To Bear Almost Any How

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” Friedrich Nietzsche

There’s a book I once read about entrepreneurship called “Millionaire Fastlane”.  Mind the corny title, it’s actually a good book packed with a lot of insights about what’s required to become successful and some pretty sobering realizations about how society is set up, and how most people aren’t thinking clearly when it comes to wealth creation. He also makes a point about “passion” that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. He said that the market doesn’t really care about your passion. The idea is, if you’re going to start a business, think about fulfilling a market need first. If you’re passionate about something that isn’t satisfying a need, you’re going to fail.

And that sounds like legitimate advice, except there’s another side to the story. Whatever you’re going to do in life, whether it’s starting a business or becoming a doctor or a lawyer or a swimmer, you’re going to spend most of your time doing the job. If you’re not loving what you’re doing, and I stress loving here, then you’re going to turn your back whenever things start to get tough. And invariably, things will get tough.

There is no career choice that is absent of challenges, and the question then becomes, why go on? What’s motivating you? Is it possible to be completely motivated by the prize?

For some people, sure. Obviously. The author of the book I just mentioned is a case in point. But he started from humble beginnings and had an obsession with expensive luxury cars. Expensive toys like red shiny Ferarris were things he dreamed about every night ever since he was a little boy.

The materialistic dream was meaningful to him. But is it meaningful to everyone?

Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone will assume that others are living the same kind of story, it’s easy to overlook something like passion when you’re a certain kind of person in a certain kind of situation. But there is a lot to be said about the value of doing something you love.

To take that idea a little further, it’s not just doing something you love, it’s doing something meaningful to you. It needs to be intrinsically motivating, and for some people, it needs to have some kind of external reward and social validations as well. It needs to tap into your strengths and tendencies at a fundamental level.

If you’re engaged in an activity that grabs you for a living, the idea of becoming successful at what you do becomes a lot more attainable.

So what stops people from doing what they really want to do? Other people. 

In”Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl, a wonderful idea is put forth. Conformism is doing what others do, and totalitarianism is doing what others tell you to do. And either of the two paths would inevitably result in “existential vacuum” since the necessary process of self-actualization is never attained.

But we’re still conflicted. Most people want to be successful, they want to be happy, they want to achieve these goals first and foremost, and oftentimes, it seems that achieving those things are incompatible with doing what they love. So they sacrifice the latter for the former, hoping by doing so, they would finally achieve “success” or “happiness”.

Frankl’s message – one really worth considering is that we’re thinking about success and happiness in the wrong way. They aren’t goals that we can reach, they’re by-products that we might be lucky enough to find, and are more likely to find when we pursue something that’s meaningful. The same way you can’t force someone to laugh or to be inspired or to fall in love, you can’t force yourself to become successful or happy. In fact, the more you try to force yourself towards these goals, the less attainable they become.

 

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Manuevering Through Chaos

Chaos has always been something that interested me, The thing with chaos is that everyone experiences it to different degrees, and everyone responds to it in different ways. My concept of chaos is, of course, relative. I used to think that organization was the remedy of chaos. That if you put things in order, you would free up enough focus for more pertinent things. I believed that being less chaotic meant being more laser focused.

That may not be so true. While being more organized does allow for efficiency, there seems to be another dimension that organization cannot solve. Imagine a large circle, compose of an inner solid circle and an outer circle. The inner circle is the first stage of chaos. Combatting it involves having a schedule, understanding what to prioritize and when, and implementing a system that ensures consistency. And don’t get me wrong, that will get you very far. But the outer layer is peripheral chaos.

Peripheral chaos relates to direction. This is the more serious, yet subtle kind of chaos. You are unlikely to suffer from it in the short run as projects will be completed and stakeholders satisfied. However, the general direction you are taking yourself is unclear. Knowing what to aim for is the logical next step. Of course, what you aim for evolves with time. What you aim for today is not the same as what you are going to aim for tomorrow.

You can then, easily make the argument that it is futile to take your aims very seriously. If you were certain they were going to change, then it would be a waste of time to orient your life in a way that seeks to accommodate an ever-changing destination. For one thing, I do not think this is a powerful argument, and I will explain why I think that is the case. However, I do think it is an objection that ought to be taken very seriously and examined further.

The reason why it’s a bad argument is that the alternative is definite chaos. Going back to the inner circle, if you chose to stop planning because plans generally had the proclivity to change, then you’d never accomplish anything. It’s a minimum pre-requisite to achieving what you seek out to achieve. But consider that the most effective plans are those that are able to accommodate change. In other words, flexible daily plans that allow for a little bit of chaos but still end up accomplishing most of what you had planned to do is superior to both having unflexible plans or no plans at all.

