“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.”
My friend and I have a running game — every time we see each other and talk about the projects we’re working on, we say the goal is owning an Audi R8 by 29.
Of course, an Audi R8 is just a material measure of success, not sanity, and unless you’re multi-millionaire or have another car, it’s pretty impractical.
But joking about having our Audi R8s made me think: what the hell do I actually want? What would I consider to be a successful life for me?
I mean, our concepts of success vary. A lot. It varies based on how good you think you are, what you think you deserve, what you’ve been given, what you think you’ve been given, and a ton of other factors.
The irony of lost 20 somethings is that – despite having way more time than most people – we rarely spend time thinking about what we want out of life or what we would define as being “successful.”
We let others do the thinking:
- “Go get a high paying, safe job”
- “Travel the world while you’re young, because it’s work from here on out”
- “Now that you got your pay raise you can one-up the Joneses by having a newer BMW”
Dunno about you. But that’s a pretty surefire way for me to be fucking miserable every day.
Why would you play by someone else’s rules? Playing by someone else’s rules means you have zero flexibility. Playing by someone else’s rules means they define failure, and they define success.
When you accept society’s rules you accept it’s game: failure means you don’t have a lot to show for your time, success means you have a lot to show. It’s all downhill from there.
Today I challenge you to actually sit down, forget the expectations and definitions given by your parents / family / friends / society, and decide what you think is a successful life.
You’ll Never be Successful Until You Define Success — Or Let it Go
“Success means having the courage, the determination, and the will to become the person you believe you were meant to be”
So have you actually thought about what would define success to you?
Like most others, I bet you don’t really know what you want from life. You’ve never thought about it.
And like others, you joke about a million dollars, an Audi R8, and living in Barcelona drinking wine – because they are convenient responses, funny, and a way to relieve the stress of actually thinking about what you want.
They are socially acceptable responses, and just like most other conventional wisdom, lack depth or real consideration.
But what do you actually want? Do you want to be really rich? Does money not matter so much? Do you want to own a company? Do you want to work for yourself? Do you want to live in the city? In the country? In a foreign country? Speak 1 language? Speak 5? Marry someone from your own country? Marry a foreigner? Become a doctor? A pro athlete?
You need a vision of where you’d like to be, with an idea of what you want to do. Specifics are unimportant; just get an idea of what would be a “cool position to be in” in the near future.
So many people never realize that they aren’t happy or successful because they don’t know what they want.
They just assume it’s because their boss is a dick. Or because they don’t have enough money. Or because life is a cruel bitch that screws them over every chance she gets.
They never sit down and think: What is my definition of success?
There are a couple steps you should take that will immensely help define your ideal successful life.
#1 Defining Anti-Success – The Not to Do List
In the manifesto I wrote a couple ways of figuring your definition of success. The easiest way? Figure out exactly what you don’t want.
Let’s face it, your definition of success probably revolves around not doing shit you hate as much as doing stuff you love.
There’s no worse feeling than your day to day life revolving around shit you hate — hating every facet of your day. Going to work, work, coming home from work, the time wasting after work, the pointless-ness of the same stuff over and over again on the weekends. The chronic time delaying and wasting.
But as a society we are pretty focused on the addition of things: finding happiness, adding value, and acquiring benefits. In reality, the very act of subtraction is much, much more valuable. Why?
- #1 Subtraction leaves fewer options (analysis paralysis anyone?), and thus facilitates decision making
- #2 Sometimes you don’t actually want more, you just want an alteration of the current situation. Bad job ==> Good job. Meaningless life ==> Meaningful life. Determine for yourself the things you never want to do again and it will be much easier to determine which stuff you do want to do again. If you know what you want from life, you’re already further down the path to success, greatness, and fulfillment than most people.
#2 Defining “Utopia” – Audi R8s & Unlimited Chocolate Chip Cookies
So what about the other side of the spectrum?
What stuff sounds awesome to you: and be unrealistic here.
It’s boring if you say “well, I’d like to go to some parties, maybe an exclusive one occasionally, and I’ll have a safe car that’s reliable, and I’ll hike my work hours down from 60 to 40, and I’ll have a cute little apartment, and i’ll go to Thailand once every couple years.”
