Embracing the Meaningful, Sacrificing the Expedient
When I heard Chase talk about choosing the “meaningful” over the expedient as a key to cognitive integration, I was surprised. I was surprised that that concept I had heard articulated so many times — “the meaningful,” “delayed gratification,” etc. — was actually the key to human growth.
It was strange to me that the most complex psychological system I had come across was “unlocked” by the simple virtues I had been taught about my whole life — responsibility, humility, courage, and love. But these virtues are all subservient to something greater.
The meaningful and the expedient are estranged cosmic brothers that supersede the smaller categories of virtues. From the perspective of a human being, these driving forces are one of the deepest guiding binaries of life.
But topics about what is “meaningful” or what is “expedient” are not only abstract, but nebulous. And rightfully so. A universal maxim has to include, well . . . the whole universe. So, it only follows that we aren’t given a detailed path to follow.
Our goal here today is to unpack what the “meaningful” and the “expedient” represent, and what they do not. If the meaningful and the expedient really are one of the deepest guiding binaries in our lives, it is essential to unlock as deep an understanding of them as we possibly can, and then consciously apply that understanding to our lives.
What is The Meaningful?
There are two layers to the meaningful.
The first layer is the general layer, shared by all. It is universal meaning in the sense that it applies to every human being. It is the law that every human is subject to. This is what Jordan Peterson’s 7th rule — Pursue What Is Meaningful (Not What Is Expedient) — explores in depth.
This type of meaning is archetypal, relating to the fabric of reality. Universal meaning is encapsulated in the burden of delaying gratification. And, as Peterson is quick to point out, the defining characteristic of delayed gratification is sacrifice. Sacrifice something now so that you can have something better later.
The second layer of the meaningful is the layer of personal or specific meaning. Personal meaning is the specific fuel that your soul runs on. It is what you need in order to feel fulfilled. It is the reason you get up in the morning, and the reason why your sacrifices are worth it to you.
There is an unmistakable element of individualization to this layer. What we may experience as utterly banal may be lifeblood for another person. Personal meaning is the type of meaning that Victor Frankl’s masterful little book, Man’s Search For Meaning, is primarily about. Frankl believed that this type of meaning could be negotiated with. That, if we just looked at our lives, we could extract personal meaning from daily living once we put an end-goal in mind.
Meaning and Sacrifice
With regards to sacrifice, the first layer of meaning informs us that sacrifice is an essential part of finding the meaningful. This second layer of meaning challenges us to decide what to sacrifice. What do I leave behind? What specifically do I sacrifice? And for what in exchange? The answer will usually be something that assists your pursuit of the specific meaning that drives you.
How many masters of their craft — athletes, actors, writers, artists, intellectuals, you name it — had to sacrifice countless hours of what could have been more immediately pleasurable activities to spend time honing their craft?
To sum up what is “meaningful”, we will define it like this: The meaningful is found when we choose a path that will be better in the long run. It is when we do not sacrifice the future for the present but, if anything, the present for the future.
What is The Expedient?
When it comes to our psychology and our biology, we are wired to pursue the expedient. We are all born on a path to pursue the immediately pleasurable, characterized by the “I want it now” attitude. After all, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, right? It takes a certain amount of faith or hope to proceed otherwise.
Peterson defines the expedient as “the following of blind impulse.”
Expediency is when we ONLY do what is natural to us. It is when we ONLY do what is easy, simple, and safe for us. If we continue on the expedient path, continuing to give in to these natural tendencies, then we will not grow. And if we are not growing then we are dying. Expediency, practiced consistently over a long period of time, is death.
And, if expediency is on the path to death, there must also be an equal but opposite path. Why is it that Chase has made the connection between the meaningful path and the Tree of Life? The meaningful path is literally life-giving.
A Quick Note on the Expedient
We have all met that person who is no fun. Party pooper, lame-o, takes him/herself way too seriously, ALL the time. These people sacrifice too much for the future and their potential for a rich life is reduced as a result.
If we zoom out on the binary of expediency and meaningfulness, we see a fluid relationship between the two that gives us some much-needed consolation. In every binary, it is important to remember that there is a piece of Yin in the Yang and a piece of Yang in the Yin. In other words, there is some expedience in the meaningful, and some meaning in the expedient.
Pleasure is not evil. Comfort is not evil. Too much pleasure and too much comfort, however, hurts us. We can know this because there are also people who work too hard, too much, and for too long. There are people who delay gratification so much so that they don’t allow themselves any pleasures provided in the moment. It is like an athlete who, after years of hard work, finally wins a championship or a gold medal, and then immediately returns to his training with no celebration.
We could label these people as being too embedded on the “meaningful path”. But the true path of the meaningful takes into consideration that the present exists too. The one who is consumed with delayed gratification will spend all his time saving food for the winter that he forgets to eat now, and dies long before winter arrives.
Rest and pleasure are actually essential attributes to the meaningful. The only reason they are ignored in the conversation of what is meaningful is that they are already natural to us, whereas sacrifice is not. But together, in balance, both our rest and our work can become meaningful.
The way to understand how pursuing the pleasureful in the moment is still the best in the “long-run”, we simply must expand our perspective. We may stay up late one romantic evening with our partner and enjoy ourselves to the extent that we will not be as productive at work the next day as usual. But the “next” day is not the primary concern. How about next week? Month? Year? Decade? With a perspective geared toward sustenance, we can justify the presence of pleasures in our lives today, and consume them without guilt, so long as we keep a watchful eye.
To sum up the balance between the meaningful and the expedient: There is a time for the proverbial, and literal, quickie.
The Path of the Meaningful
If the path from the expedient to the meaningful is captured through modifying what is natural to us, then pursuing the meaningful is a learned behavior. We must move from what is unconscious to what is conscious for us. If it is natural to us, it means we don’t have to think about it. We aren’t conscious of the meaningful path in the same way animals aren’t conscious of their daily caloric intake.
And thus, we have arrived at the single-most vital tool in the pursuit of the meaningful: conscious awareness.
We can ONLY move things from the expedient to the meaningful through conscious awareness. We can only say “no” to natural impulses if we are aware of them. Our consciousness will naturally develop to an extent when we collide with reality. This is when our natural tendencies are not sufficient to survive or thrive within the inevitable adversity that life brings. In other words, suffering gives rise to consciousness and gives us the opportunity to consciously choose a better path, the meaningful path.
This is why Chase has said on multiple occasions that “wisdom is the most valuable substance in the cosmos.” It is wisdom that discerns which sacrifices will actually benefit the future, and which sacrifices are pointless, creating unnecessary hardship. Because wisdom is the result of the heat we have endured, it has created awareness within us. And make no mistake, wisdom is supreme awareness.
This is where the universal and the personal layers of the meaningful join. In the midst of the adversity we face, choosing the meaningful — both through delayed gratification and through the fire of our personal conviction — we begin to experience unity — integration — within ourselves.
The Four Shall Become One
What the Four Sides of the Mind offers is a map with a path. When we utilize this path consciously, we can become integrated through conquering our fears, developing our weaknesses, and learning the limits of our strength. It is through accepting the meaningful path that this is be done.
Via the Hero, our first gateway, we are born with direct access to one side of the mind: our Ego. The path to supreme conscious awareness — to wisdom — lies through the locked gates of the remaining three sides of the mind, and the optimization of the first path through our Ego. As they become unlocked, they be accessed meaningfully.
Accessing a side of our mind expediently is giving into the natural psychological tendencies of that side of the mind. For example, our anxiety is linked with our Inferior, which is linked to the Subconscious. Our natural tendency is to access the Subconscious through anxiety and/or pride. The meaningful way to access the Subconscious — an “Orderly Transition” — is through humility, learning to embrace and move through our anxiety, which will soon become confidence.
The same goes, respectively for the potentially worrisome and critical Unconscious and the potentially hateful, resentful Superego. They are “solved” by similarly accompanying characteristics that allow for orderly transitions. Which is detailed in Season 19 available here.
The meaningful path of the human being brings these four pieces closer together. The expedient path only furthers the divide.
Like What You Read?
In season 29, the theme of the meaningful vs the expedient is explored individually for each of the types. If you want to grow your awareness of the tendencies that your type has toward the expedient, and the tools you can develop to embrace the meaningful, check out seasons 19 and 29 through our Journeymen membership here.
For more reading, check out our blog to see other articles from Coach Jay Ackley and myself, as well as transcripts and videos of Chase’s past lectures.
- Coach Jay Ackley’s article discusses love and vulnerability for the 16 types.
- In this article, we discuss how each of the types experiences the present moment.