We’re in a weird place right now, those of us who make a living from thinking. Even writing it out, feels like a fantastic fantasy of privilege. We get paid to think and share those “thinks” with others.
From the outside, it can seem enviable. We aren’t tied to manual labour or humdrum and repetitive tasks. We think! We signal to others how useful our thinks are and how we think our thinks. And we think in such a way that others pay us for our thinks. Handsomely even!
The downside is that when our thoughts are monetized, it becomes a chore to think. Is this think profitable? If it’s not, let’s quickly think a profitable think! Our manual labour then becomes the repetitiveness of thinking, and the daily practice of doing so can feel more humdrum than creative. We spend our time consuming other important thinks, digesting them, and coming up with ways to share our own unique thinky take on them. The thinky wagon wheels turn without end.
The same thing happens when we turn any passion into work. It’s hard to stoke THE FIRE of that passion when we have to do it day in and day out. It goes from something we do when we’re inspired (like playing music), to a chore (playing the same “hits” every single night). Getting paid to think is the same. Our brains become a tool of labour, much like our hands did when people worked the land.
That could be why so many paid thinkers like to create elaborate escape plans in their minds from thinking. Wouldn’t it be nice to get a job landscaping? Or at an indie coffee shop? Something that involves working my hands! We fantasize about not thinking. Or, where the work could give us space to think for the sake of thinking (now that feels like a privilege).
Thinking profitable thinks could probably be studied by psychologists at some fancy university, who collect a statistically relevant number of creative thinkers like us, study us somehow, and come to some conclusion that the pressure of constantly thinking good thinks is somehow harmful to our long-term mental health.
When we spend our days trying to only think smart and profitable thinks, any other thinks feel somehow less than or beneath us. If we think thinks that can’t be published, or taught, or used in some expert keynote at a classy luncheon full of think-leaders, then how valid are they?
So it’s easy to assume non-thinky thinks (ordinary thinks) are somehow invalid or a waste of our thinking power. It’s the reason why I disliked watching sports for the longest time and downplayed how much I enjoy making cars go quick around a track for hours on end. Thinking ordinary thinks like “YAY MY TEAM WINS” or “WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE” felt like an entirely unproductive use of my thinks. Until I tried those kinds of thinks on and they fit nicely. They helped relieve the stress and pressure of thinky thinks.
Nevertheless, our thinky thinks probably reprogram our brains to engage in more of thinky thinks and ignore everything else. Ordinary thinks are bad, our brains tell us! Like laughing at videos of human males doing stupid things and getting hit in their plums. Or scrolling through gifs, not to use as some witty retort on the socials, but because cats are just weird, weird animals (and we understand perhaps .00001% of their thinks, but they’re no doubt plotting our demise while jumping into boxes or swatting at strings).
But what if we need ordinary thinks to balance our thinky thinks? What if shouting at sports games for the team we like or watching trashy reality TV makes us more well rounded, and less prone to the toils of pressure to come up with more thinky thinks?
What if ordinary thinks are a form of recovery or mental function fitness training?
I have no answers here, even though the thinky think part of me feels like there should be some overarching lesson. As a thinky thinker (or at least it’s the role I play on the internet), I completely love my thinky job as a writer and yet feel the pressure to think more thinks all the time. Better thinks than my last thinks! All the while hoping that I don’t hit peak-thinks (like peak oil, but thankfully it’s cerebral petroleum which is slightly more renewable).
If we constantly push our thinks towards being a thinky work product rather than something we do out of sheer enjoyment, we’re surely missing out. Ordinary thinking can be a fun and stress relieving way to unwind – a nice and possibly needed thinky palette cleanser.
Hi, I'm Paul Jarvis. I write a weekly newsletter called the Sunday Dispatches where I share articles about working and living online with 35k subscribers: