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Letter From a Merchant Marine

This is one of the coolest emails I've ever received. Reprinted with permission -

Sebastian,

I have recently begun reading your work. I really enjoyed reading and considering "Becoming a Person Who Helps People". I work in an industry that is at the least, very harsh. I am a merchant mariner, female, working with some pretty harsh guys. I'm one of 4 women who work for this company, and the only one under 30 and on a boat. I hold a position of some authority so I gain a bit of "respect" from the title. However, its not enough. The hierarchy on vessels is clear, but gaining the support and trust of your fellow crew members is paramount in a dangerous work environment. My personality clashes often with the harshness of the culture here. There is no room for weakness, real or perceived. However, I am empathetic and nurturing by nature. Helping people is just something I gain great pleasure from, despite the criticism others have for it in my line of work.

Helping people is a great way to create happiness for yourself, and I do so often in small ways. Many people out here can't read or write, or use a computer. Those simple skills I take for granted each day, are unobtainable to some. Men don't want to ask for help, especially from the tiny 100lb girl who outranks them, or works under them. Either way! I make it a point to connect with these people, in small ways like assisting them in writing an email, or typing out a sign they want to post for "Wet Paint", or even asking them how they think a supply locker should be organized when they are the primary users. I read aloud during safety meetings, instead of asking people to read for themselves. I try to consider what others might need, so they don't have to ask. Most others in my position think that I am coddling them, letting them slacking off, or say they need to learn a lesson and read or speak english- any number of negative thoughts surround my simple actions (if they are even noticed that is). Often people accuse me of sleeping with these guys. But at the end of the day, I have a loyal backing of 10 men who would do any work I ask, and give me their best efforts at all times. I ask them to get a job done, I get results. And thats the key for me, I ASK. I never direct, or demand. I say thank you every day, and make a point of commenting on exceptional work or efforts. I bake cookies or make special dinners on long days of work (we all live on the boat for months at a time), because when you're out here you become family whether you like it or not. These guys make me look good, I'm held accountable for their work and I can trust them to perform it. When the other guys in my position demand work be done, its usually half-assed or bullshitted entirely. They yell more, complain more, its a bad cycle. My leadership style, if you can call it that, doesn't work everywhere for sure. But it works for me here, and its infinitely more rewarding to be myself and be kind than to pretend otherwise.

I wish I had the writing/thinking skills you posses because I feel that even writing what I've put down thus far falls short of what I am trying to express.

My Definitive "Meaning Over Happiness" Post

Mike Radivis just asked asked some good questions on "Chase Meaning, Not Happiness" -

How do you measure meaning if not in terms of happiness? Aren't things that create more happiness for a longer time for a larger number of individuals better than those things who lack those qualities but are proclaimed to be personal achievements anyway? Does the scope of happiness make happiness meaningful to you or not? What are achievements good for if they aren't good at facilitating happiness? Imagine you wouldn't experience any pleasant or unpleasant emotions and would have to decide rationally what to pursue (assuming that is possible at all). Then what you want to do with your life? (Another way to formulate this question maybe would be to ask what's your grand strategy in that situation.)

I'm quite interested in your answers. I like that your blog posts are so outspoken. It's just that the message of this post is hard for me to grasp, as I'm pretty much utilitarian in my thinking.

Good questions. I'll go through it line by line.

How do you measure meaning if not in terms of happiness?

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