How a Trip to Antarctica Can Show You How Not To Spend Your Time

Some people spend upwards of 60% of their young lives working in a job that they don’t enjoy with the purpose of making alot of money.

These people may be exchanging time for the ability to purchase products and services now, or perhaps to achieve status or secure future riches for retirement. If you fall into one of these categories and don’t enjoy what you’re doing, consider thinking about the following. If you enjoy what you’re doing, this probably isn’t very relevant.

Your Hypothetical Trip to Antarctica

Imagine you have been given an offer. If you choose to accept the offer, you’ll be taken on a hypothetical trip to Antarctica and you’ll be given an endless supply of  money. However, as with most hypothetical amateur thought experiments, there is a catch. Three in fact. They are as follows:

  1. There are no other people in hypothetical Antarctica and you are not allowed to communicate with any people back in the hypothetical country you live in. No internet, Facebook, Twitter, Forums, or communication of any kind
  2. Hypothetical Antarctica has a limitless supply of your favourite brands, products, property, and services (and you have endless money to purchase with)
  3. You cannot visit hypothetical Antarctica, save some money and return to the country you are from.

Do you accept the offer?

My guess is that most people would not and I think there are a range of reasons why. Boredom, no interaction with people, no purpose in life, no sex, and no ability to have children all come to mind (and I’m sure there are many i’m not thinking of). However, if you exclude most of these reasons and just think about the loss of interaction with people, one issue becomes pretty clear for me.

Brands, products, expensive cars and status would all shrink heavily in value with no one around to witness them. For me, only truly useful goods would hold their value. As much fun as driving a Lamborghini through a crevasse in Antarctica might be, if people had to give up time with their friends to make it happen, selling one-way tickets on the hypothetical Alaska boat  would become alot harder.

To me, this illustrates that our friendships are ultimately more important than our desires for material possessions, status, and future riches (if given the choice of having one or the other). Yet, some people choose to work 60+ hours a week during the best years of their life doing something they don’t enjoy while their friendships suffer and the years of their life tick away. What they are saving for and who will share it with them is anybody’s guess.

There are so many what ifs and other rebuttals that come to mind that could weaken this argument and I might be completely off the reservation here but I think the basic gist is interesting. So, if I find myself not enjoying large chunks of my time on a regular basis and effectively find myself sacrificing something I enjoy (like time with friends) for material possessions that are not useful, status or future riches, I’ll think of Antarctica.

9 thoughts on “How a Trip to Antarctica Can Show You How Not To Spend Your Time”

  1. James,

    Arguably your best post to date.

    In response to your great hypothetical, I want to make two points:
    1. The factory economy – It would appear that people are happy to work 60+ hours a week because this is the accepted way to progress in the world. Our parents did it, our teachers recommended it, our friends are doing it, and organisations have designed themselves so as to stroke the ego of the achievement junkie – one pay raise and one promotion at a time until a decade has passed. If the majority of people rejected this system it would collapse quite quickly.
    2. Current vs future generation – Despite the negatives of the factory economy, there may be virtue in self sacrifice if we see decisions as a choice between benefiting the current generation (ourselves) and the future generation (our as yet unborn children). If basic psychology theory is the be believed, money and status are the two key factors that affect woman’s attraction to man. More money and/or status means more pulling power; more pulling power means hopefully attracting a more desirable woman; more desirable women create more desirable babies. And so the cycle continues.

    I’d be interested to know your thoughts.


  2. My thoughts…

    1 – Agree with your description. That’s exactly what I’m referring to. What would collapse quickly?
    2 – Agree there is a degree of self sacrifice in building a fortune by working your whole life and leaving the remains to your children. What do they say about building and losing a fortune in 3 generations? Re your second point, who knows, maybe that’s how it works. Personally, I believe the status I would want a woman to be attracted to is not built up by overworking so you can spend money on them (that reminds me of something else actually). Also, I’d guess that most people that lose their 20s doing something they don’t enjoy in exchange for ‘pulling power’ when they’re older will find that the power isn’t as strong as what they might hope and that if it works, it pulls someone who wants their money and not them. Also I’d query their success in the mean time if this is how they think women think. Who knows though, i have nfi about women.

