Dear friend, life is brutally short; live a life of leisure.
I don’t mean to say suddenly quit your job, but to enjoy every moment as if it were your last.
Imagine you are stranded in a desert and you are dying from thirst. You see a stream of water, but it will only flow for a minute. You rush over, and swallow all the water your stomach will hold, because you know it won’t flow anymore.
This is a good metaphor for life (credit Seneca in his letter, “On the Shortness of Life”). Life is a limited stream. Sooner or later, the stream will no longer flow. So why waste our time and our lives chasing distractions (pleasures, material things, fame) which will no longer exist when we’re dead?
There are only two things which are certain in life: death and taxes (unless you live in Dubai). Everything else is uncertain.
So why waste time researching cameras online, trying to save up money to buy that new lens, or fantasizing about traveling abroad? Why not use the small time we have on earth to shoot to our heart’s content?
I read another quote from Seneca in which he says something like, “The good sailor can sail well even with a rented sail.”
I just shipped off my Ricoh GR to a friend who is learning photography, and I feel quite free and liberated (not having a camera on me). I still have a camera on my smartphone, perhaps I will use that to make some photos. I have a film Leica chilling at home, maybe I will use that more when I get back.
I like the idea of not owning a camera— perhaps we can live in a world where all our material possessions are rented? Just look at the “sharing economy” we have— we share our cars (Uber), we share our homes (AirBNB). Million-dollar idea: start the Uber of camera-sharing (will save people tons of money).
I love material things; yet I always over-estimate how much happiness it will buy me.
When I bought a Leica M9, I thought it would solve all my life’s problems. Wrong. I got it and loved it for a month, then at the end of the month it started to collect dust (like all my other cameras), and I no longer felt “inspired” to shoot. I think this is what happens when you buy a BMW; the first month is awesome, then it becomes any old car.
In the book “Thinking Fast, and Slow” by Daniel Kehnamen he calls this process “hedonic adaptation”— that no matter how good the material things we buy, we will always get used to it.
Similarly, we over-estimate how much happiness these material things will bring us. Furthermore, we don’t expect the process of “hedonic adaptation” which brings us more dissatisfaction.
In “The Paradox of Choice” psychologist Barry Schwartz brings up a concept of “satisficing” (a combination of the word ‘suffice’ and ‘satisfy’). To satisfice is to be okay with “good enough.”
On the other hand, there is a concept of “maximizing” where you want the absolute best. So when you buy a smartphone, you aren’t satisfied with “good enough”— you want the absolute best.
I am a maximizer— I always want the best. I don’t like “settling.” I do shitloads of research on every camera, smartphone, laptop, smartphone out there— to not have the fear that I am “missing out.” But honestly at the end of the day; all of our material possessions will fade and crumble into dust.
Remember how hot the iPhone 3G was when it came out? (that sexy clamshell design). Then remember how much people had a nerd-boner for the iPhone 4 (slick aluminum). Then the iPhone 5 (it has half an inch more screen!). Then the iPhone 6 (it is bigger!).
Whenever I have an urge to buy anything new, I look at older versions and remember how sexy and slick they were. Now they look like shit. Have you seen an old clamshell white Macbook and all the dirt it accumulated? Or the original Macbook Pro (without retina screen)— how big, heavy, and dated it looks?
Same with the Leica M9, when it came out it was the shit. Now it looks kinda shitty compared to the new Leica M240 (the M9 has the worst LCD screen I have ever used). And within 2-3 years the new Leica M will come out, and everyone will see their M240 as dated.
Time is the ultimate resource
No matter how rich you are; you can never buy more time.
Protect your time like the stream won’t flow any longer.
If you have a full-time job; refuse to answer emails after you get off work at 6pm. If someone offers you a few hundred bucks for your time (and you don’t need the money), politely refuse. Use your weekends and when you’re not working to the fullest.
Wake up early (4:30am) and do some early-morning shooting, do some writing, or reading. Go to work (drink lots of coffee) and grind through the day. Get off work immediately at 6pm, go shoot, read more, write more, paint, or pursue your art. Have a nice meal with a friend, turn off your smartphone, and savor every second of your conversation.
When you go home, don’t watch Netflix, don’t go on Facebook, Instagram, or check your email. Pass the fuck out (after a long-day deserved of your hard work) and sleep early (9pm). Then you will have sufficient time to pursue your passions (even while having a 40-hour work-week).
Don’t believe that having a full-time job as a photographer will give you more freedom. You will still have to answer emails, manage social media, drive to see clients, pay bills, file taxes, and all the other bullshit that comes from running your own business. You might actually have less time to shoot your personal photography if you’re a full-time wedding or commercial photographer.
I think happiness isn’t about achieving all your life’s goals and desires— but rather to adjust yourself to your current circumstances and find the best out of it (credit to Epicurus and Epictetus).
Don’t quit your job— find more free time outside of work to do your passion. Don’t ditch your family— do your personal photography of your kids and your partner. Don’t desire more money, use the camera you already own to photograph what is before you. Don’t desire to travel— photograph your own hometown (no matter how boring).
A life of leisure is to spend every minute of your day not being a slave. You can still be a “free man” while having a 9-5 job; just don’t be married to your job. Don’t fall victim to wanting to “advance in your career” (if you dislike your job). Just see your job as something that pays the bills— that enables you to not be homeless, and to have some money to pursue your passion in photography.
