When I was a kid, I liked a few things. I enjoyed reading and even read with a flashlight under the blanket. My other poison was Lego kits, which I didn’t have many, but enjoyed building things a lot. Then, I fell for computers. From playing games, through deleting Windows 3.11 and formatting the hard drive, to programming with Basic and on.
It seems that my mother made me love reading by slipping in books I would love. Most of the times I recall it worked, and I would spend hours with a book.
So after reading Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat about the genius intergalactic criminal James diGriz I became obsessed with being a hacker. I didn’t really know what it would mean to be a hacker for real, but this guy seemed to be smart, cunning, adventurous, and fun.
Women loved him. He got the money and tricked the most advanced security systems and even government institutions. He was strong and courageous, full of life.
Sounds quite fun, right?
I am telling you this to make you think about what moved and impressed you in the past. If for me it was being uncommon and smart, tricking dumb systems built to restrict us, and building other things, what was it for you?
You can either take a way forward, from your earliest memories as a kid up till now or backward from where you are now. Introspect and discover things that still evoke emotions. This, to me, is maybe the single most important signal of coming across something important.
Look out for a burst of emotion. Passion. Restlessness. Flood of memories and the earliest dreams. Basically, the energy.
Everything evoking anything but boredom is what you may be in the search for. Love something? Wonderful, have more of it. Or even go deeper and try to understand what is it that you love, playing drums or being in the center of attention while on the stage.
Hate something? This could be a sign of something important to you as well.
There’s no definitive algorithm, no wrong or right answers. It seems that this step, discovering what you really want, is the most important and challenging one on the road to happiness. It’s also inherently individual, even intimate.
The rest is very technical in a sense. How you do things you care about. How to stay sane while making a living and achieving whatever it is you want to achieve. Which tools to use, you name it. I am pretty sure if you are lit up bright enough, you’ll find your way around technicalities.
With this part of identifying what you really, deeply care about and crave for, I hope to help a bit by sharing some ideas I found useful and utilize myself.
First, take a paper and a pen and write down your thoughts. Recall your craziest ideas, something you’ve dreamt of with your friends, something you strived for.
The past experience you’ve got looks to be the first source of insights when looking into what you want. At least if it had stuck with you once, shouldn’t it mean something?
You may want to take enough time to introspect and possibly get rid of distractions.
Then take a break, let it breathe. Your unconsciousness needs time and space to unravel the strings of imagination. Possibly, a trip to nature can help so you just sit there and observe eternally beautiful things. Or some other activity that fuels you up.
In the end, ideally, you will have a list of things you value, from small ideas you once had to whole philosophical concepts that may entail massive changes to everything you do if you implement them.
Then it’s time to do something about it.
Stay Coherent with Who You Are
However attractive it may seem to say “I want to become a new Bill Gates” or something similarly cool (and dumb), this is very unlikely to happen.
That’s because of the circumstances you and the real Bill Gates are in and, mostly, because of who you are. You can’t make a giant leap in one day. Even if you could, jumping from where you are won’t necessarily bring you to where he is or you think you will end up.
There is a bunch of situations, ranging from toxic relationships to non-paying jobs when giving up immediately could only benefit you. However, we leave those out of this article scope to focus on the important—how to help you achieve things you will be proud of.
There’s also some uncertainty and risk in following your dreams. You never know where it leads to. So you need courage and trust to step away from the well-known to something you could barely imagine.
The key point is to stay consistent with who you are and where you are by making small steps towards what you want. This will raise your chances to succeed and get proud of what you’ve done.
Take up this adventure. It is going to be fun.
After making an exercise of evaluating your chances of succeeding with particular endeavors, you will be able to estimate your odds of achieving things you care about in addition to the priorities you’ve got at the first step.
Next, grooming time.
Another difficult thing to do is to stay true to your values in the shade of crazy social media influencers and the imagery of beautiful and fulfilling lives they translate.
You are not wasting time on social media, huh? Then commercials and Internet ads get to you. Inspirational photographs. Books. Favorite movies and your mother’s marriage pictures. TV shows you obsessed over in your 20s.
There’s a variety of memes out there to breach your mind.
I am not saying those are necessarily bad for you but the fact is, a human being is a product of the environment it grew up in, at least to a certain extent. Love it or not, some things are just artificially put into your mind, and you’ll have to deal with it.
While saying to yourself “ok, I don’t really want to be a Brad Pitt” may be an easy thing to do (especially if you’re not into his work), discarding something you just naturally feel great about may be much harder. After all, why should you?