Dream bigger, dream much more unrealistically.
Not only are easily attainable goals worthless because they don’t push you, they’re boring. And I assume you want to create a fucking epic life.
So what does your ideal life entail? What is success for you?
Society is filled with people that have myriad definitions of success:
- An Audi R8
- A million dollars
- A big house
- A trophy wife
- Waking up excited & day to day enjoyment
- Vacation time
- Time spent with friends and family
- Low stress
- General free time
… And many others
But the unfortunate thing is that not all of these definitions of success contain the same underlying principles.
Some are based on intangibles like time and happiness. Others are based on tangibles like money or possessions.
Some are based on things you can acquire more of – like items; some are based on things you can never get back – like time.
How do you define your success?
Is success for you more of something? (Time/Vacation/Money) Or less or something? (Stress/Annoying Coworkers/Time working)
That is something you’re going to have to answer for yourself, and again, it goes back to the importance of knowing exactly what you want and having measures for achievement.
If I’m making $60,000 a year but with no goal other than “having a job because I’m supposed to,” where do I invest that money? Probably into time & money wasting, because it has no direction.
You’ll be like most people: buy a new car, new TV, drop a load of money at bars and clubs, buy more stuff, make your main goal at work “earning more money,” or “working up the ranks” and then repeat the rat race cycle.
And you are getting no closer to any goal or any form of enjoyment. It’s just mindless misdirected work.
#3 The Art of the Micro Adventure (Doing something)
There’s one other reason why doing the unrealistic really isn’t unrealistic at all.
It’s only realistic for 99% of people, but you’re not the 99%. You’re the 1%, because you realize that if you say you’re going to build a company that will fund your dream of unlimited chocolate chip cookies, you’re going to have the stones to sit down and work on it, every fucking day.
Dreams are unrealistic to most people because they casually say “they want a million dollars” and go right back to watching tv.
Our culture is obsessed with passive watching and playing — not creating and doing.
There is a third suggestion to have a hell of a good time and still be “successful” if you have no idea what sounds ideal to you:
Go on a journey / adventure / mini retirement (a la Tim Ferriss)
- Travel for some reason other than traveling (E.g. I moved to china to study martial arts, learn chinese and travel)
- Spend 30 days learning something new (Check out this TED talk)
- Go on an impromptu mini-retirement, aka book a flight somewhere last minute. A while back I wrote about how it’s way cheaper to travel than even pay your apartment rent & gas. You can read more about a money-saving mini-retirement over at JD Roth’s Get rich slowly, where he had an interview with Tim Ferris.
But there is one important decision that you have to make:
The decision to make a decision.
Just do something.
Option #2, Let it Go: Freestyling Your Destiny
“It is your work that is the ultimate seduction.”
Not everyone functions better under the model of goal setting, artists for example describe how much more painful and labored their art is when there are goals, restrictions, and deadlines when they are doing a commissioned work of art.
There is a third option, if you can thrive under chaos, get shit done, and you already know what “your work” is:
Freestyle your destiny.
This is for the artsy-type, extremely focused anti-goal setter. The person who seems to work worse under pressure with goals, deadlines, and restrictions, and instead wants to play things by ear.
The person who sees chaos and time as opportunities to get obsessed with the work they are doing, jump in and disappear in their work for days on end in a state of flow
You just need to ask yourself honestly if you can thrive without direction, goals, and in chaos — and if you already have found “your obsession.”
Being Lost in the 21 Century
When I got my first job out of college, I thought like most other young people — get your job, get a place, work your way up the ranks, make more money, take your 2 weeks vacation leave and so on.
In other words, I had no goals. Working was pointless, because I was only working because I should be working. There was nothing I wanted to spend my money on because I was just spinning my wheels.
The moment I realized that there was a lot of shit I wanted to do in my life was the best moment of my life.
Suddenly, after work I invested my time and money into projects that gave me purpose and helped me feel un-lost.
After a year at that job I decided to move to China and clarify more specifically what the hell I actually wanted. I’ve come to the conclusion that this singular question is one of the most important questions for 20 somethings (or anyone) to ask themselves:
“What the hell do you define as successful?”
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