Mind The Gap – Mind The Work: Dan Harmon on The Mindrolling Podcast

Dan Harmon

I can’t tell y’all how much the work of Dan Harmon has served to increase the quality of my life.

Whether it was through his show Rick and Morty or more recently (for me) his show Community which helped me get out of many depressive funks I was in, Harmon has a knack for making a show about weirdos, by weirdos, for weirdos. And while that’s not a new thing it’s still a refreshing thing to see it come to life on the small screen.

Hell, I’ve never really listened to Harmon’s podcast Harmontown but seeing the documentary about it on Netflix was such a powerful experience that I remember tearing up once or twice, even having never watched it before. I think part of the reason why I connect so much with Harmon (besides the fact that he’s such a blunt and weird person) is that he’s autistic.

Like me, Dan Harmon is autistic and would probably be considered “high-functioning” (not a big fan of this model but as of now I’m unaware of a better and generally understood one) due to his output of work. But it isn’t like having all of this work is necessarily good for him either, even if it’s almost always creative and largely self-directed.

That was one of the many topics Harmon discusses on a podcast called Mindrolling which mostly centers around the topics of mindfulness – that is, being present and in the moment with your emotions and experiences. I’ve talked before about the benefits of mindfulness while still remaining skeptical of its more mainstream and corporate applications, but it certainly has its place within a larger conversation about how we work and how we relax.

For Harmon, relaxing and not taking jobs seems like something that’s inherently wrong. He explains that as someone who has been unemployed much of his life, he always feel likes not taking a job can’t be good. Being unemployed has many adverse effects but I had never thought about this. When we actually achieve what we want (I’d like to be a comic book writer) then how do we know when to stop? When is it time to take care of ourselves by stopping?

Doing the things we love can be an invigorating sensation but it can also be highly addictive. Love in general is an addictive and drug like emotion that constantly feeds back into itself. It loops back around and places greater emphasis on those things you had already noticed so it can keep reasserting itself, but stronger each time. And it will keep getting stronger and possibly even life-threatening unless you control your emotions with reason.

Reason is the mitigating factor for when our emotions take too string of a hold on our lives. It’s our ability to make sense of what we’re doing and what it says about ourselves. Do we do this work because we want to? Because we’ve gotten into the habit? Even if you love something or someone it doesn’t mean their good for you, love isn’t all you need.

Part of why Harmon goes through these emotions is another reason why I can relate to him:

Lack of self-esteem.

Harmon tends to lash out at people when they criticize him because he thinks, “Why are they calling me a piece of shit? I already know I am a piece of shit! Do they think I’m stupid?” And while I don’t have such a visceral reaction to criticism I can definitely see where Harmon is coming from and why it makes sense within the context of an unhealthy sense of self.

For me, my self-esteem tends to manifest in not thinking I deserve better. So even if I don’t really like my job right now I still think of how it’s miles better than my last and am just glad I have that. It’s a good thing to focus on but ultimately it can make me complacent and focus less on where it needs to be: my writings.

I have already written one issue of a comic book and am looking to start writing another issue soon, but with the tumultuous times we live in, it can feel difficult to put my time into such a self-indulgent project. Ultimately it’s likely to be a project that tends to help me much more than anyone else. And even if I consider myself an individualist anarchist it’s still a hard thing for me to feel like I deserve to take that time, especially when Trump is about to be president.

Interestingly, Harmon has difficulty recounting what his shittiest job was.

He credits that to a mountain of self-blame where he’d always remark to himself that it’s his fault anyways. So it’s hard for him, even in retrospect, to look at it objectively and talk about what job he liked and what he didn’t. Ultimately he comments on his work in the food service and talks about how miserable that was. Not only because of his lack of skills but because of others abundance of skills in things as menial as washing dishes. Duncan Trussell comments how he always really enjoyed dishwashing because for him it’s a job with low respect but also low expectations and thus you can feel a lot more at ease about it.

In general, low stakes often help you orient yourself to adapting situations much more easily. For example, even though I’m fairly broke right now, I can still feel pretty at ease about my job because it’s not nearly as stressful. I don’t have to deal with hot foods, I’m on the slowest days for retail (Sunday, Monday and Wednesday) and my hours aren’t that bad either. The pay is decent and so are my weekly hours; my co-worker(s) seem nice and so do my managers and the job itself isn’t that hard.

Besides all of that I’ve blatantly slacked off several times when no customers are around and so far (though it’s only been three days in) not punished for it. It’s hard to be stressed at a job when you have that many factors going well.

Harmon goes on to talk about an ideal society that’s less bureaucratic and driven by people’s self-interested desires. It would involve a smaller focus on money and more on integrity and making sure those who show it are rewarded and not punished like they are in corporations. That’s broadly a world I can get behind and Harmon even mentions anarchism in a rather positive light (unsurprising given the politics of Harmon’s two shows I’ve mentioned).

Still, I don’t know that the focus on money in our society is the root issue so much as who tends to control the money. Having top-down and centralized organizations like corporations and governments have such a monopoly on the production, regulation and distribution of money and why it socially means seems like a bigger deal than the fact that we have this tool to facilitate relationships to begin with.

Despite that minor criticism of Harmon, the podcast is overall worth listening to. I didn’t even talk about the parts where he discusses how Hollywood in particular incentivizes bosses to diminish the importance of the workers for the sake of the work. There’s also interesting bits about spirituality and mindfulness towards the end of the podcast which get into how we deal with our emotions, Buddhism, suffering and a lot other cool topics.

Definitely worth checking out.

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