When I moved back from China around 2011, I wrote myself a personal letter entitled, “Grass is Greener.docx” reminding myself about how I fucked up.
When I booked that one-way flight a year or two before, I was planning on never coming back. I figured I’d just stay there and become a monk, kung fu legend, and have crazy stories to tell.
Even though a little bit of all three things happened, on my flight home I realized why I felt so lost at some points during the journey.
When I left the states, I figured, “this life and job will always be here for me.”
Bills, responsibilities, mundane shit I had to deal with.
I figured that going off on an epic adventure with monks, medicine, and adventure would without a doubt make me happy.
Because I sure as hell knew what did not make me happy – the ordinary, white, picket-fence lifestyle.
Unfortunately, my philosophy was all wrong.
“This Next Year is Going to Change it All For Me – I Just Know It”
As long as I can remember, this has been my guiding mantra if I ever hated my day to day life.
When I was sixteen, I knew I wanted to study some kind of medicine. When it came time to go to college, I didn’t want to go. When I got to college, I couldn’t wait until summer to do what I wanted.
When it got to my senior year of college, I couldn’t wait until I was done – I could travel the world for ten years straight if I wanted! I could become a monk! A kung fu master! Anything I fucking wanted.
It was great.
But I got a job.
When the job was cool, but not my passion, I looked forward a year again – next year, at 23, I’m quitting and booking a one-way ticket somewhere. Let’s fucking do this. No more fears about dying after forty years in the same job and same career. No fucking way.
When I got to China, it was, “I can’t wait until I’m fluent in Chinese, a badass monk, and then can go home and do whatever is next.”
And then I boarded the plane back home.
When I got back from China, it was time for a new job, then another job, and another. And about ten others, before I finally “set my sights” again.
This time, I was looking forward to something big: becoming an entrepreneur and finally having the freedom I always wanted.
For me, freedom was one thing – how I could choose to spend every minute of every day. Why the fuck would I spend it working on projects I didn’t care about? There was no amount of money in my mind that was fucking worth doing shit like that.
So I looked forward to that freedom. Wake up, do what I want. Wake up, work on what I want. Wake up, have enough money to travel wherever I want, whenever I want.
I could not fucking wait.
Year one flew by, and I was still wondering when I could quit my job (because I wasn’t making enough money).
Year two flew by, and I was still wondering when I could quit my day job (in the intervening time, I quit and started three other part-time jobs).
Year three, finally fucking arrives, and then I quit my day job.
3 years, 3 months, 11 days.
Not like I was counting or anything.
I Almost Made it… Then Found a New Hamster Wheel of Distraction
And then, before realizing how far I had come, suddenly I was on a new hamster wheel: well, shit, if I want to live in the first world, I need to earn about 2x as much money to be comfortable and not wake up stressing.
New hamster wheel. Six months. A year. Two Years. Now, suddenly I find myself making enough money. Life is sweet, because I’m doing what I want, when I want, only working 3-4 hours a day. It’s a reality.
Life was great.
Until it wasn’t.
Suddenly, I was waking up and doing what I wanted – but it wasn’t enough.
Now I wanted impact. I wanted to change millions of lives.
So I wrote a book – something my soul wanted to get out, that I hoped would eventually help millions of people. And it did really well. Hell yeah! Fulfillment meter full.
… For the time being.
One book Master the Day, led to another, Milk the Pigeon.
Then it was three other mini books.
Well, now what?
Becoming an Entrepreneur Just Accelerated My Fucked up Thinking About Happiness
Entrepreneurship is a gift and a curse.
And if you find yourself with an entrepreneurial personality type, you know (all too well) what I’m about to say is true.
For the hustlers, if we hate today, it doesn’t matter, because we’re always building a better future for tomorrow.
I’m allergic to being the same. My greatest fear is that, one year from now, I’ll be the same person.
Next year (2018) already has an Evernote doc full of goals – TED talk, possible new book, get a Yacht in Greece with friends for a week, do a test-run living in LA, maybe host my first in-person event and fan meet-up.
The curse of entrepreneurship is that, five seconds after your best day ever, you’re on to the next thing.
When you make 2k and can finally feed yourself, now it’s time for 4k, so you don’t have to stress. Once 4k arrives, why not go for six figures? You can actually take a vacation that way or save for the future. Six figures? Why not a million-dollar business? Then you can pay off your parents’ mortgage and get a baller pad.
For the entrepreneur, it’s always the “future” – HUSTLE, GROW, IMPROVE, ITERATE, NEXT-LEVEL.
So I was grateful when I realized about a year later, “hey, wow, I actually do have a passion.”
Sometime around this time, I re-realized my passion or calling, Chinese medicine. Finally, there was some kind of craft I could study, day in and day out, something I could be a legend at. When you think about it, some of the greats we admire were usually known for their skill in something – they weren’t neccesarilly business people.
They had a craft. Now I did, too. Something I could spend the next forty years polishing, obsessing over, in my study, my laboratory, my workshop. Seeing patients get better when they had exhausted all other options. Finally, a pursuit that didn’t involve money as the core metric of success.
My new obsession was medicine – and I knew it was going to make me happy. This new project wasn’t like entrepreneurship though – it was a new hamster wheel that could last an entire lifetime.
That’s When I Realized the Mistake I Made
So there I am.
A few months back, April 20th, 2017. And I realized I just turned 30 having achieved a lot of the things I really wanted to achieve.
…and I also realized that even though I was happy, none of these things (even focusing on impact) provided the “fulfillment” that I hoped for.
The end game.
That feeling of tearing off a piece of clothing that was too tight, exhaling, and going “ahhhh, that feels better.” I can finally breathe.
