Alan Watts’ Epic Career Advice (+ Why I’m Moving to Korea)

“What do you desire?” asks the great philosopher, Alan Watts. “What would you like to do if money were no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life?”

We hear these words, and we recoil slightly. We’re immediately suspicious. It’s rare in our lives to encounter someone audacious enough to prompt us to consider a world without money.

If money didn’t matter? Fairy tales! Balderdash! Poppycock! “Be practical,” a voice in our head says sternly. “Think about the future. Do what’s safe. Be secure. Take the sure thing.

We brush off Mr. Watts, assure ourselves he’s full of hooey, selling nonsense and pixie dust. But perhaps, in the back of our minds we wonder, What would I do?

The Most Magical 3-minute Video With Watts’ Advice

180 seconds. That’s how long this is. Watch it now, and really think about what he’s saying.

A Powerful Message

“Forget the money,” Watts urges. “Because if you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living — that is, to go on doing things you don’t like doing. Which is stupid.

What a profound truth Watts has woven here. He summarizes so succinctly the fruitlessness of turning one’s life into a money chase. He spells it out so clearly that it seems irrefutable, obvious even.

And yet, the vast, innumerable majorities of people on this planet do not follow this simple wisdom.

Why is this?

In a sentence, we’re afraid and we’ve been tricked.

Our cultures, the status quo, the media, and the people around us condition and coerce us into following an entirely different paradigm.

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We’re shown a fancy, glittering image of everything that can be ours if we just have money. We’re taught to emulate and idolize the rich, the famous, the “beautiful” people.

Flashing, Glitzy, Buy This

We’re hoodwinked into believing that wealth, status, and “upstanding” appearances are the supreme achievement of one’s life.

We’re told that the world is a dangerous, harsh place, and that we ought to follow the path of least risk, lest we be ground under by the mighty mammoth of destiny.

So we do as we’re told. We work jobs we don’t like for years and years, spending all of our wages adopting phony identities, trying our darnedest to look like affluent, attractive, important people with all of our ducks in a row.

We buy and buy and buy things we’re told will make us happy to compensate for an ambiguous feeling of dissatisfaction, a void in our lives.

“Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way,” Watts says.

What if the answer is that basic? What if we should stop living our lives for money and appearances and material things, and instead ask ourselves, “What would I really like to do?”

What if we should reflect on that question daily, experiment boldly with different things, pursue what excites us, and do whatever it takes to spend our lives doing what we enjoy? 

What if…

Why I’m Moving to South Korea

I first saw this Alan Watts video a long time ago, heard him ask me, “What makes you itch? What sort of a situation would you like?”.

listened to him. He certainly wasn’t the first to tell me to follow my bliss, to pursue my dreams. My parents had told me to do so since I was a little kid.

But as you grow older, society starts to clamp down on you, starts to get in your head. You doubt that feeling you once had that you could do whatever you wanted. 

We need people like Watts and others to remind us that we don’t have to settle. We don’t have to live someone else’s idea of a good life. We can live our own.

Henry David Thoreau, the American transcendentalist, once wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I love this quote. It seems to me the most incomparable tragedy to live one’s life only to realize at the end of it that one never truly lived it at all.

In four days, I’m boarding a plane to fly to South Korea.

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I’ll be teaching English and doing some traveling in Asia for at least one year. I feel this enormous life change warrants a statement of purpose, similar to the one Thoreau penned over 150 years ago. So, I leave you with this:

I went to Korea because I wished to live adventurously, to zealously encounter regions and individuals entirely unknown to me. I wished to write, to teach, to wander, and to learn more of this life and the world that bore me. I went to Korea to shatter self-imposed limitations, to be the hero of my living myth, and to behead the dragon named Fear. I went to Korea to follow the inscrutable, beckoning passion that I found whispering softly in my heart. I went to Korea for Love.


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About Jordan Bates

Jordan Bates is the Creator of Refine The Mind. He loves you. In 2013, he moved to South Korea to teach English, embarking on a nomadic journey that would lead him to 32 countries. In the process he became a writer, rapper, entrepreneur, and agnostic mystic. He’s deeply curious about how reality works, how to live well, and how to liberate all sentient creatures in existence. Befriend him and/or get his free eBook on how to exit the world of traditional work and live a radically free life. Amor fati, humans.

