Life as music instead of destination.
Do you know the story of The Lord of the Rings? Frodo and Sam go on epic adventures and face certain death many times over to finally deliver the ring to Mt. Doom and defeat the dark lord Sauron. Then everyone goes back home and Sam can finally marry his sweetheart Rosie and they live happily ever after. Hooray!
Do you know the story of Mad Max: Fury Road? The bad ass sand lady Furiosa drives a big truck for a long time while being chased by bad guys on bikes, then becomes courageous and takes back the cool base and everyone lives happily ever after. Hooray!
Do you know the story of Star Wars? Luke Skywalker finds his house burned down and goes to rescue the princess and then blows up the Death Star and lives happily ever after. Hooray!
Do you know the story of Shrek? An ogre lives in a swamp until everyone bothers him enough that he ends up saving the kingdom's fairy tale creatures and ends up getting the girl in the end and they live in the swap happily ever after. Hooray!
But what happens after the story is over? It's not like real life has a "happily ever after" point. If you try real hard and achieve a life or business goal, the credits don't roll to a fade out. In fact I'm kind of glad it doesn't do that, since I'd prefer to keep on living life.
But what if Sam's marriage with Rosie didn't go so hot? What if they fought and everyone was generally unhappy? What if after saving the cool base from the sand bad guys, Furiosa is installed as mayor of sand town and all the weird face painted guys dislike her rule and vote her out in the next election? What if after dealing with the Death Star, Like retires to Coruscant and lives a boring life as a politician debating senseless minutia of laws? And what if Shrek and Fiona get really bored after adventuring and spend most of their days watching daytime television?
In a movie, everything that happens is important and exciting, because it's a movie that is supposed to be entertaining. You get a view of what is probably the most exciting section of that character's life, and it's often just a few days or hours of wall clock time.
Most of life is the rest of everything that happens in-between the exciting parts. Working, sleeping, eating, cooking, doing chores, hanging out with friends and family, driving; you know, the normal parts of life. After something exciting happens, life usually goes back to normal.
This is why I've found it very helpful to design my lifestyle around the day to day activities, rather than only looking towards big hairy goals to find fulfillment.
As Mark Manson said in his lovely article "7 Strange Questions that Help You Find Your Life Purpose", "Everything sucks some of the time." And so his advice is to make decisions on your career and long term goals based on what you'd most enjoy doing day to day. Since everything sucks some of the time, which job's worst parts do you enjoy the most?
If you have visions of being a successful game developer but hate writing computer code, this may be a problematic existence no matter how many game developer awards you get. If you have dreams of being a writer and winning cool writing awards but hate the process of writing, there might be trouble brewing. If you have grand visions of being a rockstar but can't stand practicing every day, this might not work very well.
This could be a heuristic for choosing a major in college. Which major's worst classes seem the least bad to you?
I love this line by Nassim Taleb in Antifragile, "A friend who writes books remarked that painters like painting but authors like 'having written.' I suggested he stop writing, both for his sake, and the sake of his readers."
It just so happens that I enjoy writing but kind of hate painting (I have found visual art making to be tedious). But if you love painting then great! It is clear that you should paint so that I can enjoy your works without being sad. I imagine there are many who would be sad doing computer programming all day like me. The key is to find something you can tolerate for more than 5 minutes before getting sad.
There's no shame if you find out you don't like painting after all when you thought you would. If you don't like your career day to day after all, consider changing something. People often have more agency than they seem to realize.
The thing I've realized lately is that I'll never reach some mystical point in my life where I have absolutely everything perfect and I'll be continuously blissful in a perpetual state of euphoria. If that happened it sounds like illegal drugs are involved and that could probably get dangerous very quickly. Am I somehow expecting to be continuously at the climax of the movie? And so I decided I might as well enjoy the day to day parts of life between the highs of reaching my goals.
Many years ago my friend Andrew and I found this video of an animation over Alan Watts giving a lecture about life. It's only about 2 minutes but I thought it had some profound ideas in a cool-ly illustrated style. In short, instead of seeing life as a journey with a destination, consider seeing that "It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing or dance while the music was being played."
I first sent this article as a letter to my mailing list. New letters go out each week!
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