Yet, in a bizarre, backwards way, death is the light by which the shadow of all life’s meaning is measured. Without death, everything would feel inconsequential, all experience arbitrary, all metrics and values suddenly zero.
We can truly be successful only at something we’re willing to fail at. If we’re unwilling to fail, then we’re unwilling to succeed.
Because here’s something that’s weird but true: we don’t actually know what a positive or negative experience is. Some of the difficult and stressful moments of our lives also end up being the most formative and motivating. Some of the best and most gratifying experiences of our lives are also the most distracting and demotivating. Don’t trust your conception of positive/negative experiences. All that we know for certain is what hurts in the moment and what doesn’t. And that’s not worth much.
Happiness is a constant work-in-progress, because solving problems is a constant work-in-progress. The solutions to today’s problems will lay the foundation for tomorrow’s problems, and so on. True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving. Sometimes.
The more you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become, as pursuing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place.
We are responsible for experiences that aren’t our fault all the time. This is part of life.
But the problem with entitlement is that it makes people need to feel good about themselves all the time, even at the expense of those around them. And because entitled people always need to feel good about themselves, they end up spending most of their time thinking about themselves. After all, it takes a lot of energy and work to convince yourself that your shit doesn’t stink, especially when you’ve actually been living in a toilet.
Commitment gives you freedom because you’re no longer distracted by the unimportant and frivolous. Commitment gives you freedom because it hones your attention and focus, directing them toward what is most efficient at making you healthy and happy. Commitment makes decision-making easier and removes any fear of missing out; knowing that what you already have is good enough, why would you ever stress about chasing more, more, more again? Commitment allows you to focus intently on a few highly important goals and achieve a greater degree of success than you otherwise would.
We are so materially well off, yet so psychologically tormented in so many low level and shallow ways. People relinquish all responsibility, demanding that society cater to their feelings and sensibilities. People hold on to arbitrary certainties and try to enforce them on others, often violently, in the name of some made – up righteous cause. People, high on a sense of false superiority, fall into inaction and lethargy for fear of trying something worthwhile and failing at it.
This, in a nutshell, is what self-improvement is really about: prioritizing better values, choosing better things to give a fuck about. Because when you give better fucks, you get better problems. And when you get better problems.
People get addicted to feeling offended all the time because it gives them a high. Being self righteous and morally superior feels good. As political cartoonist Tim Kreider put it in a New York Times op-ed: outrage is like a lot of other things that feel good but over time devour us from the inside out. And it’s even more insidious than most vices because we don’t even consciously acknowledge that it’s a pleasure.
Our culture today is obsessively focused on unrealistically positive expectations: Be happier. Be healthier. Be the best, better than the rest. Be smarter, faster, richer, sexier, more popular, more productive, more envied, and more admired. Be perfect and amazing and crap out twelve karat gold nuggets before breakfast each morning while kissing your selfie ready spouse and two and a half kids goodbye. Then fly your helicopter to your wonderfully fulfilling job, where you spend your days doing incredibly meaningful work that’s likely to save the planet one day.
The ticket to emotional health, like that to physical health, comes from eating your veggies – that is, accepting the bland and mundane truths of life: truths such as your actions actually don’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things and the vast majority of your life will be boring and not noteworthy, and that’s okay. This vegetable course will taste bad a first. Very bad. You will avoid accepting it. But once ingested, your body will wake up feeling more potent and more alive. After all, that constant pressure to be something amazing, to be the next big thing, will be lifted off your back. The stress and anxiety of always feeling inadequate and constantly needing to prove yourself will dissipate. And the knowledge and acceptance what you truly wish to accomplish, without judgment or lofty expectations.
If you think about a young child trying to learn to walk, that child will fall down and hurt itself hundreds of times. But at no point does that child ever stop and think, Oh I guess walking just isn’t for me. I’m not good at it.
We’re apes. We think we’re all sophisticated with our toaster ovens and designer footwear, but we’re just a bunch of finely ornamented apes.
Essentially, we become more selective about the fucks we’re willing to give. This is something called maturity. It’s nice; you should try it sometime. Maturity is what happens when one learns to only give a fuck about what’s truly fuck-worthy. As Bunk Moreland said to his partner Detective McNulty in THE WIRE: That’s what you get for giving a fuck when it wasn’t your turn to give a fuck.
But a true and accurate measurement of one’s self worth is how people feel about the negative aspects of themselves.
The act of choosing a value for yourself requires rejecting alternative values. If I choose to make my marriage the most important part of my life, that means I’m (probably) choosing not to make cocaine-fueled hooker orgies an important part of my life. If I’m choosing to judge myself based on my ability to have open and accepting friendships, that means I’m rejecting trashing my friends behind their backs. These are all healthy decisions, yet they require rejectionat every turn. The point is this: we all must give a fuck about something, on order to value something. And to value something, we must reject what is not that something. To value X, we must reject non-X.
It turns out that adversity and failure are actually useful and even necessary for developing strong minded and successful adults.
We are defined by what we choose to reject. And if we reject nothing we essentially have no identity at all.
Everybody enjoys what feels good. Everyone wants to live a carefree, happy, and easy life, to fall in love and have amazing sex and relationships, to look perfect and make money and be popular and well respected and admired and a total baller to the point that people part like the Red Sea when they walk into the room. Everybody wants that. It’s easy to want that. A more interesting question, a question that most people never consider, is, what pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for? Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.
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