free html hit counter
Posted on: Monday, January 7, 2019 by Rajiv Popat

Back in 2008, about ten years ago, I wrote this blog post where I self righteously proclaimed that when it comes to the time you spend at work, eight hours a day aren't good enough and everyone should spend way more time at their workplace. Like an absolute idiot of the highest grade and kind, who has no life outside of work, I announced:

Eight hours a day might be good enough for a job but they may not be good enough for a profession. And they are absolutely no good for keeping a passion alive. If you can’t love what you do, maybe you need to stop right now.  Look harder for profession you can love. Seriously, if you are going to be an unknown-programmer who writes depressing programmer poetry - it’s best that you chase your dreams in a profession you love.

In just a couple of years, my life took a complete U turn and I was asking programmers to Work Less, Stay Focused And Say No To Random Meaningless Slogging:

Work less, stay focused and if you find yourself moving into a constant firefighting mode for fifteen hours a day and you cannot get shit done, learn how to say no, logout and get some sleep. The same applies for your team if you happen to be leading one.

Couple of years later someone asked a generic question on Reddit - How many hours a day do you work - and I promptly went so far as saying that no-one works for more than 25 hours a week and if you did real work 30 hours a week you would be a rock star:

If your definition of work is producing real and efficient output, the real figure would be more around 25 hours a week.

Let’s be real here - Most work that you do at work is not really work – Filling timesheets, expense-sheets, TPS Reports (:) ) and goofing around with colleagues / friends isn’t work. Reddit isn’t work either. :)

Spend about 30 hours a week “in flow” without gossip, chats, email, twitter and a thousand other beeps and popups distracting you and you should be a star performer at work.

Once you do that for a few years, you can spend more time at work if you love what you do and experience flow but keeping tab of the “number of hours” and just spending time in office to meet that number doesn't make you more productive.

Ask me the same question today and I will tell you that I strongly believe that if anyone did real focused deep work for 15 hours a week, they would be awesome. At 20 hours a week they would probably be top performers in most workplaces.

The early part of this blog endlessly talks about 'passion for work' one post after another. I even wrote childish poems on my passion. Then as I grew older I started questioning what passion really is and my idea of passion completely flipped on it's head. Now I genuinely believe that passion is one of the most overrated things out there.

What's going on here?

Why are my opinions changing in such strikingly contradicting ways?

If you look at the tone and style of my original post on spending more time in office, it's loud, opinionated, assertive and authoritative. Now my tone is much more toned down and inclusive. My opinions are changing over time and so am I. What you see is a classic example of Strong Opinions, Weakly Held. When you give yourself the freedom to change your opinions (even the ones which are really strong) you give yourself the freedom to change your personality over time and evolve as a better person.

I do realize that I sometimes confuse people with constantly evolving opinions. One could argue that if your opinions change so frequently, what is your fixed reality and can your current opinions at any given time be trusted? When you are constantly growing and your opinions are constantly changing evolving, it's easy to confuse yourself as a phony or to give an impression to others that you are clueless... or even worse; that you are actively trying to just prove them wrong by confronting their ideas and opinions because you have a secret vindictive agenda against them.

But then, changing opinions, ability to contemplate, question and challenge both sides of the same idea is what makes us fundamentally human. This is exactly how everything from medicine to space theory has evolved. Doctors for example, know something; till the time there is a breakthrough and then everything they know is wrong and they must unlearn what they know and learn, know and believe something completely contradictory.

In the medical space, every new breakthrough changes everything the doctors know about a particular disease and it's treatment. It doesn't mean that what the doctors knew before was completely useless. It was still saving lives. But the new knowledge and the newly formed approaches to treatment just takes the science of medicine forward and a doctor who is willing to evolve rapidly with the evolving science of medicine is able to help his patients better. There are times for instance when medical science sometimes goes full circle and even starts looking at medicines that were used hundreds of years ago. The doctors who are using science to learn from ancient medicine aren't losers. They are just willing to entertain the thought that maybe they don't have all the answers. It's called research for a reason. You search something, you have an answer, and then you search the answer to the same question again; re-search.

