Some people suggest it isn’t practical for too many of us to become purpose-centered. Imagine what would happen if everyone on earth awakened to a noble purpose. While we’re all busy changing the world, who will clean our floors and dig our ditches? Will we all starve because no one will be willing to do the menial tasks? Won’t society crumble around us, leaving our good intentions without the necessary support structure?
Really when people ask these questions, they’re looking for an excuse to avoid facing the fact that they aren’t yet living a purpose-centered life. But this is still a serious question. What can we realistically expect will happen when enough of us awaken to a higher level of consciousness?
The purpose-centered ditch digger
Surely there are some people who enjoy doing tasks you’d consider menial. Maybe if everyone does what they love, plenty of people will choose to be ditch diggers, saving us from the ungodly prospect of a worldwide ditch shortage.
This is a popular answer to this conundrum, but personally I think it’s unrealistic to expect lots of people will consciously select janitorial services for their life purpose. While I do know a few people who willingly do tasks most would consider menial, I’m pretty sure they all have OCD.
After awakening to my own purpose, I certainly had much less desire to do cleaning, laundry, cooking, etc. I’d rather spend my time writing or speaking, and I don’t think it’s intelligent for me to spend my time doing tasks I don’t enjoy and which don’t contribute much to others.
When I really want to, I can put myself into a Zen-like state, fully centered in the present moment, and enjoy cleaning my house. But I find it far more productive to spend my time doing more purpose-centered work in a dirty house. Erin is the same way. Periodically we hire a cleaning service, which cleans our house in about 3 hours… doing a far better job than we can and in much less time. How can I justify cleaning my house, when I might spend that same time writing an article that will be just what someone needed to make a major, positive life-changing decision? In terms of overall impact, there’s no comparison. By any stretch of the imagination, I’m far better off writing than cleaning.
While some people find meaning in small acts of service, I think the concept of the purpose-centered ditch digger is largely a myth, so I don’t see it as a serious answer. I think it’s more likely that if everyone awakens to their purpose, most people won’t want to do menial tasks. But when you think about it, this is no different from where we are right now.
The carrot and the stick
How many of us are passionate about doing our taxes? Not many I assure you. But we do them anyway because there’s a behavioral solution in place. Behavioral conditioning gets people to fill roles they don’t really want to do. Some of this conditioning is environmental, like the threat of starvation, and some is social, like salaries and penalties.
Our worst attempt at using behavioral conditioning to do our dirty work was slavery. Today it’s wage slavery. Even well-paid white collar workers are falling into this trap. Many people work in jobs they hate because they’ve become attached to their salaries and don’t want to start over in a more inspiring field. That’s just fear talking though. To a highly conscious person, trading one’s purpose for a salary is a silly compromise because money brings no joy without purpose, so that high salary is just the modern form of a slave’s shackles. Truthfully when you get yourself on a purpose-centered path that provides real value to others, it shouldn’t be hard to make a great living from it.
You see… we already live in a world where most people don’t want to do menial or tedious tasks, and carrot-stick incentives are currently used to get those jobs done. It’s basically a form of force, although the carrot is seen as being more gentle than the stick. But meanwhile you’re programmed by social conditioning to value that carrot tremendously, even though it’s not particularly valuable by itself (aka consumerism).
As more people awaken, what will change is that the carrot and stick will become less effective motivators. As you become more conscious and aware, your fear fades, so external incentives that don’t already align with your purpose have much less power over you. You’ll do what needs to be done to avoid starving, but you won’t be manipulated into doing work you hate just because it pays a high salary.
So if everyone woke up to a noble purpose tomorrow, we’d still be able to feed ourselves. A purpose-centered person will still do what needs to be done. But menial tasks that weren’t really necessary would be cut. For example, people wouldn’t work in wage slave jobs making non-essential knick-knacks that no one really cares about. People wouldn’t waste time and energy making dumb movies, TV shows, toys, and games that don’t enhance our lives. A number of corporations would see no one show up for work because it would be obvious that the corporation only existed to make a profit, not a positive social contribution. For example, it’s hard to imagine that anyone who’s conscious and aware could willingly go to work for a tobacco company.
