Life is simple. You’re given a finite amount of time, then you die. In that time, you will do everything you’ll ever do. No do overs.
You want to spend as much of this time as you possibly can feeling healthy, meaningful, and happy. Let’s call that “true living.” The rest is just noise.
Every choice you make adds or subtracts hours from this true life of yours.
You don’t control every outcome, but there’s always something you control — a way to convert noise into time well spent. When you’re sick, you can find perspective. When you’re unhappy, you can still help others.
We know all this, and yet, we often fail to make the right choices. To exercise our control. Why is that?
In 1888, Friedrich Nietzsche coined the phrase that would define the Western world: “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” Today, few things can kill us here. Basic healthcare is good. Cities are safe. Bankruptcy isn’t a death-sentence. And yet, we’re still operating under this old model.
Instead of being proactive in steering the big changes we hope to see in our lives, we’re chugging along thinking that, one day, some cataclysmic event will disrupt our whole existence. But the overwhelming odds are that will never happen. If you’re waiting to change until you can do it while bouncing back from some large-scale disaster, you’ll spend your whole life waiting for a day that might never come.
You’ll go to work every day, and it’ll be the same. You’ll get sick every once in a while, recover, and it’ll be the same. You’ll travel to many places, return home unscathed, and it’ll be the same.
The famine, the drought, the complete economic collapse? Those aren’t coming. They’re black swan events. Maybe, one day, they will. But can you really afford to wait that long to write your book? To finally go self-employed? To kick your slightly excessive drinking habit?
Because all the while, we’re drowning in convenience. Seduced by the noise. Buy one pill for health, another for happiness. Who needs meaning when you have materialism, right? Even experiences are becoming a rat race.
Kill what doesn’t make you stronger. Even if it means killing something you love.
We have so much of the comfort our ancestors craved that we’re suffocating from it. One pleasure at a time, we’re numbing our brains, medicating from one boring day to the next. Of course, we do it in small doses. Most of us never alert their doctor, their friends, their authorities. A pill at a festival here, a vacation that leaves you broke there, just enough damage to justify returning to our normal, steady, waiting-for-the-end-to-come pace. But that’s not living.
We’re not condemned to be peasants. Or anything. We’re all-equipped, nearly all-powerful individuals with mega processors in our heads and the world’s knowledge in our pockets. What am I saying? It was a long play for sure, but, after 130 years, Nietzsche’s record has run out. We’re no longer struggling to survive. We lack the courage to thrive. It’s time to turn it around: Kill what doesn’t make you stronger. Even if it means killing something you love.
Whatever catastrophe you’re secretly hoping will one day wake you up to the life of your dreams would have to be one you engineer yourself — knocking over that first domino is on you. Of course, dominoes don’t resemble a nuclear explosion. They neatly fall over, one at a time. But it is a chain reaction. The chain reaction we want is one of good, compounding decisions. One that maximizes our share of happy hours on this planet and makes use of the control we have in designing them.
If you’re waiting to change until you can do it while bouncing back from some large-scale disaster, you’ll spend your whole life waiting for a day that might never come.
Flipping Nietzsche’s script will provide the backdrop for our transition from a survivor’s mindset to a thriver’s mindset. Committing to the right, small actions every day is a different game than struggling to return to stability, and it rests on having space. Emptiness. Room in your life that’s unfilled. Not littered with distractions that round out your routine. You need a blank canvas. That canvas will be shaped with a single word: no.
A no to alcohol saves you the choice among 10,000 drinks. A no to side projects is a yes to a focused career. What else can you say no to? Junk food? Gambling? TV? It’s not just bad habits either. Sometimes, even good ones can keep us from doing something we feel we’re meant to do. Pleasing your boss with late-night assignments. Taking on extra gigs instead of launching your Youtube channel. Whatever keeps you in the safe, smaller-evil zone might be a drag on your truly-alive time. It all feels temporary, but if you don’t change it, much will be permanent.
Every yes is a no to a million other things. Choose your yeses carefully. Every no can make 1,000 future choices unnecessary. Be generous with your nos.
In a world that’s no longer trying to kill you, it’s on you to call the shots. That’s an incredible gift. But with so much game walking into your crosshairs, you have to conserve bullets. Otherwise, you’ll spend it all on poisonous bait.
Living is easier than ever. Living truly as hard as never.
To not get wiped out by freedom is to settle on just one. One principle. One location. One dinner. One attitude. One friend. If and when you succeed, that’ll be the moment your true life begins.
This post was previously published on Medium and is republished here with permission from the author.
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