When I hear someone use the phrase “I have no life,” I always wonder what exactly they mean. What makes a life a “life”? They breathe and they eat like everyone else, and yet there is something, let’s call it lifeyness, that they lack. What is it?
I sometimes imagine such a person at the hospital, hooked up to various machines with tubes and wires. The doctor examines his chart and remarks “Hmmm. Temperature, blood pressure, pulse, everything looks good… except, my god, this lifeyness level is in the toilet!“
If lifeyness is a score card, then what are the checkboxes to tick? What moves you up and down the lifey ladder? What makes something lifey?
I think that, conventionally, people who make this joke are referring to things like relationships, children, travel, quality time spent with family, hobbies. These are often the kind of things that will sound good at your funeral. She was always there for you. He was kind to dogs.
Now, in contrast, consider the person who has no life. Why do they lack lifeyness? Maybe they have no close relationships. They don’t go on vacations because they never take time off. They only think about one thing. They are no fun. Often this is because they work too hard.
So let’s say low lifeyness levels often correspond to obsessive grinding.
But there is an escape clause in this calculus of conventional lifeyness, in this vernacular karma. If you work obsessively and ignore your family, but you become famous and rich, you can still get a high lifeyness score. Your funeral will be crowded. This is because we always forgive geniuses and billionaires. They maintain robust lifeyness even if they are miserable bastards.
Maybe you disagree. Maybe you think billionaires shouldn’t be in the lifey club. Sorry pal. I don’t make the rules. I just muse about them ironically.
I think this comes down to what Steve Jobs called “denting the universe.” If you succeed in making a noticeable difference, in denting the universe, then you are rewarded with lifeyness despite the fact that you may have labored away in friendless monomania. There’s an old joke that nobody’s last words were ever “I wish I had spent more time at the office.” Everybody nods and smiles like this is obvious. But suppose all that time at the office brings you fame and glory. Now who’s laughing?
When viewed through the lifeyness lens, obsessive grinding is a high-risk, high-reward game. Maybe you’ll make it safely through the dental divide and into the glorious lifey uplands. Just remember, most people don’t! If it’s lifeyness you want, it’s a lot easier to be nice to dogs and sing beer-flavored songs with your friends.