In Praise of Underachievement

Given the ubiquity of the achievement lobby, underachievement is actually no easy thing to grasp. But has it ever occurred to you to try for something less than your best in order to be happy?

What's the Latest Development?


A little-known book on the virtues of laziness, written in 2006 by a medical doctor named Ray Bennett, is receiving some renewed attention for its serious discussion of purposeful mediocrity. In The Underachiever's Manifesto, Bennett demonstrates the power and ubiquity of the achievement lobby by arguing that underachievement is more difficult than it should be. "Our world is so full of unrelenting messages about being the best you can be that it may not even have occurred to you to try for anything less." Today, says Bennett, it is not unusual for career ambitions to hollow out a marriage or for talented people to eat poorly and smoke too much. 

What's the Big Idea?

In one respect, Bennett's message is as old as Aristotle's advice that to be moderate in all things is part of living a happy life. "But the deeper point is your life is an enormously complex web of interacting variables, and it's impossible to know how, when you focus on maximising one or two of them, you'll end up distorting the others." Toward the end of Bennett's appropriately short treatise, he quotes Picasso (that famous underachiever): 'You must always work not just within, but below your means. If you can handle three elements, handle only two… In that way, the ones you do handle, you handle with more ease, more mastery, and you create a feeling of strength in reserve.'

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

Why a federal judge ordered White House to restore Jim Acosta's press badge

A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration likely violated the reporter's Fifth Amendment rights when it stripped his press credentials earlier this month.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta (R) returns to the White House with CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist after Federal judge Timothy J. Kelly ordered the White House to reinstate his press pass November 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. CNN has filed a lawsuit against the White House after Acosta's press pass was revoked after a dispute involving a news conference last week. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Acosta will be allowed to return to the White House on Friday.
  • The judge described the ruling as narrow, and didn't rule one way or the other on violations of the First Amendment.
  • The case is still open, and the administration may choose to appeal the ruling.
Keep reading Show less

How to split the USA into two countries: Red and Blue

Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin.

Image: Dicken Schrader
Strange Maps
  • America's two political tribes have consolidated into 'red' and 'blue' nations, with seemingly irreconcilable differences.
  • Perhaps the best way to stop the infighting is to go for a divorce and give the two nations a country each
  • Based on the UN's partition plan for Israel/Palestine, this proposal provides territorial contiguity and sea access to both 'red' and 'blue' America
Keep reading Show less

Water may be an inevitable result of the process that forms rocky planets

New research identifies an unexpected source for some of earth's water.

Surprising Science
  • A lot of Earth's water is asteroidal in origin, but some of it may come from dissolved solar nebula gas.
  • Our planet hides majority of its water inside: two oceans in the mantle and 4–5 in the core.
  • New reason to suspect that water is abundant throughout the universe.
Keep reading Show less