A couple of years ago, after having read The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, I decided to follow Alain de Botton on Twitter.
One fateful day I responded to one of his many interesting tweets with one my favorite quotes (I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made –FDR). He shared the quote with his followers, and then later, after following me back, sent me a direct message thanking me for the quote. Feeling a bit hold, I asked him for a short interview via email. He agreed. Being an optimist has its advantages.
I sent him the questions below, and he responded within a few days. Although his responses are short, they are packed with value. I hope you get as much out of his 88 words as I have.
(I've bolded the parts that stick out the most to me.)
Q 1: You take a look at the sort of philosophical meaning different jobs have in a very objective way throughout your book, and treat each occupation and field with consistent empathy. But I did notice that you were endeared to some more than others. For example, you talk about the painstaking work of the painter, and how little visibility he and his work get, but you get why he does it, and even, it seems to me, envy him in the best of ways. What makes you feel more connected to some work over others?
Alain: I am interested in work with meaning, that is, work that connects up with our desire to alleviate suffering and create pleasure in people’s lives.
Q 2: The career counselor was an interesting experience. [Mr. Botton visits a man who has been a career counselor, for teens and adults at a mid-life crossroads, for quite some time]. At the beginning, I thought you were falling in love with the idea of career counseling, and saw the good that Mr. Symons and his peers bring to our society. But by the end, after you get back the very general results of the aptitude test you took—which was supposed to tell you what you were put on this Earth to do—and watch him interact with people in search of a career compass, you are disappointed. Why?
Alain: I believe in career counselling but the science isn’t there yet. We don’t yet know how to place people in the right jobs. It’s like medieval brain surgery, on the right lines, but with a lot more development work to come.
Q 3: After surveying so many different types of work, what do you believe is important when choosing & doing work when it comes to our daily sense of fulfillment?
Alain: To align your talents with the needs of the world.
Sneak-in question: What do you do with your free time, when you are not writing or chronicling or researching? Feel free to drop some praise for procrastination—it will certainly make me feel better.
Alain: I have no time for anything…!