Who Gives a F*** If You Don’t Do Anything “Great” With Your Life?

by Alexander Heyne · 33 comments

nice scenery

I’m really pissed off.

The other day I read yet another article on “7 reasons you’ll never do anything great/achieve greatness in your life” – and I immediately thought:

Who gives a fuck?”

Seriously, in the grand scheme of things, when I’m 80 years old and I’m looking back, I will give zero fucks about how “great” my life was – the only thing I’ll care about was whether or not I lived the life I wanted.

You’ve heard all the deathbed regrets of people in hospice care:

  1. I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
  2. I wish I didn’t work so hard (assumption: on something you didn’t give a shit about)
  3. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
  5. I wish I had let myself be happier

At the end of the day, we just want to enjoy life and live a meaningful one.

Most of the other stuff, e.g. success, we pursue feverishly because we think it’ll bring us closer to that life enjoyment, fulfillment, and meaning.

But it’s not true. Remember a few weeks ago I talked about how I was becoming miserable working 12-14 hours a day, even though it was on projects I was passionate about and loved? And do you remember the solution?

Doing nothing. Just sitting in a cafe with an espresso people watching and enjoying life.

Doing more in life is not how you die happy.

Doing the right things is how you die happy – whether or not that leads to achievement or “getting stuff done.” This is possibly the most backward aspect of western society.

You see it all the time – high achievers that are miserable old bastards because they pursued achievement without fulfillment. The irony is that success and achievement often come as a side effect – but when you pursue them directly, you fail to get there, or find yourself miserable.

They bought into the false belief that since we’re dying, since the clock is ticking, you might as well cram as much shit as possible into the short human lifespan, because that’s what’ll make you die fulfilled, right?

***

Live the life you want.


For some people that involves six figure businesses or traveling to 100+ countries.

For others that involves sitting on a perfect lake and waking up every morning to go fishing and going to sleep with someone you love.

Other people just want to find their passion and live it out to the end of their days – regardless of whether or not that involves fame or riches.

It’s funny hearing me write this too, because I’m supposedly one of the ambitious ones. I am very guilty of pushing people towards achievement and greatness. I work 10-12 hours a day average, I set alarms on weekends, I don’t watch TV, I have way too many projects to count and people always ask me where my next trip is.

But all these articles about “how to achieve greatness in life” are starting to make me nauseous. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I feel like people are missing the mark big time. They’re missing the point of life.

And it’s no coincidence that every single article about “achieving greatness” is usually written by a 20 or 30 something. In other words, people that haven’t seen the end, the trajectory, of life yet.

So who am I, at 26, to be debating this? No one. If this shit makes sense, good, pass it on. If I sound like a naive 26 year old, fine, there are lots of other websites you can read.

Achieving great things doesn’t make you happy.

Ambition is a mental illness.

Bucket lists and thrills aren’t how you die fulfilled.

At the end of your life, being published in TIME magazine doesn’t mean shit if that’s not what you wanted – the achievement aspect comes second to the enjoyment and fulfillment aspect.

They’re those deathbed regrets:

“I wish I didn’t work so hard” (probably in reference to a job they hated).

“I wish I just chilled out, laughed more, enjoyed life more.”

“I wish I just made the choice to be happy.”

The Only Thing You Need to Die Happy

Live the life you want to live. That’s it.

Everything else comes secondary. Just live the life you know you were fucking born to live.

You don’t need achievement, ambition, greatness, unless those are part of the story you want to live.

Live the coolest, happiest, most ideal life you would want to read about in a book. Then go do it.

That’s what this is all about.

– Alex

Thoughts? Tell me below.

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

William Boteler February 15, 2014 at 2:58 pm

MI go back and forth on this. I think some success is good for your psyche but apparently does not heal some people.

If a person wants a societal change badly enough – or anything – they might assume leadership on doing that thing. They could want a cure forr cancer

But if ego becomes the goal it might be empty.