The outer circle then should be tackled in the same way. I disagree with having a definite, definable long-term goal. If you can be that granular with what you want, you wouldn’t know what to do once you’ve achieved it. Your long-term goal, as a matter of fact, should be anything but concrete. Instead, it should be as concrete as possible, but no more. It should be more about lifestyles rather than material things, it should be about your physical health rather than that of numbers on a screen, it should be about a state of mind, rather than a state of power.

You do not have full control of your psychological health or even your physical health. And most people have very little control over the way they live day to day. Those are real challenges, and clearly, the most worthwhile, because absent any of them,  the importance of any other superficial accomplishment would pale in comparison. And yet, most of the focus we have are geared towards achieving things that are farther out of our control, and that, even if we achieve them, will not satisfy our deepest urges.

This, of course, runs counter to the “success” literature that advises people to set fixed goals. I believe this is akin to having fixed daily schedules. It is routinely violated, and incompatible with everyday life.

Similarly, to find the right balance in maneuvering through chaos, I think we should consult ourselves over an extended period of time. If you were asked to articulate your long-term vision today, it would be different from what you wanted 6 months ago, and certainly different from what you will want 6 months from now.

There are obvious reasons of course why that is the case. Your location will drastically have an effect, so will the people you interact with on a daily basis, what you expose yourself to, and how you live. Any change to any of these would expectedly change your general outlook on life.

To constantly beg the question across time, and attempt to coherently articulate it, is critical. You will recognize with time, what the constants are. You will recognize what the variables are. The outer layer of the circle of chaos will become a little more transparent. Beneath it, truths will begin to emerge. Not all truths, of course, because there is a lot more chaos than there are truths. And there is definitely more chaos than there is your personal energy to combat the chaos itself.

But some kind of truth, even if low in resolution, will contribute to learning about higher resolution truths. The only danger to this project emerges when you start to question the notion of truth itself.

 

Achievement

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“For a man to achieve all that is demanded of him he must regard himself as greater than he is.” Van Goethe

There are a very small number of people throughout history who have truly achieved great things from a global and historical perspective. What I mean by that is that there are very small number of people who have gone down in history as reformers and difference makers,  A testament to that fact is that by the end of this post, you will have probably recognized the authors of the quotes that you will see. This means that the same names have reappeared and will continue to reappear throughout your life.

This kind of timeless achievement, in my opinion, is very context based. The people who’s names are inscribed in history books, and who’s teachings and legacies are religiously celebrated and tirelessly echoed by school teachers, professors, parents, and students are remarkable and exceptional people. But the significance of the things they have done depends heavily on the historical and cultural context that they found themselves in.

What they all seem to have in common, however, was self belief. You don’t become a president of a great nation without really believing in your capacity to undertake immense responsibilities with a minimal amount of fear and doubt. In a sense, it seems rather conceited or even delusional to believe in yourself unflinchingly, and genuinely feel that you are entitled and fit to reach posts of such high rankings. It’s a little insane. I say this because it is really impossible to reasonably reach a conclusion that you are qualified to rule a country of hundreds of millions of people, and be able to make decisions that would, for better or worse, have lasting effects on their lives and on the state of the country that you are in.

This, of course, only applies to politicians, but surely, a certain level of conceit must have existed within the greatest entrepreneurs of our time like Henry Ford, Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs. They must have believed that they were capable of reaching heights that the vast majority of people wouldn’t even dream of reaching. I think on some level, if you do want to achieve this level of fame and status, you need to allow your ego to inflate infinitely.

On the other hand, there are figures who are rarely talked about in mainstream media, but who have truly accomplished remarkable things in their lifetimes and have dramatically changed the lives of people around them. Social entrepreneurs, humanitarians, nurses, and doctors. It’s unfortunate that history does not remember those people with the same reverence that they do world leaders, generals, dictators, and psychopaths. But perhaps those who work towards the benefit of mankind without caring about gaining fame, money, and post mortem statues would have wanted nothing more than silent acknowledgement, and perhaps a selfless philosophy that can opposes and contradicts the wicked nature of man, and one that that can be emulated and repeated.

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Harry Truman

Philanthropy, while the worthiest of all causes, will never be able to capture the ambitions of the majority of people. Self interested fame, wealth, and power will always be the prime motivators for human action. They always have been.

However, maybe achievement can be characterized more internally and personally. Maybe we can all become achievers, and even overachievers in our own small domains, by being dedicated, perseverant, and diligent. Or maybe, we can learn to become more delusional, and achieve greatness. Whatever we choose to do, we better do it the best way we can.

“If you can’t do great things, do small things in a great way.” Napoleon Hill