The Carrot and the Stick

I can’t say that I like working. I’m a lazy person at heart. It is therefore ironic and very unfortunate that I’m headed towards a very demanding job, which will require me to be at my best every single second that I’ll be on duty. But this is a contradiction, a paradox, that plays out all the time. We usually end up doing the things we don’t want to do, while passing on the things that we really want to do. 

I want to sit in my own home, sleep, relax and maybe read a few books from time to time. I’d even indulge in writing a little bit. I could maintain a journal, or explore some obscure topic in the world and write about that. I could take a pebble and spend hours looking at it, watching it ‘grow’. I’d travel and spend all my time in lavish hotels, or set up camp in the wilderness. I’m haunted by these thoughts from time to time, and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. 

The sad fact is that I’m not the son of a billionaire with a trust fund that could probably feed the country for a year. If I don’t work hard right now, I’ll never have the chance to NOT work that hard in the future. If I don’t use my youthful energy in laying the foundation for the years to come, I will live to regret it. Or I’ll probably be dead, in which case it won’t matter.

I will not get the lady of my dreams if all I’m interested in is sleeping in smelly clothes with a laptop on my chest and junk food all over the room. I want to do something meaningful in this life. Something that will better the lives of millions of people all over the world. I think it’s an attempt to justify my existence. It’s an attempt to prove that I’m worthy of all the privileges that I have received simply because I was born at the right time and to the right parent. 

I wonder what I would have done if I were born before Google. When getting exposure and information meant walking barefoot to class. When books were hard to come by and very expensive. When running water was nonexistent and people had to walk for twenty kilometers to get water. When electricity was the stuff of legends and people who had it were deemed to be royalty or filthy rich. When you prayed not to get sick simply because a simple illness could be your death sentence. 

All this is not in the past. I see it all the time. I see people who work hard to improve their lot, but the obstacles in their way are too many and too insurmountable. When will these people get the time to read when they have to worry about what to eat at the end of the day? Will such people have the leisure time to think of ways to change the world while their stomachs are crying for food?

I know what they must feel when they look at other people who have the privileges and opportunities that they desperately crave. I know because I feel it when I look at others who are better placed than I am. I feel angry when I see them squandering opportunities, time and money that have been availed them by their loving parents. I feel it like a knife to the chest, because of my desire to be in the same position. And I realize that others who are worse off must be looking at me in the same light. 

This is why I cannot slack. I cannot insult the good fortune that has been accorded to me. I know I’m not worthy of it. The only thing I can do is to work hard, work smart and create something that will lift others as well. Maybe then I can finally relax and indulge in my laziness. However, I have the feeling that the rest I’m looking for can only be found in death. 

 I’m not saying I live in a mansion surrounded with all the finer things that you could ask for in this life. Far from that. But isn’t it a privilege that I have full control of my faculties? That I can use a computer, have a smartphone, can access the internet? It’s a mighty privilege to have running water, to have a home, clothes on my back, food in my stomach. To have a loving parent. To have the privilege of being in campus, doing what I have always wanted to do. What have I done to deserve all this? I’m not worthy. Neither are you. Really. So what are we going to do about that?

That is my carrot. The race to have the autonomy, the capability and the justification to do what I want to do. The stick is the guilt of being in a good place and having privileges that other people do not. It is also the fear of failing to achieve what I have set out to do.

It is not noble. It is not sweet or philanthropic. It’s a young man working very hard to be lazy.