I’ve discovered the meaning of life.
Or the secret, if you will, to a long happy life.
The reason I share it is because many of you probably think there are “many” meanings or purposes of life, but this one in particular is something that will totally change every aspect of your life.
Here’s what it is:
“The secret of life is to be damaged by life, without becoming a damaged person. How you go about doing that is your daily practice.”
Here’s why it’s so powerful: Almost everything that makes your life difficult or unhappy, is the result of the changing nature of life.
What happens when you don’t get what you want? Unhappy.
What happens when you get what you want? You want something else, right? And on and on the cycle goes, or it comes to the point where once again reality can never fill that hungry pit in your mind and heart. Unhappy.
Life is Not Out To Screw You Over
I get a lot of emails, mostly from people that have been royally fucked over “by” life. Not that life has any agenda or anything, but they are just in really shitty positions in life.
The “big four” spheres of their life are in the gutter: work/finances, relationships, dreams, health.
Sometimes all four of these things are out of whack or totally in the dumps. Many people are at their lowest point in life when they have emailed me. They don’t have enough money, they hate their jobs, their relationship sucks (or just ended), and their health has issues.
As far as I see it, this is the worst position to be in, in life. But here’s where this will help.
Life Will Damage All of Us
Sages have pointed out for thousands of years that “damaged” or “hurt” people are the ones who hurt people.
There’s an old phrase in Psychology that “hurt people, hurt people” – in other words, murders, rapists, and sociopaths very often have had dysfunctional childhoods, have been beaten, abused, raped, and emotionally destroyed – and this was what lead to their unraveling later in life at the expense of someone else.
In other words, it’s well-established in the scientific literature that being damaged by life increases your chances of taking it out on someone else. Of inflicting damage on someone else, or yourself.
Let me give you a few examples now of how life “damaging” or hurting you can negatively affect your own future, and what I suggest the remedy is.
Examples of How it Damages You
Work: Let’s start with work first.
For a pretty good percentage of us, work sucks. It takes up most of our time. It doesn’t pay us enough. And it’s not something we would want to do if we had enough money.
But it can be insidious – it might suck enough that we dream daily about quitting, but it doesn’t suck enough that it makes us take any action.
Over time, we can join the legion of people (I would say 99% of people) that just continue to dream but go nowhere in life. They make enough money, get into a relationship, get married, have kids, and blah blah blah.
What work sometimes does then is it makes us jaded towards life, and in particular, the potential of living a really cool life, or working a job that is your “passion” or something you really enjoy.
That damage can last forever, and can and will be passed on to your friends, family and children. This is the phenomenon we see when parents that never got to “enjoy life” don’t encourage their kids to enjoy their lives. They tell them to chase the highest paying job, become MDs, or go into finance. Many strict, old-school families are this way.
And then after years or decades of their kids following their parent’s advice, they either suck it up, enjoy it, become miserable, or become lost – and then they contact me, and they break the cycle of damage. And more often than not, they are the ones that adopt a more holistic approach to giving advice to their kids.
Dreams: Here are a few tragically common stories about people being damaged in pursuit of their dreams.
Person A. Is never encouraged by parents to pursue dreams, or is told by parents dreams are bullshit. Never does pursue them. Repeats cycle with his or her own children.
Person B. Knows dream but doesn’t pursue it. Gradually grows bitter over the course of life. Passes it on to friends and family.
Person C. Pursues dreams and repeatedly fails. Grows jaded. Dreams are bullshit. Gets entangled in drugs or addictions, or just goes the safe, secure route.
Person D. Achieves dream, but loses “it” due to life circumstances. Depressed.
… Following me? In the pursuit of your dream, you can grow gradually more and more damaged.
Relationships: This is probably most often where people are damaged the worst, where the hurt can carry through a lifetime if it isn’t worked on.
All of us, at some point, have been given the short end of the stick where we give give give 100% to somebody and it isn’t reciprocated, or we give give give and the person cheats on us, or decides they don’t want us anymore.
For most people, this causes a huge amount of internal damage and hurt that lasts years – on average – and depending on how long you were together, sometimes a lifetime of damage.
For some people the result is that they lose faith in relationships or marriage, and for others they are stuck with low self esteem and self worth, and others still say they want to stay single forever – out of fear, not because they have a plan.
The truth is that ANY of these three things can cause extensive damage to us internally.