Now go forth friend; a life of leisure awaits you.
Friday, 12:56pm, @ Ilcafffe in Downtown LA, with a nice Stumptown espresso (only drank half, already overly-caffeinated). Time to have a nice lunch, take a nap, and do another epic workshop this weekend.
Quotes from “On the Shortness of Time”
Here are my favorite quotes from Seneca on his letter, “On the Shortness of Time.” Feel these for a kick in the ass for inspiration:
“Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity.” (don’t be wasteful of life)
“Wealth however modest, if entrusted to a good custodian, increases with use, so our lifetime extends amply if you manage it properly.”
“Life is long if you know how to use it.”
“One man is gripped by insatiable greed, another by a laborious dedication to useless tasks.”
“Many are occupied by either pursuing other people’s money or complaining about their own.”
“Many pursue no fixed goal, but are tossed about in ever-changing designs by a fickleness which is shifting, inconstant, and never satisfied with itself.”
‘It is but a small part of life that we live.’
“All the rest is not life but merely time.”
“They are choked by their own blessings. How many find their riches a burden.”
“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”
Don’t “…dash about the city on your social obligations.”
“Call to mind when you ever had a fixed purpose.”
Don’t be, “…unaware of your losses.”
“You are dying prematurely.”
“You act like mortals in all that you fear and like immortals in all that you desire.”
“How stupid to forget our mortality.”
“How much sweat those blessings gleaming through every land cost him, how many secret anxieties they concealed.”
“You let time slip away as though it were something superfluous and replaceable.”
“No activity can be successfully pursued by an individual who is preoccupied— since the mind when distracted absorbs nothing deeply, but rejects everything is crammed into it.”
“Living is the least important activity of the preoccupied man, yet there is nothing which is harder to learn.”
“Learning how to live takes a whole life, and it takes a whole life to learn how to die.”
“Many of the finest men have put aside all their encumbrances, renouncing riches and business and pleasure, and made it their one aim up to the end of their lives to know how to live.”
“It is the sign of a great man and one who is above human error, not to allow his time to be frittered away; he has he has the longest possible life simply because whatever time was available he devoted entirely to himself.”
“None of the time lay fallow and neglected, none of it under another’s control; for being an extremely thrifty guardian of his time he has never found anything for which it was worth exchanging.”
“The man who spends all his time on his own needs, who organizes everyday as though it were his last; neither longs for nor fears the next day.”
“For what new pleasures can any hour now bring him? He has tried everything, and enjoyed everything to repletion.”
Don’t “…trifle with life’s most precious commodity [time]”
“Nobody works out the value of time: men use it lavishly as if it cost nothing.”
“It is easy to organize an amount, however small, we have to be careful in preserving what will cease at an unknown point.”
“They spend their lives in organizing their lives.”
“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life; it snatches away each day as it comes.”
“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today.”
“The whole future lies in certainty; live immediately.”
‘Why do you linger? Why are you idle? If you don’t grasp it first, it flees.’
“Drink quickly [time] as though from a rapid stream what will not always flow.”
“This very day is escaping.”
“The present is short, the future doubtful, the past is certain.”
“In the present we have only one day at a time, each offering a minute at a time.”
“The present time is extremely short.”
“The preoccupied have [their time] stolen from them while they are involved in their many distractions.”
“They reflect how pointlessly they acquired things they never would enjoy, and how all their toil has been in vain.”
“For those who life is far removed from all business it must be amply long. None of it is frittered away; none of it is superfluous; the whole of it is well invested.”
“You could not call theirs a life of leisure, but an idle preoccupation. Do you call that man leisured who arranges with anxious precision his Corinthian bronzes, the cost of which is inflated by the mania of a few collectors, and spends most of the day on rusty bits of metal? Who classifies his herds of pack-animals in pairs according to age and color? Theirs is not leisure but indolent occupation.”
“Self-indulgence is the right word for unlearning the ordinary habits of human life.”
“They are not at leisure whose pleasures involve a serious commitment.”
“Nobody will dispute that those people are busy about nothing who spend their time on useless literary studies.”
“The Romans have been afflicted by the pointless enthusiasm for useless knowledge.”
“People spend useless efforts on these same topics.”
“Of all people only those are at leisure who make time for philosophy, only those are really alive. They annex every age to theirs; all the years that have passed before them are added to their own.”
“We are excluded from no age, but we have access to them all; we are prepared in loftiness of mind to pass beyond the narrow confines of human weakness, there is a long period of time through which we can roam.”
“Give ourselves wholeheartedly to the past, which is limitless and eternal and can be shared with better men than we?”
Don’t be “…distracted by varied desires?”
“Hope excites more hope and ambition more ambition. They do not look for an end to their misery, but simply change the reason for it.”
“When you see a man wearing the robe of office, or one whose name is often spoken in the Forum, do not envy him; these things are won at the cost of life. In order that one year may be dated from their names they will waste their own years.”
“No one keeps death in view, no one refrains from hopes that look far ahead.”
About The Author
Eric Kim is a street photographer currently based in Berkeley, California. He blogs extensively, and is one of the The Photography Club at UCLA co-founders. You can see more of Eric’s work here, and communicate with him via his Facebook page, Twitter account and Flickr stream. This article was also published here.