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Alexander Heyne February 16, 2014 at 11:31 am

William,

I think you’re spot on. Sometimes achievement is all about ego… which can never really be satisfied haha. So it can get tricky.

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Tom notworkingfromhome.com February 15, 2014 at 8:18 pm

I think it’s about courage. I know I’m not happy, I know what I have to do to be happy (find another job) but the act of doing it scares the fuck out of me. I’ve been doing the same job for ten years now – I’m 39 and 3/4. help

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Alexander Heyne February 16, 2014 at 11:31 am

Tom, I think your situation is really common – let me ask you this. Specifically, what part of that scares you? Is it not knowing what the do, or the fear of failing, or something else?

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Ollie February 16, 2014 at 12:14 am

Thanks a lot Alex, just what I need

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Alexander Heyne March 4, 2014 at 11:06 pm

Cheers Ollie!

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Stephanie February 16, 2014 at 1:33 am

I think you hit the nail on the head there. You’re so right, we should listen to these 80 years who actually have life experience rather than succumbing to the pressure of our younger friends and family and what society ‘expects’ us to ‘achieve’ with our lives. Like you said, success should be a by-product of being true to ourselves rather than it being our only goal. I already have some of those regrets you listed and I’m only in my early 20s so this has been a good wake-up call! Thanks for the inspiring post!

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Alexander Heyne February 16, 2014 at 11:30 am

Cheers Stephanie! If you’re in your early 20s and you already realize this, I’m sure you’ll be able to correct your course. As that old saying goes, “the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

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Donna February 16, 2014 at 9:02 am

I can’t believe you wrote this because you’re the most ambitious 20-something I came across! Anyway, maybe ambition is a good thing if it’s in moderation (like everything ain’t good if it’s too much). But when it comes to a point that it makes us sick and miserable, then we need to step back and ask ourselves why we do what we do.

I think people want to achieve because of recognition from other people. I mean, the best thing about it is that your hard work is acknowledged. People talk about you and how “great” you are. It definitely boosts your self-worth and makes you happy. But also, happiness can be found in a lot of places. Sometimes, we find it in the most unexpected ones–in the simplest situations.

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Alexander Heyne February 16, 2014 at 11:28 am

Donna,

I find that extremely ironic too :) Maybe this was a big revelation or paradigm shift for me. I’m still battling multiple aspects of my own personality – the ambitious Alex, the monk Alex, the traveler Alex, the entrepreneur Alex, haha.

“But when it comes to a point that it makes us sick and miserable, then we need to step back and ask ourselves why we do what we do. ” Bingo. I think this is really important to remember too.

You’re totally right about the acknowledgement aspect of achievement – I think that’s a biggie, and certain people kind of crave that ego recognition more than others. Sometimes It can get out of control

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shreen February 17, 2014 at 12:35 pm

I’ve noticed that some of the most ambitious and productive people are also those who believe that your achievements don’t define you. I think that’s because they chase projects because they genuinely enjoy them for what they are (learning and creativity opportunities) rather than seeking out amazing achievements to win social kudos. So although you present a paradox (being ambitious but saying who cares if you’re not ambitious) it does make sense to me.

I’ve stopped telling people about the things I do/have done because sometimes the “wow” reaction makes me cringe. I don’t do things to win other people’s respect or awe, I do things for the enjoyment of them.

Sure, at first I did things to grow some sense of confidence and identity, but I’ve since improved the way I think about myself. I’ve taught myself to be happy with what I already have* and that extra achievements don’t define me, but they’re a lot of fun to do regardless.

*A good link: http://zenhabits.net/perfect/ (you’ve probably read this before judging by your blog, enjoy!)

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Alexander Heyne February 20, 2014 at 2:52 pm

“I’ve noticed that some of the most ambitious and productive people are also those who believe that your achievements don’t define you.”

Excellent point Shreen. You are absolutely spot on. I think (at a higher level) the most fulfilled and successful people focus on the activities themselves – the process – not the outcome, not the event, not the reward.