  • TaurusTurtle Aug 15, 2013, 12:03 am

    I wish you all the best! I hope one day soon I can make a decisive decision like this.

    • Jordan Bates Aug 15, 2013, 12:14 am

      Hey TaurusTurtle,

      Thanks a ton for the well-wishes. It might seem that I’ve made a mega-decisive move to teach English abroad, but it’s only for one year (more if I decide to renew my contract). I’m still experimenting and learning about myself all the time, but for me, just committing to *something* has proven most useful in the past. Best of luck to you; I’m sure you’ll hone in sooner or later. Until then, get your feet wet and enjoy yourself!

  • AmethystTulips Aug 15, 2013, 10:45 am

    Do you come from a middle to upper middle class background?

    • Jordan Bates Aug 15, 2013, 12:06 pm

      Hey AmethystTulips,

      My family is working class. I’d probably call us lower-middle. I had to pay for my own education, if that says anything. I see what you’re getting at though, and I’ve spent a lot of time mulling over this idea: Is it right to encourage people to try to do what they love when some people’s circumstances make it much more difficult or next to impossible to do so?

      I’ve decided that it is. I think that even if people have to work a job that is “just a job” but still make their free time into ‘do things that you love’ time, that’s a great start. It’s been hard for me to reconcile my desire to encourage people to do something they care about/want to do with the fact that making a *life* doing so isn’t feasible for many people.

      I had a more in-depth discussion on this recently in a forum I frequent if you want to check it out.

  • hugo Aug 15, 2013, 4:15 pm

    If you don’t have plans to marry, have kids, or get sick then yes money doesn’t matter.

    • Jordan Bates Aug 15, 2013, 5:27 pm


      I see your point — future family life or the plain ol’ unexpected are likely to occur, and we need money to deal with these things.

      Watts didn’t say that we should *actually* live as if money were no object. He said to imagine your life in the absence of money to gain a clearer understanding of what you would *do* with your time. Then you can be sure to make time for whatever that thing or those things is/are, and organize your life around what you like to do.

      Watts is saying that money should not be the *most* important thing, as it is for so many people. He isn’t so impractical as to suggest that it isn’t at all important. We certainly do need to be aware of its impact on our lives and come up with one or more streams of income.

      Thanks for commenting.

  • Jack Aug 30, 2013, 4:24 pm

    Hi Jordan, thank you for this post. I don’t write comments ordinarily but I felt compelled in this instance. Thank you very much and all the best in your endeavours.

    • Jordan Bates Aug 30, 2013, 10:34 pm

      Hey Jack, you’re welcome, man. Humbles me to hear that you felt especially compelled to leave a comment. I write these things for others, so it really gets me to hear from people who appreciate them. Take care, and don’t be a stranger.

  • Constantin Constantin Daniel G Sep 21, 2013, 10:23 am

    Hello Jordan. I really need to say something. I’m a 16 y.o. boy living in Romania Bucharest. I truly found your post insipring, given the fact that I already know some of Alan Watts’s recordings. I cannot detach myself from the unwritten rules of the modern society. I love the idea that I can do something that really matters to me and thinking without bounderies. But when it comes to fact, I am not able to do what I like, but only what I “need” to do and what will assure me a normal life . I feel like the dices have been already trown and is nothing else I can do. Did you feel any kind of doubt when you made your decison ,and do you think that if I find my courage I wll be able to do anything I want?

    • Jordan Bates Sep 22, 2013, 4:17 am

      Hello friend,

      I’m glad my post inspired you. What I’ve found to be true about breaking away from society’s unwritten rules of conduct is this: slow, deliberate, small steps. Make a habit of doing little things that you don’t really feel comfortable doing. Eventually, the things start to feel more comfortable, and you realize the world doesn’t come crashing down when you defy society’s expectation and your own. I definitely think it’s a “crawl before you walk” type of thing.

