Tag Archives: work/life balance

How Much Agency Do We Really Have?

How much agency do we actually have in our day-to-day lives?

How much freedom do we actually enjoy on a pragmatic basis?

I ask these questions as part of another thought experiment, albeit one that requires more introspection than the others I’ve posed. I think it’s relevant at a time when we’re dealing with a global pandemic that has severely restricted everyone’s agency to significant degrees. It’s also relevant because it’s something we rarely scrutinize.

There’s another reason I’m discussing matters of agency. It has less to do with current events and more to do with frequent criticisms of certain stories. As an aspiring writer and an avid consumer, especially of superhero media, the agency of certain characters is an integral part of that process. You can’t tell a meaningful story without characters exercising some level of agency.

What has become a major issue in recent years is the source, degree, and structure surrounding that agency. I’ve noticed critics and consumers alike scrutinizing who makes the major choices in a story, as well as what role they play, how they look, and why they’re doing what they do. While these are relevant details, that scrutiny can be misguided.

I see it whenever a female character is perceived as having no agency or having too much.

I see it whenever a male character is perceived as being the only source of agency for every major detail.

I see it whenever a character of a different race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation play a role that isn’t just restricted to tokenism.

It has derailed many meaningful conversations about some genuinely great stories. It has also established this standard for some people that if any character with agency happens to be of a certain gender or ethnicity, they roll their eyes and discount the story as pushing some sort of agenda. I find that to be incredibly shallow and short-sighted.

That’s why I think it helps to analyze how much agency we think we have in the real world. It’s easy to quantify that agency within the rigid structure of a story, but the real world is larger, more complicated, and a lot less predictable. How can we determine how much agency we actually have in the grand scheme of things?

How much agency did you have in being born into a particular time, place, or socioeconomic level?

How much agency did you have in falling in love with the person you married?

How much agency did you have in getting the job you have or the career you pursued?

How much agency did you have in finding the friends and social circles you’re part of?

On the surface, it may seem like you’re exercising your ability to choose in these circumstance. I ask that you take a step back and think a bit harder about it.

When it comes to our lot in life, did we really have much say in the economic and social system that we’re part of? Sure, we can choose to not participate, but in doing so, we either starve to death because we don’t have money for food or we become completely isolated from the world and any semblance of social support.

We think we have choices when we go to the supermarket or a restaurant, but how many of those choices are already chosen for us? We don’t always by the cheapest brand of cereal because we want to. We buy it because we have to. In that same sense, we don’t always buy the car we want. We buy what we can afford.

To a large extent, our agency is incredibly limited by our economic resources. It’s limited even more by our social structure, as well. We can’t always do what we want, no matter how depraved. We can’t just walk outside naked, rub our genitals against the nearest person, and yell racial slurs at the top of our lungs. We’d get arrested, imprisoned, or ostracized, at the very least.

Even if what we do isn’t illegal, we still limit our choices because of peer pressure and social stigma. It’s not illegal to watch porn on a public bus, but it will get you odd looks and plenty of scorn. To some extent, we sacrifice some of our agency to maintain an orderly, functioning society. It’s just a question of how much we sacrifice and how much we’re willing cling to.

With all that in mind, see if you can take stock in the amount of agency you exercise in your day-to-day life. You may be surprised by how little or how much you actually have. It may not be the most interesting thought experiment you can do for yourself, but the implications it offers are profound.

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Filed under human nature, outrage culture, philosophy, psychology, Thought Experiment, writing

How I Would (Most Likely) Use A Self-Driving Car

The future can be scary at times, but the prospect of improved technology helps make it more exciting. I would argue it’s the most exciting part of the future. You see some of the fancy gadgets that tech companies are working on and you want to live long enough to use them, especially the sexy ones.

I’ve talked about emerging technology before. While I tend to be hopeful about the impact of certain technologies, I don’t overlook the existential dangers they pose. Some of those dangers are more relevant than others, but others are less fantastic and more pragmatic. One of those advances is self-driving cars.

Unlike some of the other advanced technologies that are decades away, this one already exists, albeit in a limited form. There are cars on the market today that can drive themselves in certain situations. I even had a chance to ride in one a couple years back. It works remarkably well, albeit it could only function on major highways.

There’s plenty of room for improvement, but it’s a promising start. The fact that it exists and is being refined as we speak means this is happening. It’s at an early stage, but like cell phones before it, the technology will continue to be refined. Eventually, it’ll get to the point where it’s better at navigating traffic than any human.

I honestly look forward to that day because I’m not a big fan of driving. I don’t mind it, but I’ve never been particularly fond of long drives, even if it’s for a vacation. My back gets sore, my arms get stiff, and I just get frustrated after the third hour behind the wheel.

