Enjoying vs improving the world: A false dilemma

Published on Jan 17, 2019

I was having dinner with a friend last night and my Day 7 post sparked a little discussion, about a dilemma between enjoying the world today, or working hard to improve it. In the post I talked about how I seem to be tilting towards enjoying life and the world more and more, instead of being anxious about not working, about not making a difference.

Then it hit me. Why even "improve the world"? Whose ideal is that? Why do I have to choose between only 2 options? Is that a false dichotomy? I think I'd never really questioned that before, in a deep and honest way to myself. Helping vulnerable groups in altruistic ways, making work that had social impact and serves the public good, had always been a north-star anchor and an unquestioned assumption. It had guided my career and life for for the past 10 years. 

It's time for a change.

Not change for change's sake though. I'm just not sure the whole "change the world" narrative was mine to start with. It felt more like a nice preloved toy that was passed down to me. That's not saying that care professions like doctors, nurses, social workers, etc don't matter. They are noble professions, and will continue to be so. I'm more coming from a point whether the path still makes sense to me. 

I think I came into the path of wanting to be involved in social impact work at a time when I was still fresh out of university, and still figuring out my way through the world via work. And unpleasant experiences working with for-profit MNCs and working for the bottomline made me turn away from them. And since I had a bad experience with for-profit, maybe it's moral opposite will work for me. Therefore, work in social impact space and in government. And I went into it with a vengeance - ok poor word to use...more like burning passion.  

Now that fire had burned out, and it's easier to see through the smoke and heat.

Perhaps "improve the world" is a noble and legit path for many others in the world. I tried it to its end, and found that now I must make my own path, whatever that may be. It may still be related to social impact, but I'm no longer beholden to it. Most importantly, I don't have to - don't want to - see my work in binary terms anymore. It's a false dilemma to start with. We shouldn't have to choose between enjoying vs improving the world. There's work that can do both at the same time. Work that's unique for each and every one of us. We just have to find it.

I'm rambling now. I'm not even sure I'm making sense tbh. It was more of a stream of consciousness post. There was a lot swirling within, and much of it needed to come out for me in order for me to make sense of it, as I typed. Perhaps this quote by Howard Thurman would do more justice to how I feel now:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”