Saturday, 11 April 2015

Between winning routines and unproductive distractions

The vision of life as a sequence of work interrupted by holiday trips was born a century ago, but our mental patterns are more than 5.000 years old. The practice of going away at regular intervals and leaving everything behind would have seemed incomprehensible to most 19th century entrepreneurs, composers, or inventors. They would have looked at us with surprise and inquired about the purpose of all that travelling.

Productiveness and happiness

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is known to have spent his entire life in Konigsberg, a city that nowadays belongs to Russia. Apparently, he never wandered more than a few kilometres away from Konigsberg, where he worked for decades as a university professor. If he had wished to travel, he possessed the means to do so.

Kant never crossed the ocean to see America and never visited Russia, even though St. Petersburg is not far away from Konigsberg. He never went to London, never set foot in Paris, and never spent a summer in Rome. For all we know, he did not even go to Berlin for a weekend. If this sounds boring to you, wait until you read the whole story.

Due to financial difficulties in his youth, Kant was forced to interrupt his studies for a couple of years. He eventually managed to obtain an advanced degree and, when he was 31 years old, he landed a teaching job at the University of Konigsberg, where he would continue to lecture until his retirement decades later.

Sound daily routines

For most of his life, Kant did pretty much the same every day, irrespective of the season. He would have breakfast, walk to the University, teach his classes, have lunch, do some research, write a few pages of his next book, return home, and have dinner.

When his friends urged him to have a more active social life, Kant politely replied that he had no time. There was always some exciting subject that he was researching or some important book that he was planning. His writing kept him busy, leaving little room for travel and other activities.

After a quarter of a century at his job, he produced his most important book, the Critique of Pure Reason (1781). When the volume was published, Kant was already 57 years old and fully conscious of the importance of what he had accomplished. History would prove him right. His work has exerted foremost influence on philosophers during the last two centuries.

The insights contained in Kant's book prepared the ground for scientific discoveries and industrial development. His ethical theories, which underline the role of reason, stressed the importance of individual responsibility.

Clear-cut decisions

Would Kant have written such exceptional book if he had spent several weeks per year travelling for pleasure? Would he have produced such extraordinary achievement if he had interrupted his work at regular intervals? No, obviously not.

Do not assume that you are obliged to follow the trend. If there is a lesson to be learned from Kant's life, is that you can attain great success without going anywhere. Travelling for pleasure can be great fun, but if there are better things that you could do with your time, do not let anybody decide for you.

For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my books


Image by jonrawlingson under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under

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