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Thoughts on Ariely’s Talk

I really enjoyed Ariely’s talk as an affirmation of the idea that work becomes greater when it aligns with your personal interests, goals, and missions. The experiment with the origami is especially useful to note: the more time and effort one puts into working on something rather than simply using it, the more one values their own work as a result.

I believe this effect is due to the process of producing itself – when you start to make things on your own, you have a better understanding of the details that go into a composition. Every subtle detail is your own choice – even what you may deem to be “mistakes” at the time are signs of your own progress. When one makes art, they begin to see the subtle strokes, palettes, and compositions that went into creating that painting. Or look at the process of coding a website. One must understand what each line of code contributes and how each component fits together. Even the universal process of cooking applies here: one must know what ingredients went into the final product and at what time. Couldn’t I have just bought Enzo’s or Domino’s instead of waiting 2 hours for your pizza? No. Shut up and eat this margherita.

In addition, the talk mentions that simply acknowledging someone else’s work goes a long way to improve their happiness about the project. We attach ourselves to our more passionate projects, and attacking those projects is attacking whoever created them to begin with. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be able to accept critique, but it means that we should be mindful to not dismiss their efforts entirely as well. It was also interesting to note that in the talk that in the experiment where subjects’ work was immediately shredded that they immediately stopped. Ariely points out that they could have taken full advantage of the fact that the experimenter wasn’t checking their work and just keep earning money, but that’s to suggest that we value the money above all else. Clearly from this talk, something else is driving our happiness with what we do each day.

Schoolwork vs DukeEngage

In terms of my personal schoolwork, I mainly feel the struggle itself is adding up to something. Every Spring semester, I take a good chunk of STEM courses, and while I felt that I wasn’t going to remember much of what I learned while I was learning it, I felt content whenever I understood a new concept or finished a new project. I wanted to see my challenges through to completion. Like in Ariely’s talk, the work I did for this project was my work. In the cases where I felt that I couldn’t take ownership of my work, however, I mainly gained satisfaction from the idea of measuring up to a level of progress – feeling that I was on the right track, whether it was learning skills for a course that will actually interest me or being on track for a degree. And occasionally, I get the chance to interject my personality into my work through reflective writings and other works.

In terms of my DukeEngage project this semester, I mainly gain satisfaction in that progress for this project is tangible. I work on a coding project, so I get to the results of my work gradually build on screen as I finish typing. Not only do I feel satisfaction in creating work that I can measure, but I gain satisfaction in being able to shape the work alongside teammates as we progress. Finally, any long-term project (compared to school) allows for more chances at deeper understanding and learning from mistakes. There will always be something to do.

In terms of an initial comparison, my DukeEngage work is more meaningful, as every effort during the summer is being made towards a clear goal that I don’t usually get during classes. In almost every STEM class I’ve taken so far, either there is no larger picture or that picture isn’t clear from the start. School almost has a Sisyphus effect – you get to the top of the learning curve and then you start completely over next semester. It might be my fault for choosing courses without a strong correlation to each other, but I figured the knowledge I gain from each course should have built together a little neater. This project provides the chance to create without a standard and see how far our group can go. Finally, this project is more meaningful in terms of career, because I normally have trouble sticking to projects on a larger scale, so this project provides meaningful experience in seeing one goal through the end.