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Derek McCullough February 19, 2014 at 8:27 pm

Hey Alex,

Just found your site and I think it’s great. I agree with your point here. Most people are unhappy not because they haven’t done anything because most of the time they have. They’re unhappy because they fill MOST of their time with shit they don’t like.

I say stop doing that and start being happy.

Cheers,
Derek

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Alexander Heyne February 20, 2014 at 2:51 pm

Amen Derek !

At the end of the day we just fill our days with things we truthfully don’t care about.

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Aparajit Roy February 20, 2014 at 9:07 am

This article is excellent.
I study in a law school with about 150 others. All of them are greedy, materialstic and atheists.
But I follow exactly what you want. Live a life pleasing God.
Thanks.

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Patrick February 21, 2014 at 12:06 pm

Alex – I think you have reached this realization about ambition not being the ultimate answer precisely because you have been so ambitious.

It is like the spiritual seeker….at the end of it all, they realize that the truth was so simple and right under their nose all along. But you could never realize this profound truth unless you had done the work, laid the groundwork, and done the soul searching and the seeking to begin with.

Or at least I think that analogy gets to the heart of what you are saying here. I too am looking for a way to relax, enjoy life, stop pushing for that next goal, etc.

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Alexander Heyne February 21, 2014 at 2:52 pm

Patrick,

I think you are absolutely right – and fantastic analogy of the spiritual seeker.

“But you could never realize this profound truth unless you had done the work, laid the groundwork, and done the soul searching and the seeking to begin with. ”

Excellent point, I agree.

” I too am looking for a way to relax, enjoy life, stop pushing for that next goal, etc.”

I think the ideal contains both – you will get to live the life you want, while also having low stress levels, being content, and doing what you’d like day to day. Sometimes it’s necessary to sacrifice today for a better tomorrow, but happiness cannot be stored up and saved, you know? Putting off happiness today doesn’t mean you’ll get more tomorrow.

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ChrisA February 25, 2014 at 8:20 am

I frickin’ LOVE this article. In my opinion, the most profound thing you have written. The whole “live life to the max!” mantra is one that I’ve always had trouble associating with. As I’ve gotten older (27) and have started evaluating my existence, it has made less and less sense.

1st world society treats its life like a resume, accumulating experiences and seeking validation/qualification, despite there being no interview when you die. Life as it is being sold to us is a beaten path – most things within your grasp have already been achieved and done. So if you aren’t breaking barriers for humankind, then there is simply no reason to do something unless you actually want to.

I think the key to happiness for most people is just simplifying life as much as possible. Stripping it bare of all the unnecessary bullshit (drinking, drugs, TV, holidays, computer games, excessive money, distractions, cheap thrills and all escapes) can give you a much clearer picture of what is important to you. This is the fundamental problem with the life most of us lead – there is so much noise, that we can’t even hear ourselves think.

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Alexander Heyne February 27, 2014 at 6:34 pm

“I think the key to happiness for most people is just simplifying life as much as possible. Stripping it bare of all the unnecessary bullshit (drinking, drugs, TV, holidays, computer games, excessive money, distractions, cheap thrills and all escapes) can give you a much clearer picture of what is important to you. This is the fundamental problem with the life most of us lead – there is so much noise, that we can’t even hear ourselves think.”

Pure gold here Chris. I couldn’t agree more. Spot on.

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Arthur Vazquez February 25, 2014 at 9:36 pm

Hi Alex,

I think I read that same article of “7 reasons why you’ll never do anything..” I found it to be very cynical, like all hope is lost and you shouldn’t even try.. and then one of the comments went on to talk about how humans are limited and we must accept it.. Its hard because sometimes we’re born into situations that don’t allow us to live life as we want, weather it be family debt or illness, or anything we can’t control, leaving us feeling limited. We have a tendency to compare ourselves to others rather than focus on trying to become the best versions of ourselves. I believe that balance is important living life as you want and being happy, striving for what you want but not make it an ultimatum, nothing is guaranteed, don’t have regrets if you give it your all.. In the end of the day like you said we just want to enjoy and live a meaningful life.
Anyways I’ve written too much haha I really enjoy reading your blog, you inspire.

