Productivity Vs. Peak Experiences

 Blue sign points the way to happiness

Whom are the people I most admire?

Well, I can tell you the people I most envy.

I envy those unique individuals who manage to combine two crucial traits: the ability to enjoy peak experiences, and the ability to be productive.

This is a pet theory I’m working on, but I think the true definition of a success lies somewhere in between these two extremes, (though to truly cover all the bases I suppose you would also have to throw in a third criteria of ‘the ability to have meaningful relationships’, since life is nothing but gloom without at least a few of those).

Nevertheless, I’ve met many people who lean too much toward one end of these two polarities. They are either what I call (a) the ‘Experience Junkies’, or (b) the ‘Perennially Productive’.

Experience Junkies get out of bed and are immediately looking to score the next hit of hedonistic ecstasy – they are always seeking another night out, another big party, another big sale, another spontaneous vacation at a moments notice. The experience junky lives for having her hair blown back, and for this reason, they tend to be the best friends to call up whenever you need to blow off steam.

The Perennially Productive are more quiet and workmanlike. They are always slaving away on the next project, ever-striving to cram an extra hour of output into the day and sharpen their skill. You’ll notice them always devising constant new experiments and methods to working longer, faster, better. Even when you go out for dinner and drinks with a perennially productive, his thoughts are soon hijacked by what Francis Bacon called ‘little man’ in his head, who nags at him to tear himself away from the party, call it a night and toddle home to prepare for the next days craft.

Both of these characters, the ‘experience junkies’ and the ‘perennially productive’, are dangerous if they don’t have a healthy dose of their counterpart.

For me, as someone who grew up in a family that always put academic grades and career success high on the agenda, I was plagued with the same persistent guilt as the Perennially Productive. It doesn’t mean I’ve always actually been productive, not by a long stretch, but I’m always haunted by the need to be reading, writing, thinking, applying, planning, figuring out the next move like a chess player forever lining up pieces.

Frankly, it took time for me to learn from experience junkies and insert ‘hard living’ into my to-do list now and then.

Experience Junkies usually are more wired and stimulated – they have short-attention spans, which can be helpful because their impatience can lead them to move quickly and be effective. It can also lead them to be reckless and impulsive. But I’m not just saying here that the world is divided into merely ‘those who work’ and ‘those who play’. Experience junkies can often be highly successful (think Richard Branson) whilst the Perennially Productive may get stuck in fruitless tasks that never get them anywhere (think Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’).

The difference between the Experience Junky and the Perennially Productive is more about two different mindsets, two drivers for action. One has the drive to hoover up as many peak moments as possible, whilst the other is inclined to squeeze every drop from his working hours and dedicate himself to honing his skills, craft, or projects.

An experience junky might be a Richard Branson, who flies to exotic islands and regularly plays host to a VIP circle of friends. A perennially productive might be a Picasso, who was notorious for barely leaving his studio, but produced some of the defining masterpieces of the 20th century.

I don’t endorse either approach wholeheartedly, but I know that whenever I’ve inclined too much towards one, I always need to take my medicine and have a big hearty swallow of the other to get my mind back to soundness.

But hey, if balance and soundness of mind aren’t your thing, and you’d rather be wildly tearing through the Playboy mansion in the Grotto, swilling good whisky and screwing bad women, by all means slip into that smoking jacket, abandon quiet productivity, and guzzle down the sweet nectar of experience. Just ping me an invite so I can get out of the studio for a day.

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4 comments

  1. Hi Stephen,

    hmm, I can very much relate to this (I may be repeating myself when it comes to your posts but it’s true! 🙂 ).
    I’m generally the one who sits at home working or thinking, or quietly procrastinating (more likely the latter than the first ones though so I would not accuse myself of being productive…). Academia was and still is very important to me. Oftentimes I like it that way but then I start wondering how some of my friends who are my polar opposites in this respect fit in so many things, trips, hobbies and experiences into their lives and then envy kicks in.
    That’s exactly the point when I need to get ahold of them, get out and live a little 🙂
    The great thing is that I think we can do a lot for each other here: I am surrounded by great people who can show me how to go for those unique experiences (sometimes they have to gently drag me but it’s ok) while they can count on me when it comes to the thinking, planning, working things out, calming down type of moments.
    So I guess I just managed to paraphrase you in this comment, really… 🙂

    Here’s to a healthy melange of experiences and productivity!

    Dora

    Like

    • Stephen Hussey · October 16, 2014

      Thanks so much Dora! Yea I think everyone swings one way more than the other. For me, I think a life with too much of either Productivity or Peak Experiences becomes hollow and empty, and I know in the past I’ve gone too far down the rabbit hole of relentless work only to find myself miserable at the end of it. And yes, it’s very easy to say you’re busy when you’re really just procrastinating and feeling guilty!

      Glad this article provoked you to reflect on your own balance.

      Thanks!

      Stephen

      Like

  2. thechickinbiology · June 5, 2015

    That is so true. It often seems ideal to see life in black and white while both ends of the spectrum have the potential to be successful if flexibility is applied. I am actually working on this. I have an innate tendency to plan plan plan plan and have a hard time being to the point and living in the moment. My friends often help me get out of the “productivity” rut. You learn the MOST efficient way to do something and you only see things from the ideal perspective. Improvisation becomes so difficult! I must admit, I have improved significantly. Anyway, before this turns into a novel hahah Keep writing!

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  3. lacazadora · December 21

    “the ability to enjoy peak experiences, and the ability to be productive.”
    Oh, dear – these people are living gods to me! I recently saw a video on Internet asking a person to remember a moment of pure extasy and to get themselves into this state. When I though about it myself I realized I actually could not remember such a moment for myself. What I remembered was winning first place in a competition at school. But it was a result of years of working, studying phrasal verbs, etc, so I took it with pride and of course content and looked forward to how I can grow further. I didn’t scream, when mom told me I got the prize. 😀 I realized I never had a moment of pure extasy, but I kind of miss it – something getting you so much in the moment. Probably, I should work also towards adopting a bit of the other part, too. 🙂
    Good article, Steve! Looking forward to your next articles here or on gettheguy!
    Have a great, great Holiday season!

    P.S. I would be also really curious if you also share some of your favourite books to read, too. Not only phylosophical, but also adventure books, or novels. And also what you like about them. Anyway, this is just a thought from an hungry reader. 🙂 Best regards!

    Like

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