Don’t Do Homework with Your Life

Yesterday I came across an interesting sentiment in this Gizmodo piece about the director Guillermo del Toro, who made Pan’s Labryinth and The Shape of Water.

The last question of the night was about videogames. Del Toro, a dedicated gamer — his children serve as his “wingmen” when he plays Left 4 Dead — is moving into making games, stating matter-of-factly that they’re as legitimate of a medium as film and literature. “I expect and hope to create what I would like to see in a videogame,” he says, after rattling off some of his favorite videogames at near-incomprehensible speed, just as he did when someone asked him his favorite authors: Shadow of the ColossusIcoGadget: Invention, Travel, & AdventureMarathonHaloGears of WarCall of DutyKatamariLeft 4 DeadRed Dead RedemptionPrototypeBioshockUncharted 2. He plays a ton of games, though he doesn’t finish anything he doesn’t like — and this holds true for books, film, whatever. “If it doesn’t engage me, I leave it,” he said. “I do not do homework with my life.”

And this really struck me. How many times have I plowed through books I didn’t enjoy just to be able to say I finished them? How many times have I made myself watch to the end of movies I wasn’t interested in just so I could get my “money’s worth”?

For me, part of this is the sunk-cost fallacy of “I invested in this, so I shouldn’t abandon this,” but another component is feeling like I need to do or enjoy certain things because it’s in the zeitgeist. And in the past few years, I have learned that keeping up is exhausting. Having to learn and care about everything in pop culture is a full-time job in itself and is also just impossible. You can’t win here.

This isn’t an argument against challenging yourself or trying new things or seeing difficult things through, but rather, permission to do more of what you enjoy and do less of the things that feel like an obligation. If it’s purely for your enjoyment, then why put these rules and expectations on yourself?

In the spirit of transparency, here’s a non-exhaustive list of things I have toiled through long after the point of enjoyment:

  • Pretending to enjoy professional football
  • Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder
  • Online coding courses
  • “Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere” by André Aciman (sorry, dude, but it’s been three months since I started your book, and if I have to hear about you strolling through one more piazza, I will die)
  • Pod Save America and all of its associated podcasts (Of “Lovett or Leave It,” I chose Leave It)
  • Top 40 radio stations
  • Wearing cheap, sweat-inducing polyester business casual clothing
  • Any news articles, explainers, and thinkpieces about Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, the Kardashians, and Kanye West
  • The Hunger Games, movies and books
  • Western movies and most rom-coms
  • Hate-watching Tomi Lahren (I have muted her name on Twitter forever)
  • Royal Family and Royal Wedding content
  • Eating pineapple, even though I never slice it correctly and the core cuts my mouth
  • Caring about Pokemon in any capacity
  • Top hats (lol)
  • American Idol
  • Forums about Myers-Briggs personality types (summary: INTJs are the best)
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
  • Thinking about what Hogwarts house is best for me
  • The Sherlock fanbase
  • Star Wars vs. Star Trek debate (my answer: neither)
  • Westworld (perhaps it’s early to say since season 2 just started, but does this show ever get fun?)
  • SNL skits and late-night TV segments about the Trump administration
  • Blogs exclusively about paleo, Whole30, gluten-free, vegan, and keto lifestyles
  • Beauty vloggers so wealthy that they seem untethered from reality
  • New York media scandals and spats that play out on Twitter
  • Starbucks Frappuccinos
  • Muse (your poster has been on my wall for 8 years, but I like to pretend that you stopped releasing music after Black Holes and Revelations)

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