It’s unrealistic to expect an overnight mass awakening, however, so rest assured your cigarettes, alcohol, and junk food are safe for now. But at the same time, there’s no need to fear that a mass awakening will cause mass starvation. I’ll plant some veggies myself if I have to.
In the long run, I think automation is the most realistic solution for offloading menial tasks. Many of our menial tasks have already been delegated to machines, and I expect this trend will continue as computing power becomes ever faster and cheaper and new breakthroughs are made. There are lots of opportunities for major purpose-centered contributions in the technology sector today. I almost went that direction myself.
In college I specialized in artificial intelligence for my computer science major, and only at the last minute did I decide not to go for a Ph.D. I had excellent grades, glowing letters of recommendation, and the grad school applications mostly filled out, but after a lot of soul searching, I realized I needed to go a different route and learn to succeed in business. I still try to keep up from the sidelines though. One of my favorite authors in the field is Ray Kurzweil, a somewhat controversial figure who’s written several fascinating books like The Singularity is Near and The Age of Spiritual Machines. What I love about his books is that he brings together new developments from a variety of different fields, and he explains in detail how they might come together to dramatically change the world.
While it’s true that maintaining and supporting technology does add new forms of tedious work — someone has to grease the gears — I think we still see an overall net gain. Automating maintenance is gradually coming around as well. For example, many software programs automatically update themselves via the Internet, requiring little or no human intervention.
Automation will surely eliminate some jobs, and those jobs aren’t coming back. Once a task has been intelligently automated, it’s obsolete. If you lose your job due to automation, train up to do something more valuable. If you’re betting on the status quo continuing forever, you might as well come to Las Vegas and pump your money into a slot machine. Incidentally, did you know that most Vegas slot machines no longer pay your wins by spitting out coins? Many don’t even have coin slots anymore, so you can’t even insert a quarter. Your wins and loses are electronic now, and when you cash out, the machine will print you a bar-coded ticket to take to a cashier. In the future they’ll probably eliminate the printed tickets as well. Maybe someday you’ll be able to walk past a scanner at the buffet and be told how much money you lost that day.
Automating awakening… or awakening automation
Interestingly it looks like the process of automation and the process of human awakening may be keeping pace with each other. The more we automate our menial tasks, the more time we have to make a larger contribution. Automation also gives us time for introspection, meditation, journaling, deep conversation, and lots of other awareness-raising pursuits.
As we begin to enjoy the intrinsic rewards of purpose-centered living, we look for ways to free up more time to do what we love most. We therefore attach more value to automation. This demand eventually leads to financial incentives (i.e. carrots) for automating tasks, so investors and entrepreneurs will be financially motivated to satisfy that demand. But more than that, the potential for meaningful contribution attracts purpose-centered people to the field. If you can invent something that saves people a lot of time or trouble on a large scale, you’ve made a pretty massive contribution.
Furthermore, as we become more purpose-centered, we lose interest in idle distractions and destructive addictions. We cut the fluff from our lives. This reduces demand for products and services of low social value, increasing the chance that some of those resources will be reinvested in worthwhile automation.
So we have this symbiotic relationship between automation and awakening. As we awaken we create more demand for automation. And as we automate, we create more opportunities for awakening.
What’s your best contribution?
What’s important is that we each make the best contribution we can. If you’re working in a job you hate just to pay the bills, you’re robbing this wonderful planet of the real contribution you could be making. I’m sure you have plenty of reasons why you must play it safe, but deep down you know they’re just fear-based excuses. Would your excuses still seem rational if you felt no fear? The world doesn’t need any more Einsteins working as patent clerks, no matter how worried they are about paying their bills.
Ask yourself this: Are you currently making the best contribution you’re capable of making? If the answer is clearly no, then there’s no point in continuing on your current path, is there? Common sense suggests that if you know you’re on the wrong path, you should stop walking. The longer you stay on the wrong path, the worse things are for all of us. Maybe it will take a few days to find the right path. Maybe it will take several years. But it’s still better to be lost for several years than to be lost for a lifetime.
Once you do discover your purpose, the next step is to summon the courage to act on it. For some people this is an easy transition, but for others it’s the most difficult step of all. Don’t let the challenge discourage you. If you have a big purpose, then your task is to grow into it. If it takes years, it takes years. We aren’t leaving without you.