Where to?

By annie-a flickr user
[pic source]

I was thinking about most of my friends and how they are doing in life. Some of them have their business and are making lots of money and they love it, or alternatively have jobs that make them happy. Others are not so lucky, and have not really achieved much in those couple years out of college. I was trying to draw a pattern on the successful ones and what came out was the following:

Know what you want, plan steps to achieving it, and stay on your course

Now, this is more or less obvious, but what strikes me is that most people that don’t know what they want, or where they are going don’t put any effort in fixing this problem. However,

Knowing what you want is incredibly important, because no matter how much energy you have, if you don’t put it in the right direction, you’ll lose it.

Hopefully if I try to illustrate this in an unusual way, it will help a bit. I will use the wonderful image of the blue sea and the boat. You are the boat. The sea is your life, full of unlimited directions and long travelling to the shore (life achievements). Now there’s two things you can do:

You don’t set firm and desireable direction. The sea will take you every day in a random direction. One day the waves are going to take you north, another – south. You can be skillful with the sails, and use them every day, but if you don’t have a unified direction, all effort will be canceled out in the end by the randomness that life offers you. In real world terms, you will be getting a job, you are good at, then switch to a completely different thing, then you will decide to travel a bit and this way years will go by, and there will be nothing very permanent or meaningful. That could be just fine if you liked your life and they way it slips by.

Alternatively, you can look around, choose the best beach you want to go to through objective analyzing. You can then set your sails every day according to the wind and waves. You will won’t be going faster than #1, but every day will get you closer to the shore. It will be a long ride to cross the sea, but you will eventually, with dedication and energy, get where you want to be. In real life terms, that would mean buying a house, getting an amazing job or business, creating a wonderful family etc.

Both cases look similar in that the amount of energy put in sailing was the same. However, couple years down the road person in #1 will be right about where he was, while person in #2 will have already gotten some or all of the targets set in the beginning.

So I talked to people and I ask them what they want and where are they going. Often times, the ones that seemed lost to me did not surprise me with the answer. Here are a couple answers I get often and the problems with them:

I want to go to grad school
That could be a good answer if you knew exactly what you wanted to study, and what you will be doing with it. Most people go just for the idea of grad school, or because they can’t get a job. They also don’t know exactly where and why to go, nor how to actually get there

I want to travel
That’s another of the top choices around. Essentially it’s another thing you can do to pass time when you don’t know what you are doing. Travelling is fun and gets you awesome experience, just like grad school, but it doesn’t build you a stable life to keep doing it for a long time. It also gulps huge amounts of time/money.

I don’t know
I also get the honest “no idea” answer. Those people usually have a collection of things they could “maybe” do, but they are never good enough to be done. This answer I usually get from people that have always been like that. In other words – It’s okay to not know for a short period of time exactly what you are doing, but if you get stuck for weeks/months in this mental state, it means you are not making effort to figure it out. No effort is put into finding the answer.

I am doing X, and Y, and also Z…
That’s more or less the opposite of the previous case. I have friends that are always, always up to something. One, two, three projects. And each time I meet them for a dinner, their projects have changed and they have new ventures they are so excited about. After a while, you stop being interested in their things, because you know you’ll most probably never hear again about it. This case is not as bad, because it means at least that a person makes short term plans and a couple small steps towards them. Those get-rich-quick schemes or temporary desires are quite useless if not pursued over long term.

Do you know what’s your direction?If you can’t answer right away, you’d better sit and brainstorm on paper for life, or else you’ll be floating only where life takes you, which is usually not too far and back.

Purging Brain Resources

[pic source]

I take long morning showers. I get many great ideas under the running water. Sometimes though, I catch myself thinking about useless stuff. That is, stuff that doesn’t make me happy, doesn’t make me feel any better, doesn’t improve my life or anybody else’s life. Here are a few recognizable examples:

  • Worries: “worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum”. You achieve nothing when you worry, unless you start solving the problem constructively
  • Past: Dwelling on past events [without analyzing and applying it to current situations] will help you with nothing. Whether something good or bad happened, won’t matter if you keep looping it in your head.
  • Future: It is good to plan ahead, and try to predict situations, but creating in your mind an array of possible outcomes and analyzing it becomes quite useless at some point, when it takes more energy thinking about it than actually asking someone or simply doing it.

Engaging with those thoughts is a process that needs to be recognized on the spot and cut out. It is not always easy to do so, since it is a habit that needs to be unlearned. But with the right energy and effort, it can be achieved and the result should be a more focused, meaningful and purposeful life.

Here’s what I purged today:

  • Thinking about an ex-girlfriend.
  • Worrying about a client not liking the current design
  • Imagining a billion different scenarios about this client never liking anything and the problems arising from there
  • Worrying about why someone I care didn’t return my call for almost the whole day
  • Imagining a creative assortment of reasons that this person couldn’t or didn’t want to call me back
  • Things that are not important or urgent or relevant at least for another year. Example: What will I do when my computer is outdated?

I urge you to start doing the same. Or at least for once note down the free flowing thoughts and objectively grade their usefulness/uselessness.