It’s because of my aversion to long drives that I don’t take as many trips as I wish. I believe that if I had access to a perfectly functioning self-driving car, that would change. If the technology were refined to a point that I’d just type in an address and let it do the rest, then I would definitely go on trips. .With that in mind, I’d like to share a brief anecdote for how I would use a self-driving car.

It’s Friday night. I finished my last workout of the week, cleaned myself up, and ate my dinner. I’m tired, but I don’t intend to spend the weekend lounging around the house.

About a half-hour before I usually turn in, I pack my bag. I then put on my most comfortable pair of clothes, take a quick bathroom break, and head to the nearest self-driving car. As soon as I’m inside, I punch in the address to the beach that’s furthest south from where I am, whether it’s Florida, South Carolina, or somewhere in between.

I make sure the car has the range and speed. I then close it up, turn the car on, and let it work. From there, I just lay back in the seat and let myself fall asleep.

If all goes well, I wake up just as the car arrives at the beach. Even if the sun hasn’t risen yet, it’s right there in the nearest parking lot to the shore. I get out of the car, find the best spot I can on the beach, and wait to watch the sunrise. I then spend the rest of the day at the beach, lounging about and hitting up beach bars.

Once the sun sets, I return to the self-driving car, punch in my home address, make sure its charged, and ride it home. If I’ve done everything right, I sleep through the ride and wake up in my driveway. It caps off the end of a nice, relaxing day at the beach in which I slept through the commute.

This is just one idea from the perspective of what I’d do. If you have other ideas on how you’d use a self-driving car, please share them in the comments.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, technology

Personal Thoughts On Retirees, Lottery Winners, And Work

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A lot of people like to dream about what they’d do if they suddenly won the lottery and never had to work again. Only a select few are ever that lucky and a not-insignificant portion of those winners don’t end up happy when that dream is realized. As someone who plays and contemplates the lottery, I’m just as guilty of entertaining that dream.

A less audacious dream involves retiring comfortably. For that, there’s less luck is required. If you work hard for years, saving money and planning responsibly, you can eventually stop working altogether and just live out the rest of your days in comfort. Not everyone gets to that point, but for those that do, it’s worth celebrating. I know this because more than a few friends and family members have retired.

I bring this up because I found myself contemplating this recently. Over the holidays, there were significant stretches in which I didn’t have to work, travel, or do much of anything. I don’t deny that it was relaxing. I definitely enjoyed it. However, after a few days, I found myself feeling restless.

Some of that has to do with me being a morning person. In general, I’m always up early. I’ve been that way since high school. I don’t know if I can ever condition myself otherwise, but during this stint of time, it was somewhat jarring. I woke up. I checked my email. I did a little writing. Then, the sun rose and the day began, but I didn’t know what to do with myself.

While I did find things to do, I realized that I’m not very good at managing long stretches of unstructured time. If I don’t have something to do or a place to be, I get a little anxious and not in a productive way.

During this time, I found myself feeling tired at one in the afternoon. I found myself starting random things, but not finishing them. I tried to relax, but I think I might have tried too hard. By trying so hard, I just stressed myself out and achieved the exact opposite of relaxation.

It leads me to wonder whether I could actually handle a scenario in which I didn’t have to work or anything. If I won the lottery tomorrow, would I even want to just stay home all day? If I retired tomorrow and didn’t have to worry about money for some reason, what would I do with myself?

I know more than a few retirees who occupy their time with many things, but I’m not sure those things are for me. Some of that might just be due to generation gaps. Other reasons might be more personal.

For one, I’m still single. I have no wife or kids to look after. If I did, then I might feel differently about having too much time to myself. Right now, all I know is that I don’t do well when I don’t have some sort of job, task, or goal ahead of me. It can’t just be writing novels and sexy short stories. I need other things to occupy myself.

It was a strange revelation, but one I’m glad I experienced. It gives me a reason to contemplate how I’ll manage myself in the future if I retire or become successful enough that I don’t have to work. Luckily, I’m still relatively young and I have plenty of time to plan that out.

Some people can be happy lying around the house all day doing nothing. There’s nothing wrong with those people. I hope they achieve their dreams, as well. I just don’t think I’m that kind of person. One day, I hope I have a chance to see what I can do with that kind of time. Until then, I feel lucky that I have the life I have.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, psychology

Life Lessons From My Father: Hard Work And Relaxing

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Last month, I helped celebrate Mother’s Day by telling a personal story that revealed just how awesome my mother is. I’m proud of that story. I can also confirm that my mother read it and sent her loving appreciation that same day. She really is that sweet and I’m eternally grateful to have a parent like her.

With Father’s Day being tomorrow, it’s my father’s turn. It’s also yet another excuse to talk about how awesome my parents are and I’m not going to pass that opportunity up. Like my mother, my father is incredible and I owe so much to him. His love and support has helped me become the man I am today.

