In my day job, I am a philosopher. I’m lucky to get to spend most of my time thinking, reading, and writing about ideas to share them with others. Another thing that I am is a workaholic. Regardless of field or profession, it’s certainly possible to get to a point where you’re beginning to feel burned out and, even if you like your job, generally unlike yourself. To help me think my way out of my workaholic tendencies, and begin to feel more lively again, I want to walk you through two books that I’ve found useful in thinking about work and life balance.
Two Books Worth Your Time
The first book is an old one, Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism from 1905. In it, Weber observes that a lot of people, especially, he thinks, German Protestants, make work a major priority in their lives because it is the way to living a moral life.
A lot of those German Protestants, in the same time period that Weber studies, moved to the US and I think a lot of that attitude that work was the fastest way to achieving a moral life is through working as much as possible. It has lived on in the distinctly American idea about pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps.
The other book is a lot more recent, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. The author, a psychologist, makes the case that people’s brains work in two systems. The first, system I, is what we use to do things that are easy: opening the front door, driving a car, and so on. This system is great for low-level tasks that do not require much critical thought but do need some attention to do well. System II, on the other hand, is for tasks that need immediate, careful thought such as reading an argument for its validity. System II is by far the superior system for thinking, but it burns valuable resources such as glucose a lot faster than system I.
My suspicion, reading those two books in conversation with one another, is that many of us have been enculturated into working hard as much as possible, at things that require a lot of System II thinking and, thus we end up burnt out. So, how do we solve this?
From my perspective, doing a little system II training in a way that’s also restful might be the answer. One such thing that I can think of is engaging in hobbies.
For example, I enjoy cooking. It takes some preparation, planning, and skill to cook well. All of those are system II, and getting good at staying in a system II state of mind makes cooking go well: getting good at entering that state through a hobby might make the work day go by a lot faster. Also, healthy, nourishing food provides the calories necessary for the brain to keep running, so that’s a major bonus of my particular hobby.