I read a book a while ago titled Stop Doing Stuff You Hate. While the concept is simple enough to understand, its implementation is actually much more difficult than you might imagine. Because most of us don’t know what we hate. And we don’t know what we love either. Not really. Not once you pull back the layers of expectations, obligations and responsibilities. And those could be deep because they’ve formed over the course of years. We have commitments. Real or otherwise, to ourselves, our loved ones and to society at large.
Over the course of our lives, there have been an incomprehensible number of experiences that have happened to us or that we have witnessed. Each one has played a role underneath the exterior of our psyche and influenced us in ways we can’t always recognize. Once planted, they tend to act like a puppet master. If we’re not aware of them, they will pull the strings that direct our actions and thoughts, ultimately forming the fabric of our character.
And scars can come in many forms: Interactions we’ve brushed off that our subconscious recognized as trauma, lessons we were taught that our subconscious recognized as dogma and all of the rules that we’ve been lectured on about who to be, what to do and how to live.
Chances are that you, just like me, get caught up in the “should” mentality. We have all sorts of expectations about what we should want or what we should do or what kinds of people we should be. And those preconceived notions, well intentioned or not, leave us quite far from actually being the person that deep down we desire to be.
Because i’m betting that if you were given a magic wand a single wave would render your entire life perfectly as you’d want it, you would find that you’re not currently living that dream life. And you might think that’s obvious. You might think you would want a million dollars or a mansion or a sports car or some other arbitrary metric of success that you’ve overheard other people talking about. But have you thought about what you want in life long enough and deeply enough to know for sure?
If we dug into those things and questioned them, you may find that they don’t hold up to scrutiny. Why do you want those things? And what do they really mean to you? What do they represent to you that makes you feel like you need them? And what else do you want? What are your relationships like? What is your schedule like? Who are your friends and what are they like? There are arguably many ways to go about getting your dream life but all of them are useless if you don’t know what that life looks like in the first place.
Given the chance to comment on what they would do with unlimited money and resources, many people like to say that they would retire to an island somewhere but like Jordan Peterson points out, “that’s not a life plan, that’s a damn postcard.” Even the least motivated among us would be pretty bored after a month. After three months, anyone would be completely miserable. And that’s because we have a propensity to let material issues run our thought processes. What would your soul need? What would you need in order to wake up every single day and feel like you are living a life that is worth all of the struggle you put into it?
If we got down to it, most people wouldn't even know what direction in which to wave the wand. Because most of us, myself included, are somewhat lost to who we really are and what we really want. And much of that stems back to the fact that we are fighting a battle with the should mentality.
Much of what we do want seems individualistic in nature and so we bury our true ambitions deep down inside. We’re conditioned to believe we should want something more altruistic or more responsible than what we do want and so here we are, gridlocked in the middle, doing what we should do and avoiding what we want to do. We never face the things that we really want, so we set up shop in the land of “should”, the land of settling and mediocrity. And it’s where we’ve built our entire culture.
You do want money but believe that you should only want virtue, so deep down the confliction manifests as resentment. Resentment toward what you want but what your subconscious won’t ever allow you to have.
“Rich people are greedy anyway.”
You do what to look good naked but that sounds vain and you should strive for health and self-love, so you relent and that manifests as baggy clothes hiding a body you’d rather not show off and ambitions you hope to keep hidden as well so that they don’t earn you a label like conceited. Because if you want to change something about yourself, you must not love yourself.
“People that want to change their bodies are unhappy anyway.”
You do want freedom in your time to do activities, hobbies and things that interest you but you should work hard at a stable job so that manifests as you working 40 plus hours a week for someone else's dream while you continue to live for the weekends.
“But they’ve got great benefits!”
You do want to travel the world but you should get a mortgage because it’s “such a great investment” and that manifests as at least a quarter of a million dollars in debt, handcuffs to the job you may or may not like, and a semi-permanent anchor ensuring that you never get to explore all of the areas in the world that are begging for your presence.
“But it’s the American dream.”
