental effort as we get used to the process. In essence, we don’t have to pay attention to things that are automatic, which is what happens with anything done repeatedly for enough time. Imagine that, just not paying attention to life as it’s passing you by because you’re so used to what’s going on, and what will happen tomorrow that you don’t really even have to pay attention to it.
The new, the different, the thing we have to figure out, learn and don’t at first understand - these require attention without choice. Learning something new is one the easiest way to get a visceral sense of the moment, though it’s often not a pleasant one because the default state of learning is confusion - if you aren’t confused and understand it, then you’ve already learned it. Learning on some degree has to happen when we switch things up and work on something new. Of course this functions on a spectrum. The more radically different the new work, the more of a dog-ear that will mark in the pages of your life, and in some sense, dog-earring one’s life is the point here because it’ll ensure that life feels full when it’s finally coming to a close.
Perhaps this explains why time feels so long as a child, and seems to speed up as we get older. As children everything is new. There’s so much to learn, figure out and explore that a single day can feel like a book of a thousand chapters, and then as we get older the variety of experience radically decreases with jobs that go on repeatedly in much the same way for years and decades with almost no real change.
A fulfilling life is all about switching gears, marking time out episodes in an adventure. Notice how little repetition exists in all the adventure stories of our heroes. An adventure story never stays in one gear for the whole time, it’s constantly switching and mixing up. The good news is that as the age of human mechanized labor gets replaced by robots, this will unpleasantly force people into a position that requires being able to switch gears fluidly and more often. While it sounds less stable, it’s more agile, which is more able in the long run, and more importantly, more memorable.