It never happened, based on the way I was currently living my life. Not at all.
Next year it’s giving a TED talk, a new trip, more bucket-list things. And the hamster wheel never ends, so it’s no surprise that people at the top of their game so often struggle with depression and suicide.
They are always trying to get somewhere.
It’s not surprising that successful business owners get tired of the fucking treadmill and implode, self-sabotage, or just flat out commit suicide.
This is when I realized that if my fundamental life philosophy didn’t change, I couldn’t expect anything else to.
And that especially goes for all the lies I told myself about being happy.
Almost everything I thought would make me happy (in the long run), didn’t.
The Lies We Tell Ourselves that Poison our Happiness
There are so many habits I’m working on now to try and improve my life, and live differently. I want to be both future-driven, ambitious, but a person who is content just waking… every day.
Here are a few of the fallacies I’ve noticed, that put me on a hamster wheel for almost a decade.
Maybe you spot them in your own life too.
Fallacy #1: In the future I’ll be happy.
There’s a quote by Earl Nightingale that I’ve lately realized is eerily true:
“Today is the yesterday you dreamed of five years ago. Is it everything you expected?”
When shit is going horrible, it’s so easy to think, “One day, things will get better. One day, I’ll lose the weight. Save that $5k. Start that passion business. Take that trip to Paris. Write the book I’ve always wanted. One day things will fix themselves.”
Here’s the bitchslap newsflash though – they never do. By themselves, they never resolve anyway.
I run an entire group coaching program (the Milk the Pigeon mastermind) which is filled with people who told themselves these exact stories, before realizing three years had elapsed and nothing had changed.
The number of emails I get from people over 40 that sound like this is astounding:
Alex, I have no idea how I got to where I am today… I thought I would be further. I thought I would be more successful. I thought I would be living somewhere else, doing something different, married to a different person… It just feels like I woke up, and I have no idea how I got here.
What’s even worse is that saying that “one day” you’ll do something saps the happiness from enjoying today.
Think about it, it’s like being in a relationship with a girl you aren’t happy with, and you’re thinking, “One day it’ll resolve in the future. Or one day, maybe we’ll break up and I’ll find someone I’m really happy with. Or maybe I’ll get the guts to just break it off.”
Rather than dealing with the day, we’re just avoiding it by thinking we’ll deal with it further down the road.
How the hell is that a way to live?
Fallacy #2: The future is different from today.
When I wrote my book Master the Day, it was the result of a long series of revelations I had over several years of trying to achieve some of my personal life goals.
The biggest realization I had was the following:
You can predict how your life will be in one year, five years, ten years, or when you die, based on the habits you do today. And you are generally most fulfilled when you don’t focus on goals, but on enjoying the daily rituals you set up. The paradox is that these same rituals help you reach those goals.
No magical jesus-juice.
Look at your daily habits, and you can predict with 95%+ accuracy where a person will be on a spectrum of health/disease, success/poverty, happiness/unhappiness, spirituality/spiritual poverty, happy family/broken family.
Following up on this concept is the painful realization – tomorrow is just today… tomorrow.
Tomorrow is today.
A week from now is today.
A month from now is today.
Ten years from now is today.
Is today the life you want to live?
If not, that will never change.
Fallacy #3: Happiness takes effort.
“There comes a time when you ought to start doing what you want. Take a job that you love. You will jump out of bed in the morning. I think you are out of your mind if you keep taking jobs that you don’t like because you think it will look good on your resume. Isn’t that a little like saving up sex for your old age?”
– Warren Buffet
Does happiness take effort?
I’m not sure. I look at the nature of children (do they try?). Look at some people in the third world who just care about having a family. So simple and so “happy.”
So many of the things we think we require for happiness are bogus, are material. We think changing the job, changing the house, changing the location, changing the person, etc. are all required.
And look… they will make us happier.
But are they the most important things that determine happiness?
Do they create long-term happiness?
Sometimes it’s the faulty thinking that makes us miserable. We think we need to “add” to our life in some way to be happy.
I think I need more money, to be more toned, to have a hotter girlfriend, to have more respect and admiration.
And yet… if I took inventory of what the happiest moments were in my life last year, I’d realize that they were so much more simple.
It was sitting down with my aunt at dinner and talking about life.
It was sitting on a bench in that public park, reading a book, watching kids run around.
It was hanging out visiting my parents, drinking some champagne at breakfast to celebrate a holiday and relax for a few hours with nothing on the schedule.
Did it really require the addition of something?
The Ultimate Lie: Something Beyond Today Will Make Your Life Complete
“Make each day your masterpiece.”
– Coach John Wooden
Behind all these things, behind the entrepreneurial personality type, beyond the future-pacing personality, there’s one belief.
The belief that something beyond today is going to give me that feeling of completion I’ve been looking for.
This is the ultimate trap of entrepreneurship in particular.
Because it’s the biggest fucking lie.
Once I get there, I can stop doing work in my business.
I can stop innovating.
I can stop thinking creatively.
I can stop showing up.
I can stop working hard.
I can stop pushing.
Well…all of us depend on other kinds of energy to keep going… but this iterative, regenerative, re-inventing yourself cycle really never ends in life.
The lie is that “that thing” will make you happpy.
It never does.
So how can you find a new fuel – something that gives you the inner, blazing fucking fire to create, re-invent, improve, iterate, and keep going?
What’s going to be your fuel to get your ass out of bed and cultivate yourself daily in some way?
What’s going to be that project you want to work on, so that, like Nikola Tesla, or Einstein, you love the process more than you love the outcome?
What would you work on if you had to work the next eighty years, every day, without a day off?
That should be your new goal.
Make today your masterpiece.
That’s my new mantra for my 30s.