Alain De Botton is a great chap who makes philosophy accessible, and relevant to everyday life. He not only does this with his books and lectures, but also through his School of Life which “runs courses in the important questions of everyday life” about “things we all tend to care about: careers, relationships, politics, travels, families“.
This book is a fun read, and surprisingly quite a page turner. It’s not a profound philosophical treatise or psychological exposition, rather an almost whimsical insight into different careers.
Alain describes a group of people in different types of work, from boring office work, through aviation and entrepreneurship, to a chap that designs electricity pylons. And that last one was fascinating: did you know that 2/3 of the London power supply comes from one nuclear station on the coast, along a 175km line of cable, which is made up of 69 aluminium strands, configured in the so-called cowslip formation?
What Alain perfectly described was the joy of someone who genuinely loved his work. This guy even went on holidays trekking along the routes of major power lines. A geek in the best sense of the word.
At first it seems as if he’s just describing different kinds of jobs. And he is. But there are plenty of gems in there if you look for them. The painter was a fascinating case – a dude that painted a tree. The same tree. Again and again for years. “Have you ever noticed water? Properly noticed it, I mean – as if you had never seen it before?”
Or the career counsellor: “It isn’t normal to know what we want. It is a rare and difficult psychological achievement.”
Alain is so good at writing he’s able to bring these different jobs to life. Which is the point really. It doesn’t matter what you do – doing something that is ‘you’ to the best of your ability, and loving it is what’s important. It’s about living. Pointless though it may seem in the grander scheme of things, it does matter from your perspective. So embrace it.
Here is a sample of just how good his writing is:
“The man was evidently disinclined by nature to pay extravagant compliments, for when he finally spoke, it was to say ‘Fuck off‘ again with a resolve which his previous riposte had perhaps lacked – to which sentiment he then added, lest there remain any ambiguity, ‘Get the hell out of here before I shoot you in the ass.'”