How To Be Lazy

On philosophical laziness and the hustle trap

How To Be Lazy

A few years ago, back in college, I was proudly lazy. I could take up to five courses every semester, but I only ever took four. While friends and peers pursued internships during the summer, I whiled them away doing nothing.

In my view, the 'hustlers' were almost always chasing something meaningless, whether an impressive resume or a perfect grade. I thought I was smarter, that I could see behind the curtain.

Then, dear readers, adulthood hit me. I don't remember what it feels like to be lazy anymore. Being proud of it is out of the question.

Falling into the hustle trap

I have to begrudgingly admit that I am now a hustler. I spend any free time I have alone working. The fact that I'm writing to you on a Sunday should be proof enough.

My hustle now is rooted in a sense of fear: of falling behind, of failing, of absolute chaos. If I do end up struggling, financially or otherwise, I don't want anyone to say it's because I didn't work hard enough.

In college, I had no fear of outcomes: the worst that could happen was a bad grade. As long as I was learning, no other scorecard mattered, whether that was my GPA or my resume. This was good: I was focused on process, not outcomes.

I chose intellectually rewarding projects that were hard to score well on. The course I got my worst grade for was the one I enjoyed the most. There was an understanding that the numbers did not matter, and there was freedom in that understanding.

from my wall in college, back in 2017

Recently, I've been chasing numbers obsessively, whether an annual salary or the size of my audience. If my effort isn't reflected in metrics, it feels like it doesn't matter.

I don't know what to say about it, other than that it's a much worse way of going about life.

What does it mean to break free?

I remember my time in college fondly, and especially the courage I had to reject the incentive structures of the world. That's what allowed me to be proudly lazy.

What has complicated things for me of late is the lack of that courage. I'm finding it hard to stick to my rejection of incentives, or rather, I'm curiously doubtful. Did I reject the numbers because of my authentic values, or was I just childishly refusing to recognize the harsh reality of adulthood?

As friends and colleagues move towards wealth, I feel like perhaps they have understood something I haven't. Of course, it could just as easily be the other way around, but it's impossible to tell.

One thing's for sure, though: I deeply miss being lazy. I miss strolling instead of pacing. I hope I can shed the hustle sometime soon and befriend idleness again.

This Week's Recommendation

A 100 years ago, Christopher Morley wrote about what he called 'philosophical laziness': i.e. having explored everything one could do in the world, and not finding much that is worth our exertion:

"Laziness is always dignified, it is always reposeful. Philosophical laziness, we mean. The kind of laziness that is based upon a carefully reasoned analysis of experience. Acquired laziness. We have no respect for those who were born lazy; it is like being born a millionaire: they cannot appreciate their bliss. It is the man who has hammered his laziness out of the stubborn material of life for whom we chant praise and alleluia."
Christopher Morley’s Classic Essay on Laziness
As you read Morley’s short essay (originally published in 1920), consider whether your definition of laziness is the same as the author’s.