Good day,
Arthur

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Alexander Heyne February 27, 2014 at 6:34 pm

Arthur,

You’re right. It’s not easy, but it’s a lot harder for some people than others.

“ts hard because sometimes we’re born into situations that don’t allow us to live life as we want, weather it be family debt or illness, or anything we can’t control, leaving us feeling limited. We have a tendency to compare ourselves to others rather than focus on trying to become the best versions of ourselves.”

We all start at different points in life, but we can all work our asses off to improve our situation – no matter where we are, right?

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Dorian February 28, 2014 at 11:20 pm

I just want to move out of my parents home, it’s driving me crazy. I’ve been applying like mad to multiple sales jobs and I just know someone is bound to call me for an interview. I’m not really seeking “greatness” in life…I just want my own place. I want to be able to pay a mortgage on a home or condo. I feel like the only way for me to do this is through online business as a traditional brick and mortar jobs are not the way to go anymore. Yes, you can get one for a while, but do you really ever save money when you work for 9.25 an hour? No. Time are changing and the place to be is online..no doubt. Apologies if my post was not entirely on topic, just had to get that off my chest as I’m going nuts here.

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Alexander Heyne March 4, 2014 at 11:04 pm

Hey Dorian,

Let me tell you what I was doing when I was working for 10 an hour (even with a BS in biology from a great university): hustling.

#1 I learned how to become a competitive candidate – how to negotiate a higher salary, how to get a higher paying job etc. Study Ramit Sethi.

#2 I freelanced on the side. So I charged $50/hr to teach online business building. That was an extra $300/mo which helped covered expenses and helped me save. You can also learn that from Ramit.

No one said it was easy – it requires hustle. Have faith, do whatever it takes to be happy, work hard.

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emily March 6, 2014 at 4:56 am

I feel compelled to share a bit of my own insight.

First of all, how do we define greatness?

I’m 31 this year. I’ve done something great with my life as far as most definitions go. I didn’t aim to, it was a matter of luck (or more like, misfortune).

To most people I think that risking your own wellbeing to expose dire injustice is a great thing to do. Especially when that risk involves death.

I come from a southeast asian country. I won’t name which. Given my standard of English, it’s probably easy to guess. It is authoritarian back home, and corrupt. When I was 18, I naively volunteered for the army thinking I’d make a difference. My guy friends were conscripted for national service(military conscription is mandatory there), and I didn’t want to be left out.

One such friend, although not one I knew very well, who was in the same school as I had been prior to the military, was murdered/manslaughtered(depending on your point of view) by 2 assholes with important daddies. The government and the military went to great lengths to cover up the whole thing by claiming he had collasped.

By chance, I have another friend, a close one, who was privy to the truth. Blinded by rage at his murder AND the subsequent coverup, I did all I could to blow the whistle on the case. Eventually the case went to court as it was revealed that the victim had his head held underwater till he drowned. Yet the government and the army STILL tried to cover up who had done it, and held a show trial, finding 4 innocent guys guilty and sending them to prison. The 2 culprits got off scott free. I did my best to blow the whistle on this too, at great risk to myself.

We had inherited British laws by dint of being a former colony, and one of the laws we’d inherited was the “Official Secrets Act”. By blowing the whistle, I was putting myself at risk of a possible treason charge. This country also has the death penalty, with draconian applications of the death penalty such as it being the mandatory sentence for being caught with 30g of heroin(as much as I am anti-drugs, that is still an extremely harsh punishment). Therefore it is not a big leap to see that I was facing the risk of a treason charge with the death penalty a possible outcome.