The point I am trying to make is that if you remain damaged, it will negatively affect your life forever, but you don’t have to let life damage you.
How to Minimize Life’s Damage… And Not Pass on Your Beef With Life
Look – this is an unusually different article than most.
But I was slow to catch it, and realized that most of the people emailing me have been damaged in one way or another – and most often what damages us the most is change and our inability to deal with it.
Work damage, dream damage, love damage – all change. All the fact that we want to cling to the good times and detach from the bad times.
But by now you know that damage will affect your future life.
Sometimes acquiring low self esteem means you’ll never apply for the job you REALLY want, because you “know” you don’t qualify for it (even though you d0). This can lead to a lifetime of underemployment and unhappiness.
Sometimes the exact same thing happens in relationships – we date “safe” people because it’s easy, or we don’t commit because we’re afraid, or we mess around and don’t get into relationships… even though deep down we’re avoiding doing what we really want – a meaningful, loving, mutual relationship.
And for some of the frustrated dreamers, we’ve become jaded and start believing the lie that our dreams are unattainable, which is the scariest, most toxic feeling on earth. So we stop trying. This is where formerly ambitious people turn into drug and sex addicts, or where people that always fought give up.
How You Deal With the Damage Caused
Now recall the second part of my “revelation” – How you go about doing that is your daily practice.
Since the dawn of time wise men have been talking about “damage control.”
How the unwise person “reacts” to life, and the wise person “spontaneously chooses.”
So for example, when your dreams are in the gutter, the average person might say “Fuck it. This is bullshit.”
The wise man pauses, rather than reacting to life, “Okay. What do I need to do now to start again and get back on the path?” They react as if no damage has been caused.
The same is true of work or a relationship. Most of us just respond reflexively based on the damage caused, “No, YOU’RE an asshole!” rather than pausing for a second and consciously choosing how we respond to the damage.
The fix lies in creating a daily ritual to deal with the damage.
Originally, I created a big list of “10 things you could do,” but upon reflection, I realized you don’t need 10 things. You just need one thing.
Here’s what it is: Write down your thoughts throughout the day, and play a game: “Spot the bullshit.”
Here’s how it goes.
Use your iphone or a pad of paper, and carry them around all day.
And here’s the only thing you do: write down the thoughts in your head. All day. At breakfast, at lunch at dinner.
First, you’ll notice one thing: the vast majority of those thoughts are usually negative.
Second, you’ll notice trends: how we manufacture our own drama.
Third, you’ll spot the damage in your life: “He/she took me for granted. Pursuing your dreams is so goddamn hard. I don’t deserve this dream job.”
… And at the end of the day, just read it.
If you’re normal, it’ll read like a batshit crazy person. Self-doubt. Criticism of yourself and others. Fear. Lots of “hoping” the future will solve the problems you’re going through now. Thinking about the past.
Mostly, you’ll realize it’s all a bunch of bullshit. We create stories in our head every day to make us feel better about life. Sometimes, what’s even weirder, is that we make up stories to make ourselves to feel worse – because somehow we enjoy the misery.
The point though, is that you will notice the damage before it occurs. If you make this a daily habit, you will notice the repetitive thoughts: “I’m not good enough for this job.”
And then you’ll think: Why did I say that? Oh, because my spouse told me I wasn’t good enough for 10 years. But is that really true? Why did he/she say it? Oh they were in pain. So it was about them really.. not me. Oh that makes sense. Maybe I am really worth it. Time to apply for that job!
Create this daily ritual, and organize your thoughts based on each sphere we talked about: work, relationships, personal dreams.
One Last, Very Very Powerful Thing
I want to leave you with one poem that will change how you see life, if you really apply it.
You could argue that it’s Taoist-y or Buddhist-y, but in reality it’s written by someone who really knows life – and the one main thing life entails, that sometimes really sucks — Change.
If – By Rudyard Kipling
IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!
It’s inevitable that life will damage you and it will hurt at some point. Sometimes that damages your belief in your dreams, your self esteem or what you think you’re worth.
Whether it was a friend that hurt you, the passing or loss of someone you love, or just life throwing you a lot of curveballs at once, there is one thing to remember.
The real test, the real thing that will change your life is this:
Will you let it turn you into a damaged person?
If so, are you prepared to let it dominate and control the trajectory of your life?
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