Tim Minchin – Live to Learn
Comedian Tim Minchin imparts nine life lessons full of hilarity and wisdom, revealing the only sensible thing you should do with your existence.
I’m not an inspirational speaker. I’ve never lost a limb on a mountainside, metaphorically or otherwise. I’m certainly not here to give career advice, ’cause, well, I’ve never really had what most would consider a job. However, I have had large groups of people listening to what I say for quite a few years now, and it’s given me an inflated sense of self-importance. I will now, at the ripe old age of 37.9, bestow upon you nine life lessons.
One. You don’t have to have a dream. Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams. Fine, if you have something you’ve always wanted to do, dreamed of in your heart, go for it. After all, it’s something to do with your time, chasing a dream. If it’s a big enough one, it’ll take you most of your life to achieve, so by the time you get to it and are staring into the abyss of the meaninglessness of your achievement, you’ll be almost dead so it won’t matter.
I never really had one of these dreams. I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you. You never know where you might end up. Just be aware the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery, which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out of the corner of your eye.
Two. Don’t seek happiness. Happiness is like an orgasm. If you think about it too much, it goes away. Keep busy and aim to make someone else happy and you might find you get some as a side effect. We didn’t evolve to be constantly content. Contented homo erectus got eaten before passing on their genes.
Three. Remember, it’s all luck. You are lucky to be here. You are incalculably lucky to be born. Understanding that you can’t truly take credit for your successes, nor truly blame others for their failures, will humble you and make you more compassionate. Empathy is intuitive, but is also something you can work on intellectually.
Four. Exercise. I’m sorry, you pasty, pale, smoking philosophy grads, arching your eyebrows into a Cartesian curve as you watch the human movement mob winding their way through the miniature traffic cones of their existence. You are wrong and they are right. Well, you’re half right. You think, therefore you are, but also you jog, therefore you sleep, therefore you’re not overwhelmed by existential angst. You can’t be Kant, and you don’t want to be.
Play a sport, do yoga, pump iron, run, whatever, but take care of your body. You’re going to need it. Most of you mob are going to live to nearly 100, and even the poorest of you will achieve a level of wealth that most humans throughout history could not have dreamed of. This long, luxurious life ahead of you is going to make you depressed.
Five. Be hard on your opinions. A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like assholes, in that everyone has one. There is great wisdom in this, but I would add that opinions differ significantly from assholes in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined. We must think critically and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the veranda and hit them with a cricket bat.
Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privileges. Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend to generate false dichotomies and then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.
Six. Be a teacher. Please, please, please be a teacher. Teachers are the most admirable and important people in the world. You don’t have to do it forever, but if you’re in doubt about what to do, be an amazing teacher. Even if you’re not a teacher, be a teacher. Share your ideas. Don’t take for granted your education. Rejoice in what you learn and spray it.Seven. Define yourself by what you love. I found myself doing this thing a bit recently where if someone asks me what sort of music I like, I say, “Well, I don’t listen to the radio because pop song lyrics annoy me.” Or if someone asks me what food I like, I say, “I think truffle oil is overused and slightly obnoxious.” I see it all the time online, people whose idea of being part of a subculture is to hate Coldplay or football or feminists or the Liberal Party.
Seven. Define yourself by what you love. I found myself doing this thing a bit recently where if someone asks me what sort of music I like, I say, “Well, I don’t listen to the radio because pop song lyrics annoy me.” Or if someone asks me what food I like, I say, “I think truffle oil is overused and slightly obnoxious.” I see it all the time online, people whose idea of being part of a subculture is to hate Coldplay or football or feminists or the Liberal Party.
We have a tendency to define ourselves in opposition to stuff. As a comedian, I make my living out of it. But try to also express your passion for things you love. Be demonstrative and generous in your praise of those you admire. Send thank you cards and standing ovations. Be pro-stuff, not just anti-stuff.
Eight. Respect people with less power than you. I have in the past made important decisions about people I work with, agents and producers, big decisions based largely on how they treat the wait staff in the restaurants we’re having the meeting in. I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room. I will judge you on how you treat the least powerful. So there.Nine, finally, don’t rush. You don’t need to already know what you’re gonna do with the rest of your life. Don’t panic. You will soon be dead. Life will sometimes seem long and tough and, God, it’s tiring. You will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad, and then you’ll be old and then you’ll be dead. There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence, and that
Nine, finally, don’t rush. You don’t need to already know what you’re gonna do with the rest of your life. Don’t panic. You will soon be dead. Life will sometimes seem long and tough and, God, it’s tiring. You will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad, and then you’ll be old and then you’ll be dead. There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence, and that is fill it. Not “fillet,” fill it.
Life is best filled by learning as much as you can about as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you’re doing, having compassion, sharing ideas, running, being enthusiastic, and then there’s love and travel and wine and sex and art and kids and giving and mountain-climbing. But you know all that stuff already.
It’s an incredibly exciting thing, this one meaningless life of yours. Good luck and thank you for indulging me.
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