Eventually I decided to move before I was found out. Till this day, most of my close friends who are aware of this incident consider what I did “great”. I think that perhaps many would too. But I will not die happy. The 2 culprits were never exposed, and I seethe with rage even to this day when I recount this grave injustice which happened almost a decade ago. Greatness? It happens. It guarentees no happiness. If anything, it breaks people. This anger at the injustice will forever be within me.

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Ken Sohan March 6, 2014 at 8:18 pm

I posted this comment elsewhere. But I thought this was your latest post. So I’ll repost it once more. But only once!

Hi there Alex,

Your blog is very interesting and I’m inspired. I am beginning to move beyond my old conditioning, and will definitely take your ideas to heart.

You made a point that entrepreneurs are not paid for their time, but for the quality of their work. Now here’s an idea – what if everyone were paid in this manner? The ‘security’ of the wage or salary or any time-based pay will deter many from taking any real action because our baby-nature will take over and keep us dependent, and we’ll sacrifice more of our lives because of it.

The 9 to 5 arrangement should only work if you put in your best effort and are paid accordingly, NOT because you’re contracted to be at work 9 to 5 no matter what.

I’m currently umemployed but I’ve made a resolve that I should never get paid from now on based on just simply existing in a workspace. It will be tough to adjust to, since most of my life I have craved security (at the expense of freedom). Many people may have problems with this approach, but there’s no point in rebelling as a teenager if you plan on being a ‘child’ at work.

I’m not perfect, but I’ve made the decision. I believe you could write a post which explores this notion: NEVER ACCEPT PAYMENT SOLELY BASED ON TIME. I’m thinking that terms such as “per hour” “per year” and “per week/month” should be erased from the work vocabulary.

My belief is that despite our reservations, we will force overselves to work better and open up more time for pursuits such as family and hobbies and fulfilling our purpose.

I am still exploring these ideas, and am currently thinking about how to kill the ‘store’ arrangement – how can we serve customers without making employees kill off their neurons waiting forever behind the counter?

The revolution is underway. You have a large audience, I am only one man. You have influence. Read the following Word document and see if you can refine this into a workable philosophy.

Don’t escape the 9 to 5. DESTROY it. Free everyone.

Cheers, the idealistic rookie Ken.

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Alexander Heyne March 9, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Hey Ken,

That would be ideal – but a lot of people would be out of jobs :). And anyone in the entrepreneurial space knows this to be true – especially in the smaller companies, you have to really provide concrete value to stay there.

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Ken Sohan March 6, 2014 at 8:20 pm

Sorry, I have to note – ask me to email the Word document to you.

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Cara March 11, 2014 at 2:52 pm

I came across your blog last summer and along with Forbes.com it has some of the few posts that actually get me off my ass to do stuff.

I’m 21, studying abroad for a year to learn a language, not sure what I’ll be doing come graduation–this post (with many others of yours) resonates.

I’m an extremely honest person, can’t lie to the point of absurdity, but thank God because it’s that much easier to listen to my intuition. If people realized that most of what we do is motivated by fear—and if they then asked themselves “Is this what I really want to be doing right now?”—they would find it easier to obtain long-term happiness, I think.

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Alexander Heyne March 16, 2014 at 10:46 am

“I’m an extremely honest person, can’t lie to the point of absurdity, but thank God because it’s that much easier to listen to my intuition. If people realized that most of what we do is motivated by fear—and if they then asked themselves “Is this what I really want to be doing right now?”—they would find it easier to obtain long-term happiness, I think.”

Bingo Cara!

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mohit kedia May 11, 2014 at 1:27 pm

You’ve nothing to lose, you are already naked, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t follow your heart – Steve Jobs

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Alexander Heyne May 12, 2014 at 10:22 am

Love it Mohit!

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William Morris May 31, 2014 at 1:02 pm

I understand where you are coming from but working hard on something and getting a result is a million times better then sitting in a cafe enjoying a espresso. Of course everyone and their mother would love to do nothing all day but to truly enjoy something you have to work for it. I think hard work truly pays off….cliché I know but true.

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Alexander Heyne June 1, 2014 at 1:13 pm

I agree William!

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