After You Ship

When I publish a list of the best philosophy books on Four Minute Books, the writing process is satisfying. It’s a lot of work, but I can just type, type, type and then release the work with almost no edits. If I work on a list for multiple days, I can go to bed each day knowing what I’ve achieved. Two thousand words, four thousand words, six thousand words — however many they may be, I’ll be exhausted but satisfied, tired but happy.

After I publish, however, the satisfaction fades as quickly as the days on which I manufactured it. The list is just a list — a useful document, perhaps even a fun one, but nothing that ignites the soul. Something worth looking up but not remembering.

When I write a long, winding piece about the connection between knowledge and relationships, the process is agony. I stare at the blinking cursor for hours, delete paragraphs right after I write them, and keep doubting the entire composition alongside my sanity every night while I slowly drift to sleep. Once I finally hit publish, however, a vial of pride juice breaks and slowly begins to release its intoxicating contents. I don’t care about the stats. I disregard the piece’s performance. I bathe in the glory of the one kind email by a reader six months down the line, and I conclude: “That was totally worth it. I’m so happy that I wrote this.”

Whether you produce blog posts, photographs, or happy customers, the conundrum staring you in the face is the same: The part of your life that happens after you ship will be a lot longer than the brief phase in which you toil away on whatever you are making. Therefore, when you optimize for satisfaction-on-the-go, you sacrifice long-term happiness for short-term convenience.

The version of me that’s working on a book list disappears as soon as the list is posted. The version of me that remembers once having published a book list will be around for a long time. Of course, you can’t always pick pride. On some days, you just have to show up and do your job. But the longer the blandness lasts, the more you’ll wonder: “Why am I not happy after I ship?” Make sure you take one for yourself before you forget the answer.