  3. 1 – I was being a little glib, but what I think I meant was that firms work young people very hard. Young people sign up to this on the basis that they will get promotions and pay raises. In exchange they give away their best years helping to build organisations and brands that they have no ownership stake in. When these workers become old, slow or expensive they are replaced by the very organisations that they helped to build (sounds very communistic).
    2 – I don’t think failing to earn money because your grandchildren will most likely squander it is solid reasoning. Re the second point – status seems to be important. Whether it is real status based on years of slavish work, or manufactured status based on marketing, self promotion or by telling the appropriate white lies to build an image which is attractive enough. I think the second way of building status requires more thought, creativity, and is perceived to be riskier and hence less people go for this. People seem to prefer spending longer to get something for certain than to try something which could work quickly but may fail. This is one of the cognitive biases that I think you’ve written about (or we’ve spoken about). Risk aversion leads to people making incorrect decisions.

    Let me know your thoughts.

  4. 1 – I think we agree but i just don’t see how it impacts the comments above too much. Also, I could care less about organisations falling down because there are no workers of the revolution for them. I’ll take my 20s. The decision to work for something hard in this years that you a) don’t enjoy and / or b) dont have any equity in is a big one.

    2 – Definitely wasn’t saying you should fail to earn money because you grandchildren will squander it. I’m saying money shouldn’t be the focus (unless you enjoy making it) as antarctica would be lonely without friends.
    I think if you’re comfortable within yourself and have a good group of friends, status doesn’t matter. But, that’s just how I feel. Plenty of people are driven by status and trying to give themselves a ‘legacy’ or a reason to be on the planet. I’m probably more fatalistic. Fairly aware that death happens at some stage that you can’t predict and that you should enjoy your time here while you can with the people you love. Worrying about whether some girl will be with me because I have some range of status is too far from my world view to matter to me. That girl can be with the person that suits her (and if she cares about that too much, it isn’t likely to be me). Again coming back to my point, if someone enjoys building status and a level of importance in order to attract women (whether it does or not), then i’d say go for it. Each to their own.

  5. 1 – agreed. Although aren’t we both not following our own advice.

    2 – if I understand you correctly you’re advocating living for the moment and spending time on the things and people that you love. Agreed. The corollary of this argument is that earning a great income by spending time on an activity you hate means nothing and you will need to spend a large part of that money on a 6 month world trip to try to find the meaning that you have already given away.

    “I may speak in tongues of men or of angels, but if I am without love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. I may have the gift of prophecy, and know every hidden truth; I may have faith strong enough to move mountains; but if I have no love, I am nothing.

    I may dole out all I possess, or even give my body to be burnt, but if I have no love, I am none the better.

    Love is patient; love is kind and envies no one. Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude; never selfish, not quick to take offense. Love keeps no score of wrongs; does not gloat over other men’s sins, but delights in the truth. There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, and its endurance.”
    The Bible, 1st Book Of Corinthians

  6. 1 – I am not 100% on track but i do something i enjoy with 80-90% of my time.

    2 – Dont know about your corollary entirely because my ‘argument’ is just meant to the gist of what i’m thinking. I don’t believe people that decide another path are wrong, just different. Re bible reference, each to their own once more!

  7. Okay, to summarise, you’re not advocating one way of the other, just putting the hypothetical Antartica as a thought experiment. I did think that you came up with some insights as a result, e.g. that branded products only had value if there are other people around to see them and that the friendship is therefore more valuable than money (other things being equal). Or are these just your personal takeaways, and anyone else is free to make up their own mind, their conclusions being equally valid even if they contradict your own?

  8. I’m advocating one way if you get the same results from the thought experiment as outlined above (and as i did). That said, people are free to make up their own mind regardless and they can be right or wrong about it (it doesn’t matter to me). You’re summaries of the conclusions are 2 of the main things that were made clear to me (plus how you should choose to use your time as a result).

    Also, selfishly (which this post isn’t), if more people decide to use their intellect prodding the fire of big corporates, it makes innovation easier for people not in big corporates*. And Innovating directly is where I would guess alot of people who follow their dreams and do something they truly enjoy end up.

    *(this excludes innovation that occurs inside corporations of course)

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