There are a lot of stories I could tell about my father. I’ve already recounted a few. There are plenty I can tell that help affirm why he’s such an awesome dad. Rather than select one, I’d like to focus on a particular lesson he taught me growing up that I didn’t appreciate until I was an adult. Since I know he reads this site too, I think he’ll agree that it’s a critical lesson that can be difficult for many.

Almost as critical as this.

It has to do with hard work and relaxation. They’re two conflicting forces, but both are critical to surviving in this chaotic world. We need to work hard if we’re going to get ahead and forge the life we want in this world. You could argue that this has become more difficult, but there’s definitely a place for it in every society.

On the other side of that coin is relaxation. That’s something we all need just as much. After all, what’s the point of working so hard if you don’t take any time to enjoy it? Relaxation isn’t just important for a good work/life balance. It’s critical to our health. As it just so happens, my dad knew how to do both.

My father, for much of his life, was a hard worker who didn’t hesitate to get his hands dirty. He didn’t just sit at a desk. He actually went out into the world, working with people and braving the elements. He was also an early riser. He was almost always the first one up in the house. At 5:00 a.m. he was out of bed. By 5:30, he was dressed and ready to leave.

As a kid, I didn’t understand that kind of work ethic. Both my parents worked, but I saw that as just something adults do. Even after I learned about making money, paying taxes, and building a career, I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have. I’ve only come to appreciate it more as I got older.

My dad had a tough job, but he never came home looking miserable and angry. He did come home exhausted many times, but not to the point where he carried himself like a Dilbert cartoon. He seemed to take genuine pride in his work. It fulfilled him in a way that showed in how he conducted himself. He had a poise and strength to him, which he still carries to this day.

However, it’s how he managed to relax after all that hard work that has resonated with me in recent years. Part of that is due to how uptight and high-strung I was as a teenager. When I got home from school, I didn’t relax as much as I did dread what I might face the next day. If that sounds like an unhealthy attitude, that’s because it is and it caused me plenty of problems.

What I looked like on a good day.

My dad’s attitude was very different. When he got home from work, he didn’t get anxious or uptight about the next day. He just grabbed a bag of peanuts, opened a bottle of beer, and watched a baseball game while sitting on the couch. He watched a lot of other things too, but he always seemed most relaxed while watching baseball.

I often watched with him. I even helped him crack the peanuts. They’re among some of my favorite memories as a kid, watching baseball with my dad and eating peanuts. I didn’t do it quite as often when I was a teenager and I honestly believed that contributed to the misery I endured during those tumultuous times.

My dad understood those issues, much more than I gave him credit for. He often boiled things down to something that seemed too simple. He would tell me to just take it easy, relax, and appreciate things in the here and now, be it a baseball game or a “Simpsons” re-run. Me being the whiny kid I was, I just rolled my eyes at him. Looking back on it, I realize there was more to his advice.

My dad knew how to keep things simple back then. He still knows to this day and I marvel at his ability to streamline things that seem so complicated. To him, relaxation and hard work didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can work hard all day and still relax once you got home. It sounds so obvious, but people find ways to mess it up.

Some feel like if they’re not working hard, then they’re doing something wrong

Some feel like if they’re not relaxing, then they must be miserable and broken.

Some feel like if they try to do both, then one undermines the other.

I certainly bought into that, even after I went to college. For a while, I made work the center of everything. If I wasn’t working on something school-related, I was making other projects for myself. Relaxing just meant resting so that I had the energy I needed to do more work. It’s as unhealthy as it sounds and I think both my parents understood that.

I admit it took a long time for my dad’s advice to sink in. With each passing year, I appreciate how skilled he was at balancing hard work with relaxation. He always came off as calm, strong, and balanced. When things got tough, he kept a level head. When everyone else was stressed out, he remained the most composed. He was clear, direct, and concise with every word he said.

Those aren’t just the marks of a great father. They’re traits of a great man, in general. My father set a high bar and if I’m being honest, I still struggle to match it most of the time. I’ve gotten a lot better at balancing work with relaxation over the years, but I feel like I made it much harder than it should’ve been. My dad was there every step of the way, giving me real, usable advice. I just didn’t embrace it.

I might have been a slow learner with respect to work/life balance, but that only helps me appreciate my father even more, especially on Father’s Day. No matter how old I get, he keeps finding ways to be awesome. He never runs out of things to teach me, whether it involves relaxing or how to make the perfect pasta sauce. There’s so much I’ve learned from him and I’m a better man because of it.

Thanks, Dad. Seriously.

I’ll always be grateful for having such an amazing father. I admit I didn’t always make it easy for him, but he never hesitated to love me and support me as any father would. Whether I’m working hard or relaxing on a hot summer day, his influence helps me become the man I strive to be.

To my father and all the other dedicated dads out there, thank you for your love and support. Happy Father’s Day! You’ve worked so hard for your kids. Today, you can take a moment to relax and reflect on just how awesome you are.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, men's issues, noble masculinity, psychology, Uplifting Stories