How to Embrace Uselessness and Find Freedom in a World Obsessed with Productivity


Hatched by Glasp

Aug 24, 2023

4 min read


How to Embrace Uselessness and Find Freedom in a World Obsessed with Productivity

In a society that values productivity and usefulness above all else, the idea of being useless may seem counterintuitive. However, ancient Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi argued that embracing our own uselessness can lead to a happier and more fulfilled life. He believed that societies based on usefulness do not necessarily make us happier or more in harmony with nature. Instead, he suggested that we should reject the idea of being useful altogether and focus on simply enjoying ourselves.

Zhuangzi used the metaphor of a gnarly tree to illustrate his point. Just like the tree, we should strive to simply be, without reducing ourselves to tools that serve others or the economy. Disabled bodies, according to Zhuangzi, are also seen as good lives because they challenge the utilitarian calculus that dominates our daily existence. By rejecting the pressure to constantly be useful, we can find peace and follow the Dao, or the Way.

One of the dangers of constantly striving to be useful is that it can end up being harmful to ourselves. Zhuangzi tells the story of a deformed oak tree in a dream, which laments that its more useful brethren have miserable lives and are cut off prematurely. By rejecting the need for usefulness, we can avoid falling into this trap and instead focus on a life of drifting and easy wandering. This approach allows us to experience true freedom, without being bound by the expectations of others.

Zhuangzi's philosophy suggests that we should not evaluate our life choices solely based on their usefulness. Instead, we should celebrate diversity and difference, embracing wildly varied ways of living life well. Each person should live true to what gives them energy and vitality, without feeling the need to constantly serve some greater good.

In a similar vein, the fitness app Strava has built a community around the idea of embracing physical activity for its own sake, rather than for the purpose of achieving specific goals. Strava initially targeted avid cyclists and built a community of like-minded people who understood the importance of pushing oneself and celebrating personal achievements.

The app's leaderboard feature, borrowed from online gaming, allowed users to compete with others who had cycled the same route. This competitive element, combined with a supportive community, created a sense of camaraderie and motivation. Strava users were not just tracking their own activities, but also keeping tabs on friends and peers, pushing each other to go further and faster.

Strava's success lies in its ability to combine the competitive appeal of leaderboards with a sense of community. Athletes on Strava understand the importance of coming back from injury or striving for personal bests, and this shared understanding creates a bond among users. Strava has expanded beyond just cycling, with running becoming a popular activity among women and cycling remaining popular among men.

The app's popularity extends beyond the United States, with Brazil becoming its second biggest market. Brazilians, known for their social nature and love for sports, have embraced Strava as a way to connect with others and track their fitness progress. Similarly, the French and Germans have also shown a strong interest in the app, with each country having its preferred activity.

While Strava has gained a loyal following, the company faces the challenge of monetization. Options include becoming a subscription-only service, selling the company, selling user data to advertisers, or exploring new revenue streams. Strava's currency is not just effort, but also goodwill among its users.

In conclusion, both Zhuangzi's philosophy and the success of Strava teach us valuable lessons about embracing our own uselessness. In a world obsessed with productivity and usefulness, it is important to remember that our worth is not solely determined by what we can contribute. We are not mere tools or vessels for others' benefit, but glorious parts of a wild and diverse universe.

To embrace our own uselessness and find freedom in a society that values productivity, here are three actionable pieces of advice:

  • 1. Let go of the pressure to constantly be useful: Take time to simply enjoy yourself and be present in the moment. Embrace activities that bring you joy and fulfillment, regardless of their usefulness.
  • 2. Surround yourself with a supportive community: Seek out like-minded individuals who understand the importance of personal growth and achievement. Their support and encouragement can help you stay motivated and push beyond your limits.
  • 3. Embrace diversity and celebrate different ways of living: Recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a meaningful life. Embrace your unique passions and interests, and respect the choices of others. By celebrating diversity, we can create a more inclusive and fulfilling society.

By incorporating these principles into our lives, we can reclaim our own sense of purpose and find true freedom in a world that often values usefulness above all else.

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