      If you’re someone who has “followed the rules” pretty strictly throughout your life, then imagining the complete opposite — a life where you do all sorts of wild and adventurous things that *you* want to do — will of course seem overwhelming and impossible. Instead, imagine a day where you strike up a conversation with a complete stranger, or speak out against something you disagree with, or dance wildly in a public place. It’s these little things that gradually begin to disillusion us with the idea that we should just stand in line and be quiet, well-behaved cogs in the scheme of the system.

      As you do more, you can take bigger and bigger risks, like say, travel abroad for a month or study anthropology because you love it or start a band or paint pictures, something that is intrinsically and not extrinsically rewarding — aka makes you feel good inside all by itself, rather than just making you feel good because you get some money or because other people approve of it.

      Once you do enough such things, you see that it’s the only way to live. It’s the only way to come alive. It’s true that most people simply exist. Have faith that you will build up this courage, and I promise you that you can. I have absolute conviction that you can. Believe. Realize that courage doesn’t mean the absence of fear and doubt. It just means acting in spite of those things.

      I was definitely a bit nervous before coming to Korea. However, all of my past experiences of doing things that frightened me helped me to understand that everything was going to be fine and that I had to act in spite of those feelings.

      Also, do remember that you’re only 16 years old. When I was 16 years old, I had my sights set on everything society wanted me to want — a lot of money, a fancy car, a mansion, and all sorts of shiny things. I was also socially uncomfortable and extremely self-conscious. I’ve changed and grown immensely over the last few years, mainly because I *decided* to. I *try* to learn and become a better, stronger person, and amazing things have come of it. So *try* and *believe*. You have all the time in the world ahead of you. The fact that you’re already thinking like this is a sign that you’ll care enough to do the type of work I’m talking about and surprise yourself in ways you can’t imagine currently. I believe in you, buddy. Keep in touch.

      P.S. You might want to read this post of mine as well:

      • Constantin Constantin Daniel G Sep 23, 2013, 9:36 am

        All I can say is Thank you! You really opened a door in my mind and made me feel the reality. I also read your post from the link, and I found it perfect to make order in the confusion I have. Belive me, I really can’t find my words right now, you helped in such a big way you cannot imagine. I really can’t say anything more. Thank you again for clearing my present and making me realise what truly matters. I wish you all the best, and I hope you would keep going with these life advices to teach others to live their life by their own inspiring way and not by modern society patterns.

        • Jordan Bates Sep 23, 2013, 11:20 pm

          You’re totally welcome, Daniel (okay to call you Daniel? That’s my dad’s name!).

          It makes me feel great to know that at least for now, I’ve been able to help you see things in a new way and see more possibility. Truly, that means a lot to me, so thank *you* for the kind words.

          I wish you all the best too. Keep in touch. I’ll keep on writing, but do remember that I never want to give the impression that my advice is golden or the only way to do something.

          Life is complex and can be lived in many ways, but I do firmly believe in breaking away from the status quo. I’m glad my words helped you. Keep in touch.

  • Love Travel Bass Sep 11, 2015, 3:56 pm

    Old post, but this one bothers me perpetually.

    I’ve done, many times in my life, things I simply want to do. From throwing raves, to traversing Southeast Asia by motorcycle, to DJing in all of the major clubs in Tokyo…and yet I perpetually run out of money…I perpetually have become a master in none of it and end up doing work that I simply don’t enjoy doing to make time to become a master in that which I do.

    I feel as if some of this is misleading, and I love Alan Watts. I want it to be so true that it hurts, and yet I feel as if he is wrong.

    Like you, I went to South Korea- because I wanted to. Perhaps, I unlike you, I stayed in a job that I did not enjoy, because I wanted to have the money to “do what I wanted to do”…which was travel Asia. After traveling Asia, and feeling victorious, I was flat broke…and did a job I didn’t want to do to…you get the circle.

    How are you these days?