Aristotle once said:

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

And sometimes when you entertain really good ideas and give them a fair chance, you become a better human being. The process is not about jumping from one idea to another like a monkey. The process is about questioning everything with logic, intellect and with the eye of a philosopher who wants to get to the truth. One philosopher who played this game rather well was Socrates. I find this episode about Socrates particularly amusing:

After his service in the war, Socrates devoted himself to his favorite pastime: the pursuit of truth.

His reputation as a philosopher, literally meaning 'a lover of wisdom', soon spread all over Athens and beyond. When told that the Oracle of Delphi had revealed to one of his friends that Socrates was the wisest man in Athens, he responded not by boasting or celebrating, but by trying to prove the Oracle wrong.

So Socrates decided he would try and find out if anyone knew what was truly worthwhile in life, because anyone who knew that would surely be wiser than him. He set about questioning everyone he could find, but no one could give him a satisfactory answer. Instead they all pretended to know something they clearly did not.

Finally he realized the Oracle might be right after all. He was the wisest man in Athens because he alone was prepared to admit his own ignorance rather than pretend to know something he did not.

Challenging your own opinions and opinions of people around you can be fun. But like all good things it comes at a price. To lead a happy life with constantly evolving opinions, and to embrace the constant questioning of opinions through discourse, you need like minded people around you. People who understand that you are challenging their thoughts and opinions not because you don't 'support' them or you don't 'trust' them; but instead, you are just trying to probe deeper and form your own opinions, ideas and relative reality; so that when you independently come to the conclusions they have come to, you can trust and support them with even more conviction. Sometimes you probe and question ideas and opinions not because you want to fight these ideas and opinions, but because you want to believe them and embrace them with your own independently formed conviction. By questioning and challenging people with your own logic and pragmatic thinking you're trying to make their truth, your truth and make their opinions, your opinions.

With time, I am learning that not everyone wants to understand a philosophy of having strong opinions weakly held. Not everyone wants to dissect opinions they hold strongly and inspect them. There are people who are thin skinned and easily offended. As I grow older I am starting to realize that people often have a fixed reality of life. A fixed map of how they navigate their world and a fixed set of ideas which let them differentiate between good and bad. I am starting to believe that even people who live their life based on a single story should be allowed to live, peacefully.

And if you really want to focus on your intellectual growth and the quest of the truth through logical debate and discourse, without room for feelings or fear of offending someone, you will always find plenty of adventurous people who are open to the idea of fierce logical intellectual arguments and putting their ideas in the intellectual battle ground with yours, match after match to see which ones win and which ones perish, without taking it personally. People who are open to even accepting and embracing your ideas if they win on the merits of logic and depth. People who don't necessarily agree with you all the time; but people who are... your tribe. People who aren't ashamed to learn from you and people who have the capacity to teach you. People who also believe in strong opinions weakly held and the evolution of thought.

The beauty about having documented your thoughts for decades is that you have a live written running documentary on how your brain is evolving. Your writings shows you how you have evolved and changed  as a person over decades. Every-time I go back and read a post or two on my blog, all I find is contradictions. Sometimes the contradictions are so strong that I feel the urge to delete my older posts in an attempt to scrub my stupidity off from public eye; but then, this stupidity and evolution is what makes me... me. It should surprise me, or depress me, or make me feel all confused and phony, but it doesn't. It just makes me happier and open to embracing new stories, ideas, opinions and realities.

Life is so much more than living with just a single story. And if you are the thin skinned kind who wants me to trust you without questioning your opinions or if you want me to not ask questions for the fear of offending people, I won't judge you, but all I will do is make one last humble attempt to try and nudge you towards seeing multiple sides of the same truth and see more than one story of your life. I can't guarantee you success or happiness, but I can tell you that life becomes much more interesting when you do that. Here is to curiosity and adventure of seeking your own truth and then re-seeking it. This year, instead of throwing in emotions and feeling all offended anytime your ideas are challenged, throw your ideas in the ring of logical debate without excessive emotions, see if they win only on the merit of logic, let them go if they don't, embrace new ideas and enjoy some controlled confusion. I promise you, you will see your life become much more colorful. Happy new year.