2017-10-29 (last updated: 2017-11-05) well-being

Pursue intrinsic, not extrinsic, sources of motivation

There’s this scene I love from the movie Comedian (2002) between Jerry Seinfeld and Orny Adams where Orny asks Jerry for advice.

Orny: Listen I’m 29, I feel like I’ve sacrificed so much of my life. The last three years have been a blur.
Jerry: You got something else you’d have rather have been doing?
Orny: Uh not necessarily.
Jerry: You got other appointments, other places you gotta be?
Orny: Not necessarily.
Jerry: No, not necessarily.
Orny: But I see all my friends are making a lot of money, a lot of money on Wall Street. I see like, ya know -
Jerry: What?
Orny: I just see my friends are like, you know they’re moving up and I’m worried I’m not gonna -
Jerry: They’re moving up?
Orny: They’re movin’ up -
Jerry: Are you out of your mind?
Orny: No I’m not out of my mind I just -
Jerry: This has nothing to do with your friends. This is such a special thing you know. It has nothing to do with making it.

This is on my short list for favorite reactions of all time.

As Jerry listens, he moves from bafflement to perplexity to disgust to pity. He struggles to comprehend how someone’s motives can be so far off the mark.

The problem is this: wealth in pursuit of fame or status externalizes one’s locus of control. These things are fickle: you cannot make people like you or give you more attention. If you depend on external things to make you happy, you are at the whim of others and your environment. Some of that is normal - we’re human after all - but too much of that can be dangerous. Far safer is it to hang your well-being on things you can control, like self-image or passion projects or mindfulness or health.

This is Jerry’s point. Comedians should do stand-up because they love doing it. It is not a means to an end, it is the end itself. Their well-being should depend not on lofty dreams of celebrity, but rather the fulfilling journey of constantly crafting and refining their jokes. It is this internal locus of control that imbues their journey with meaning.