    • Jordan Bates Sep 12, 2015, 11:22 pm

      hey Love Travel Bass,

      i’m totally with you on feeling that Alan paints a bit of an idealistic picture here, and i think that 22-year-old me was also a bit swept away by idealism. part of me feels that way at least. another part of me still totally agrees with the message here. even if trying to do what one loves ends up amounting to doing it in one’s spare time while having a job that is “just a job,” it’s still better to ask oneself what one would do if money were no object and try to make time for that thing or those things.

      i do still think it’s possible in many cases, though, to spend one’s life doing things that one truly loves and enjoys, if one wants it badly enough. truth be told, i’ve spent the last ~5 months working a job i don’t really care for in order to be able to live in SF. however, i wanted to live in this city for a number reasons and understood the trade-off i was making and have really enjoyed my time here and done so many awesome things.

      i am in fact about to quit that job, though, as i now also work for HighExistence (another blog) and can earn enough writing/editing/blogging to work remotely now. that has been a dream of mine for a while and kind of my ideal of doing what i love for a living. so i’m quite eager for the upcoming period of digital nomadism.

      i don’t know that i’ll want to do that forever, though. i actually love teaching and part of me thinks i might try to teach high school or college at some point. so i guess my situation would seem to be one example of how someone can make it work. i think there are almost always going to be limiting factors and ways in which your situation is sub-optimal, but i really can’t complain.

      best of luck and peace, brother.

      • Love Travel Bass Sep 17, 2015, 4:35 pm

        Thanks for the heartfelt reply. And yes…part of me definitely still agrees with his message. I just wish it was a bit more comprehensive. It’s why, even after 5 years of not being able to DJ professionally (by professionally- I mean a sustainable income to fund my lifestyle), I continue to give it time, energy, and love.

        Congrats on the new opportunity though (HighExistence), and also for your honesty about the uncertainty of what one would do “forever.” I am doing freelance “content marketing” right now, and it’s the first hint at remote working I’ve ever had. Clearing about 1500 a month, which for me, is a good start, but definitely not enough to move out from the family yet.

        I’ll make sure to follow you on Disqus. And all things considered, very glad I read your post. It resonated with me very deeply.


        • Jordan Bates Sep 17, 2015, 6:57 pm

          no problem man.

          also, are you joking?! hah, 1500/month is easily enough to live on in many places in the US and abroad. if you really want to, and are willing to be minimalistic and frugal, you can easily make that work.

          • Love Travel Bass Oct 8, 2015, 8:12 pm

            Was not joking, as for me, 1500 a month is borderline poverty (according to US standards, I think it’s technically poverty).

            One of my business projects is still alive (Tokyo Night Owl) and it’s in Tokyo. I am just barely keeping it afloat; stresses me out and I’ve almost “gave up and let it go” multiple times. I would return, but monthly income is way too low (1500/month- I’d be going in the negative). I bring it up- as an example- of why 1500/month can be very limiting. Additionally, it allows for little headroom to “invest.” Whether it’s actual investments, a business project, or self-education.

            My aspiration for year’s end is to clear 4K in a month. It may very well be unrealistic (in such a short time frame), but I want the freedom to travel to where I want to go; not where my budget “allows”

  • Max Nov 30, 2015, 6:47 am

    Hey man,

    Just wanted to comment to say that I liked your post, and that I too was quite familiar with Alan Watts’ video and this great piece of advice he imparts.

    Without going into any depth on how possible/plausible his suggestion is today (though I do agree that it is powerful, and feel strongly that it SHOULD be possible and plausible, in a society that was oriented the right way up),

    I just wanted to note the irony in this — that your “following your bliss” at the age of 22 was to go to South Korea and teach. While I am currently teaching English in South Korea, finding it terribly boring and uninspiring, but I am doing it JUST FOR THE MONEY! I am doing it just to save enough to make another move and get the heck out of Korea.

    Maybe you explained it elsewhere and in a later post, but I am curious to what extent you found that your time in Korea was actually blissful or inspiring. I also hope to be able to make a living just doing full-time blogging/writing/editing as you say you do now.

  • coco lolwane May 6, 2017, 3:11 am

    Anyone who takes this career advice, Alan Watts made an assumption on that video ‘what if money was no object’ and unfortunately that’s not how the world works today.