You do want a relationship that gives you sex like a 90’s R&B song, adventure you couldn’t imagine sharing with anyone else and a level of comfort that allows someone else to know you for your quirky, true self. But last time you went for it you got your heart broke and who in the hell would want to repeat that? Plus, according to society you should be settled down by now and so we stick with the safe bet and all of our setting down inadvertently becomes settling for.
“But they’re good to me. Plus dating is hard.”
You want to be known for having done something great. You want to be known for having made a contribution to this world that you can be proud of. Because on some level we all crave significance. But you have been told to be weary of taking on too much. And maybe that’s true. Maybe the weight of your ambitions would crush you if you ever really went after them.
But then again, maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe you are actually perfectly positioned to accomplish that one thing you’ve always wanted to do or running that one business you’ve always wanted to start. And isn’t this inauthentic life kind of crushing you anyway? Sure it’s not an acute pain. But the constant vying for attention from people you don’t give a shit about and desperately trying to live up to someone else's invisible standard can’t be that easy.
It’s likely that at least one of these “shoulds” are running your life right now like they are mine. We have a seriously hard time confronting the things that we really want because of some sort of misplaced altruism or allegiance to a standard we never asked for. Which calls into question a bigger problem.
We are settling - but do we even know what the actual cost is, of all this settling?
The cost is precisely what the outcome might be if you stopped settling. But it’s actually more than you might imagine because there is more than just you to consider. There is the personal cost which is essentially the life you are leaving on the table and won’t get to live as a consequence. But then there’s also the impact to the world at large.
What if you began to prioritize yourself and the things that you want? How much better might your life be? How much happier might you be? And if you were to be happier, fitter or have more money, how much better than would you be positioned to help the world around you?
If you were to tend to your needs first and foremost and ensure that you were the best possible version of you that you could be, how much better than, would the world be for having someone as amazing as you in it?
What business isn’t the world getting because you’re too afraid to start it? How much better would that stranger’s day be if you smiled in the morning because of the opportunity before you instead of glumly walking by as you head for the fate you feel locked into? And this is going to sound radical but what if we all smiled in the morning because of that same opportunity? It’s almost impossible to know the ripple effect that chasing our ambitions would have.
What we do know for sure, is the outcome when we allow the fear of going against the grain to dictate our actions. And this is worth noting in itself because you’re already aware of the downside. If you go for it, like really go all in on the life that you want and it ends up not working out, you know you can go back to living for the weekends. The rat race is always accepting applications.
But all of the things that you should do are zapping you of your energy and robbing you of your natural gifts and talents. The unfortunate by product of that same settling is that the world is being robbed of the authentic you. And that “you” might be poised to do something great. The chances of getting your dream career, relationship or lifestyle might be slim but they’re not zero.
Right now though, while you cling to what appears safe and familiar, while you avoid your true ambitions like they’re that weird guy you went on one awkward date with, they’re zero.
Quit being so afraid of what you really want. You want to have your cake and eat it too but we’ve all been conditioned to believe that isn’t a realistic expectation. The truth is, having a cake you’re not allowed to taste would suck. Same thing goes for your life. So figure out exactly what it is you want and begin baking.
But don’t think for a second that it won’t take work. Metaphorically speaking; figuring out a way to eat cake and still look good naked is no easy task. But the way I see it, we don’t have an alternative. Because a life of safety is nothing more than slow death.
And don’t you want the best for yourself? The best experiences, the best foods and the best the world has to offer? Aren’t you worthy of that? And aren’t you going to be working hard either way? We get what we accept in this life and if you accept a life that you should want, you’ll never get what you actually want.
Make lists of things you want to do, places you want to go and experiences you want to have. Explore things and ideas you are interested in. Go out on a limb, ask that person out on a date, go against the grain, start a business, dedicate yourself to things even if other people don’t understand them, say yes when you’re scared and no when you’re bored.
Start practicing radical self awareness.
Do the world a favor and just be you. Unabridged, raw, original you. In a world full of half-hearted replicas we could use more authentic humans. You might not create the next Apple or google but honestly, even waking up in the morning with the hope that you might is about a hundred times better than punching the clock, day in and day out, laying bricks for a building you don’t even want to live in.