Justin Li


Smile!

2009-03-27

I had this conversation more than once with a GSW student this quarter:

Her [working on the problem, looking up to see me smiling]: What? What are you smiling at?
Me: I'm not laughing at you. I smile at everything.

This is becoming truer and truer over time. I don't literally smile all the time, but I see humor in a lot of things. Even if people who smile don't do so well in life, they tend to have more fun... which is the point, right?

My dad has always had this work/play distinction. This is a quote from an actual email he sent me:

Sometimes, I ask myself, am I a bit selfish? Many people start working for charity after retirement - to continue to use their knowledge and experience to help the society grow, and to help the under-privileged people. On the other hand, I think that I have also spent the last 30 years actively involved in the building and managing an excellent railway for the people of Hong Kong. Considering that I work 12 to 14 hours a day, I think I have worked for 45 years already, based on an 8-hour day. I think I have done my part and I do not owe the society anything. Any extra effort must be extra. Should I start playing now, do the things I like to do, reserve the remaining time of my life to myself and spend the time with the people around me? I do not mind doing some volunteer work, but it must not be "work".

The above may seem far-reaching to you. As you know, I always adopt the value of "Work Hard, Play Hard". Work must come first. If I do not work hard in my younger days, I cannot figure out how I can play hard. I may not even have the money for you and your brother to attend an international school and study abroad! Having said all these, I am not asking you to take me as an example. You should always balance working and playing, although still giving "work" the priority. Does that make sense?

We often had semi-philosophical discussions like this, so it wasn't surprising. I wrote back,

About working: you know I've always had a different view. Working should be playing, damn it. Yes you should spent time hiking, running, or something that makes you happy, but why shouldn't working make you happy too? I'm teaching this quarter, and I get paid \$400 a quarter. I enjoy teaching, and I enjoy watching people learn. If I didn't, I probably wouldn't have applied for the job in the first place. So yes, "work hard, play hard," but preferably "at the same time."

Besides, the most famous scientists all had a great sense of humor. Einstein:

[![](http://www.nital.it/sguardi/43/gallery/superstar/images/01_einstein.jpg)](http://www.nital.it/sguardi/43/gallery/superstar/images/01_einstein.jpg)

And Feynman:

[![](http://pmc.polytechnique.fr/pagesperso/dg/recherche/feynman.jpg)](http://pmc.polytechnique.fr/pagesperso/dg/recherche/feynman.jpg)

who played the bongo drums. He also said to People magazine after getting his Nobel prize, "If I could explain it to the average person, I wouldn't have been worth the Nobel Prize." Nuts.

In fact, Freeman Dyson thought being funny is highly related to these two's fame:

Scientists who become icons must not only be geniuses but also performers, playing to the crowd and enjoying public acclaim. Einstein and Feynman both grumbled about the newspaper and radio reporters who invaded their privacy, but both gave the reporters what the public wanted, sharp and witty remarks that would make good headlines. Hawking in his unique way also enjoys the public adulation that his triumph over physical obstacles has earned for him.

Really the important thing, I think, is making your work fun. I totally agree with Paul Graham, who's essay How to Do What You Love I've referenced ad nauseum. With academia it's easy - I won't go into a field I didn't like anyway.

To drive home the point, here's a TED talk by Stuart Brown on why play is vital.

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