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Learning About the Value of Work from Achievers

ARU course teaches how to apply philosophy to getting the most out of one’s work and career.

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Building a career out of work one loves is one of the most important goals — if not the most important goal — in life. Work is our means of sustaining ourselves and of creating values that enrich our lives. As Rand explains: “‘Productive work’ . . .  means the consciously chosen pursuit of a productive career, in any line of rational endeavor, great or modest, on any level of ability. It is not the degree of a man’s ability nor the scale of his work that is ethically relevant here, but the fullest and most purposeful use of his mind.” But how do we choose a career that lives up to this standard?

Because I had been thinking deeply about these issues myself, I decided to enroll in the Ayn Rand University (ARU) course Philosophy, Work, and Business when I first learned of it. I became one of more than sixty participants, ranging from high school students, thinking about their first jobs, to people close to retirement, reflecting on their careers. The goal of the course was to take Rand’s conception of productive work as an ambitious central value and better understand what it takes to apply this idea to one’s own life and career.

The course was led by three experienced and knowledgeable instructors, whose expertise complemented each other: Onkar Ghate, a philosopher; Tal Tsfany, a former business leader (and now the leader of a philosophic institute); and Don Watkins, an accomplished writer and head of ARU’s coaching program. The course explored the role of philosophy in cultivating success in work. For example, we discussed how to be purposeful in one’s work and how to integrate work with other values in one’s life. We reflected on how to choose a career path, develop career skills, and create a vision for our career — and how to change our career path entirely.

We learned not only from our instructors, but also from successful entrepreneurs, intellectuals and professionals in various fields who were guests of the class. These included Alex Epstein, a philosopher and energy expert; Keith Schacht, an entrepreneur; and Yaron Brook, author and speaker.

I’ve asked two other participants about their thoughts on the course. Scott Wilson, a subsea engineer, described how the course has impacted his thinking about his own career:

In the Philosophy, Work, and Business course I learned new ways of thinking about my career in engineering as an exciting, engaging, and continuous project — not a series of daunting decisions to get right in order to end up doing what I’m “meant” to be doing. I particularly enjoyed the guest speakers and their stories from their own work, providing clear examples of the application of the skills being discussed in class, and unique insights into successful career strategies. My favorite resource on the course was the instructor office hours, which was a great opportunity to delve deeper into class topics, or bounce ideas about my own career off the instructors.

Dhrithi Valluri, a philosophy student, told me something I can easily relate to:

This class quickly became something I could look forward to every week. The course was wonderful in demonstrating the positive feedback loop that follows from applying the right principles — each week someone from a different walk of life would come in to show all of us their unique perspective on work and happiness as they’ve applied it within their specific career path. 

The class we had with Keith Schacht was my particular favorite; he said something that’ll stick with me for a long time about how important it is to find and have fun in whatever you do in your work. It was an entirely new perspective to me — I’d always been told that a lot of times you simply have to suffer through your job until you can do what you really like.

I loved the dynamic that the instructors created and the way they built off of one another, but even more than that I found the course to be life-affirming. It did a great job of showing, not telling, the way success is possible for those who want it. 

I also found this course to be life-affirming and highly motivating, and so I wholeheartedly recommend watching three of the guest interviews. I think you will find them enjoyable and valuable.

READ ALSO:  Ayn Rand's Critique of the 'Left'

Interview with Alex Epstein:

Interview with Keith Schacht:

Interview with Yaron Brook:


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Ziemowit Gowin

Ziemowit Gowin, PhD candidate in philosophy, is a junior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute and web editor of New Ideal.

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