For instance, we got a saying with my friends about “driving the motorbike into the sunset”, meaning living the dream. Like the sunset on a Californian beach, with your beloved one near you, and all is good. In fact, this image came from the Californication series, which I watched at least 3 times.
Similarly, New York City. You know, in movies, it’s always like a wonderland. Skyscrapers, vibrant life, street food, gorgeous Central Park. “New York is a wonderful place” is also a meme I picked up.
And regardless of the accuracy of these images, now they, to some extent, also define what I dream of and do. Not to say that to me it just doesn’t feel right to be driven by something I haven’t really experienced myself.
It’s impossible to avoid picking up memes when living a modern life. Thus, the only way to deal with it is to verify them.
It may very well turn out you really love New York life or Californian sunsets. Then you’re good. There’s just another thing you may want to pursue and achieve. On the flip side, odds are high that something your brain just unconsciously absorbed from the environment isn’t really what can make you happier in any sense.
I did my own verification in 2016, when I visited NYC for a while, which in fact was my first trip abroad, and in 2017, when I lived in Los Angeles for almost half a year, studying English and exploring beautiful California.
Interestingly enough, the picture in Californication differed massively from what I saw myself. My experience was great but definitely, it got me back the energy of dreaming of living in California.
Now you’ve got a list of things you definitely want to spend your time and attention on.
Opposite to dull and shallow social media memes, there are smart, intelligent, and frank people you may look up to.
They don’t advertise what they do if it was the only way of living a good life and don’t try to sell you on something. Instead, they share their methods and insights and leave a free lane for you to drive the exploration yourself.
Some of my favorite inspirational examples are:
- Paul Dolan who studies happiness and speaks about it.
- Nassim Taleb, and his thoughts about the importance of luck.
- Julian Shapiro who wrote about how to choose what to work on.
- Jeff Bezos’s anecdote about his regret minimization framework.
These or any other people won’t necessarily tell you what to do, how, or why. But somebody else’s thoughts, to me at least, usually help to kick-start my own thinking.
Fortunately, because of the age we live in, so many studies and talks are just a click away from you.
And sadly, it is hard to tell a bad example and role model from a good one immediately unless you have spent a decent time navigating through the subject yourself. But as usual, you’ll learn to smell a rat with practice.
These genuine people may publish their advice, stories, and tools not to earn a buck from you but to generously share experience, satisfy their own need for fulfillment. Just to do good.
Use wisely the informational abundance we live in so that it makes you flourish, not wither.
If there is anything certain about the things I describe, it is that they’re non-deterministic. No guarantee you would succeed, especially immediately. It is mostly because human behavior isn’t determined by the inputs we get, and also because we and circumstances change.
I found it very useful to have an exercise in reflection paired with another introspection session once a month.
It takes me a few hours to sit down, open last notes I made (yes, I keep them on the physical paper), and review them. This session, even though quite entertaining by itself, pursues a few objectives.
Take some credit for achieving particular things. It levels up my self-esteem and allows me to feel better because the things I have done easily add up to a coherent path leading me somewhere I want to be.
I reassess if I still value and want what I’ve planned for. Sometimes I would see that although the thing I wrote down still feels to be worthwhile, I am not making any progress. This would possibly lead me to changing the approach I take.
It usually helps to think about what I want, need, and pursue over again and sometimes come up with new priorities or some change the existing ones.
For me, after almost a year of doing this, the entire process has become a habit which is deeply amusing and satisfying.
Finally, why should you bother going through all of this?
I believe that doing what you’ve got to do, what makes you feel proud and evokes good sentiments and feelings, is essential for having a fulfilling life.
No matter who you are and what circumstances you are in, there must be things universal to every living human. What is the meaning of life? Which things shall you dedicate your time to? How to not regret all these decisions in the future? And have fun in the process?
Having a mind-blowing international career or parenting your second kid at home, starting your third business or being happy at work, you either do or neglect things you deeply care about.
I am obviously biased toward living a life of great achievements, which is a meme. You must be having some biases too, specifically when it looks like the most natural perception.
Ignoring emotional signals of importance and neglecting your values and philosophy, even if you’re not aware of them yet, is literally toxic. It starts small but ends up huge. Fanciful dreams and deceptive views soak up the energy of life leaving you off the true things.
On the flip side, when doing things you are proud of, you get the most of your precious time. People enjoy being with you because you’re genuine and fun. You enjoy being with people and doing what you do because you put yourself where you are by analyzing and acting on your dreams, not by accident.
Have you solved the problem of "What am I up to in life?" or just thinking of it? What obstacles have you had? Inspirational examples? Something else you can share? I will be happy to read from you.