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Being Earnest (and Maybe Happy)

Being Earnest (and Maybe Happy)

“If you’re going to try, go all the way,” Bukowski once wrote. Do so even if it means you alienate yourself from loved ones, lose your mind, and end up in jail because going all the way is “the only good fight there is.”

There is indeed a certain sense of idolization awarded to people who are capable of mustering such devotion, whether it is a researcher tirelessly seeking to cure cancer or an Olympian obsessively training for perfection. Yet, if you listen to them in their moments of frankness, they often speak of unbelievable sacrifices, struggles, and “normal” things that they missed out on because pursuing greatness is a full time job.

If we are to be great, we must be earnest in our studies. We must practice diligently. We must minimize our indulgences in hedonistic trivialities and distractions, or so they say. The path to greatness is often an arduous and alienating one, where one’s best efforts do not ensure success. While some may find contentment in this demanding pursuit, happiness is not necessarily a prerequisite for greatness and vice-versa.

While it’s one thing for an individual to decide on their own that they will dedicate their life to a singular purpose, it’s an entirely different matter for another to guide someone down that path. While I want my students to accomplish great feats, I also want them to be happy, which can be conflicting wishes at times. When asked for advice on which path a student ought to take, I often hesitate. One path is the more manageable way of satisficing. I tell them that school and grades aren’t everything. That it’s ok to take time off and to enjoy life. Finding a balance and putting things into perspective is as important as being great.

Or rather I could nudge them towards the good fight. I can tell them to live with an uncompromising sense of purpose, completely immerse themselves in achieving their goal while forsaking all else. Be truly yourself and ignore the ridicule and scorn that their classmates might throw their way and just go all the way.

While tough love might forge greatness, from a mental health perspective, endorsing the Bukowski way sounds like a burnout waiting to happen. Without putting on the brakes at some point, many of us could inevitably break. So what are we to do? Then, an illuminating voice whispers in my ears: Bukowski was a complete drunk who spent most of his time smoking cigarettes and chasing prostitutes, but he turned out quite all right.

Mark Kawakami, Assistant Professor Faculty of Law

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2018-06-14: Inesss
I think the problem is putting this those two together, greatness and happiness. The whole life is about being able to compromise, make choices and sacrifices, not only when we are trying to achieve something great, also when just trying to stay alive and have a nice roof over our heads. This is just part of life. The question should be are we going to accept even more sacrifices in order to achieve more in some other field of life? But isn't it just a normal part of life again, we cannot have everything, if we pursue one thing then there is less time for the other, great or not great. We have to learn to live with our choices and learn to accept the consequences happily, then being happy won't be an option but everyday reality. I think right now people have a lot of comfort and choices compared to say, 100 years ago. And still we are debating happiness. Maybe too many opportunities are making it more difficult to make a choice and too much comfort to accept the difficulties of the consequences? Sorry for the long reply, got very phylosophical 😉 I feel at the uni there is a lot of "push" for the students to dream big, make great carriers but instead of a dream it became an obligation pushing young people into anxiety. The other part, making sacrifices and how to deal with them is not really discussed.

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