Just finished watching this TEDtalk for the second time this year. Three key points I take away from it relevant to my life choices recently:
1) Unbounded ambition inevitably lead to unhappiness. I will forever see what I could have done better, where I could have worked harder, when I should have dreamed higher. This is counter to just about everything the startup industry and perhaps even The American Dream will tell you, but from my past experiences I do believe it to be true. Set a reasonable goal, design a track to it, and work for it. Recognize when you reach it and allow yourself to rest there awhile. Enjoy that feeling, relish in what was accomplished, and meditate on how the path felt. Was that a journey you enjoyed? Was the work valuable to you? Are you proud of what you accomplished. When the “yes, but what next voice??” starts to echo in your mind, acknowledge it and do not fight it (as that is likely to make it scream louder, calling you lazy and recognizing everything you did wrong on your journey so far) but do not give into it either. Create a space for it and approach it again later.
2) There is surprisingly little difference, if any at all, between natural happiness (how you feel when you get something you want) and synthetic happiness (how you make yourself feel when you don’t get what I want.) Again, this is something we all tend to scoff at. When someone says “I didn’t want the job anyways,” we tend to roll our eyes. But were you to map their brain waves a week after they were turned down, it’s likely look exactly as if they truly DIDN’T want the job. What does this mean? It means that you truly can make happiness in just about any situation you may be in, if you take control of it and let yourself.
3) Giving someone a choice makes it more likely they will be unhappy with the choice. I was presented with two job options at the same time: to take a senior level position in startup events or to take an entry level position in gaming. I got 1 week to make the decision and 2 weeks to then dwell on whether it was the right decision or if I should make a different one. These have been, by far, three of the worst weeks of my life in the last 10 years. By the end of it, I had placed my entire value as a person on this decision and decided that the rest of my life happiness depended on what choice I made. Had someone just said “you start tomorrow at one of these jobs; which is it?” I would saved SO much misery. What does this mean? Actually, I’m still figuring that out, but what I feel like it means is the importance of going all in and living in the moment. Do what feels right now and don’t worry too much about how it will affect your future (now, if you were a psychopath or someone who continuously committed crimes, this may be bad advice. But I assume my few readers are pretty stable smart people). You aren’t going to fuck things up too much. And even if you do, studies show that in a year, you’ll have the same level of average happiness as a paraplegic AND a lottery winner.