You want more for your life. I can guess that about you because everybody wants more for their lives.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting more — a better job, a better business, the right partner, great health, more opportunity, more reach more impact — but we all have a natural tendency to go about it the wrong way.
We see the end and not the means. We mistake symptoms for causes. The most dangerous of all, we conclude that we’d be different if our circumstances were different, which is almost never true.
To me, the art of personal development requires equal parts working on yourself in the present and striving toward a better future.
Think about the lessons I’m sharing here and ask yourself, “Even if you got everything you wanted, would your life be any better?”
A symptom is something that happens as a result of a cause. You cough because you’re sick or you’re fatigued and feel pain because of some unknown issue.
The cause is the source of the symptom. You have a virus that caused a cold that causes you to cough or you have an autoimmune disease that’s causing the symptoms of pain and fatigue.
In some cases, you can cure the cause and the symptoms at the same time. You take antibiotics that kill the virus and consequently alleviate the cough.
In other cases, you can alleviate the symptoms without curing the cause. You can reduce pain caused by an underlying issue like an autoimmune disease with painkillers, but it won’t make you any better.
In life, we have the tendency to take a lot of emotional and psychological painkillers that don’t cure our real issues.
Making more money can feel good, but if it doesn’t solve the lack-of-purpose problem, its effects wear away. If, however, you find something you enjoy doing and earn money, you can cure the problem.
Getting out of a job you hate will feel good, but if you didn’t use your time at that job wisely and build skills, you won’t magically become successful at a new job. If you always try to do your best no matter what the job and transition into new work with a foundation of skills, you’re working to cure the problem.
Chasing pleasure of all sorts definitely feels good, but if you don’t resolve the inner game going on — a need for meaningful relationships, need for meaning period, insecurity, contentment — you’ll spin your wheels and maybe even fall off the rails. Working on your inner-self while enjoying the trappings of life with modesty can cure the problem too.
You get the point now. In my own life, I try to work toward the cure, even though there is … no … cure … per se.
Life ends as an unfinished project. You can’t get an “A” for life nor can you get an “F.” You can only get an “incomplete.”
The truth is … you could always be happier, healthier, wealthier, more powerful, more influential, more content, more confident, less envious, less doubt-ridden, less neurotic — when I say the list goes on, the list goes on.
You’re playing a game you can’t necessarily win. So why even try?
My answer? You don’t have anything better to do.
What’s better than focusing on becoming the best version of yourself and pursuing what’s meaningful to you?
Staying the same? No. Stasis is death.
Avoidance? Ask people who avoid problems and challenges how their life is going. If they told the truth, there’s no way it could be better than the first option.
Contentment, mindfulness, meditation? Eastern philosophy is all about the destruction of the ego, desire, and want. This is fine, but pursuing that end also looks like a goal to me, thus putting it into the first category.
This is the thinking I always go back to. I have one life to live. A life which is a speck of dust in the expanse of time. Why not go big? Why not be big?
If you decide to become the best version of yourself, however, you’ll often find the results you achieve pale in comparison to the person you become while achieving those results. This, paradoxically, means you’d be better off working on yourself first. But also, paradoxically, you can’t just think your way into self-improvement. You have to do stuff.
So how do you untangle this mess? How do you work on yourself and your future while realizing your circumstances themselves won’t change you? Here’s how I do it.
I started writing a little under four years ago. I fell in love with it. When I started, I didn’t have any of these big dreams. I just wanted to write.
As time went on, I got better at it, and I started seeing opportunities and realizing where writing could take me. I could reach a lot of people, make money, write a book, give talks, feature my work on big platforms.
These dreams seemed distant and lofty. I thought if I were able to cross any of these items off my ‘dream checklist’ I’d be much happier and more well off.
To date, at least a million people have viewed my work. I’ve published two books, gave a TEDx talk, built a larger audience than I could’ve dreamed of, and made tens of thousands of dollars writing.
Past me would have seen this as an ‘over-the-moon’ level of success.
Current me is … used to it.
Now I dream bigger — sell more books, make hundreds of thousands or millions instead of tens, give bigger talks, create other businesses, take over the world.
And I do think these goals are worth pursuing. But I try to remind myself as often as possible that they’re not going to make me any happier.
Knowing that, I remind myself of what does make me happy. Learning and sharing what I’ve learned makes me happy. The joy of getting the words out into the world gives me more value than the results, even if I don’t always realize it.
So I keep pushing, but I remind myself that I’m already doing what I love.
I’ve come to learn that you can do what you love right now and try to be the best person you can be right now.
Finding that source and core is important — the things you love and the values you create — but after that, the results don’t mean all that much.
You are who you are at this moment in time. You can improve yourself and your situation but no matter what you do… you are always going to be who you are at this moment of time.
It’s impossible to escape yourself. You’ll try to, often, without success. But you’ll also find moments where you’re good with who you are at this moment.
Collect these moments as often as possible while being okay with the fact you could’ve collected many more.
The moral of the story: this is a crazy, weird, complicated, joyful, terrible, awesome, obstacle-filled, roller coaster ride of a journey. Give yourself credit for even trying to navigate it.
The only way to fix your life is realizing it can’t be fixed. It must be lived.
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Originally published at medium.com