“So you were born to feel ‘nice’?” -Marcus Aurelius
Despite how connected and convenient the world has become through breakthroughs in technology, medicine, and opportunities, we have perpetuated a dastardly cycle that is robbing us — you — of our best work.
The cycle is simple.
1. Something bothers us.
We get cut off on the road, a coworker disrespects us, a friend flakes on a hangout, a client is rude or demeaning to us in front of others.
2. The underlying issues, the real issues — we feel ashamed, not good enough, hurt, sad, angry, depressed, profoundly frustrated, small — are not dealt with.
They are numbed away through any of the endless list of sedatives: pornography to prescription drugs to TV bingeing to getting drunk on social media or alcohol or both.
3. We squash another pile of not-dealt-with garbage in our already-full minds.
We have reached a place as a society where our Prime Directive, the Numero Uno goal is to “feel nice.”
In other words, to not feel pain.
But is that what we were born to do?
Your Problems Point to True North
“The goal of life is not to relax on the beach, sipping mojitos all day. The purpose is to find something you love that adds value to the world.” -Ben Foley
In his book The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday describes the paradigm shift we need to take with our obstacles: we need to move toward them, not away.
We need to see obstacles and problems as what they really are — tools that help us grow, exponentially.
Franklin Roosevelt coined the idea perfectly: “A calm sea never made a strong sailor.”
In this sense, we should be grateful for the shitty circumstances in our path, instead of complaining about them. These circumstances are our best tools to elevate us to greatness, to becoming our best selves. They are the quintessential whet stones, and how sharp we make ourselves is entirely up to us.
- Someone cuts you off; that’s an opportunity to practice self-control of your knee-jerk anger and resentment.
- Someone breaks a promise to you; that’s an opportunity to reevaluate relationships or even cut toxic people out of your life entirely.
- Someone makes you look foolish; that’s an opportunity to take back the power you’ve given other people to make you feel embarrassed or inadequate.
At the very least, any obstacle or problem is an opportunity to practice patience and learn from our mistakes so we don’t make them again.
You will never become your best self by chasing the goal to simply “feel nice.” In fact, you’ll probably end up like 95% of the world — the ones who, sadly, will never be successful.
These are the people that will never change their ill-advised spending habits. The people that will never declare they are done with toxic relationships. The people that will never acknowledge they have serious flaws that need to be addressed.
Don’t “Feel Nice”
Experience and act instead.
Is the Prime Directive to create a life where you can sleep in every day? Is your life built around getting home as fast as possible after work to max out every available minute that can be dedicated to not working?
It was for me, for a long time.
Life was all about getting back to being comfortable. My commute, work, responsibilities, even interacting with friends was simply something to endure as my introverted self longed to get home, throw in an oven pizza, open a new bag of nacho chips, and binge watch another marathon of TV shows before I looked at porn for a few hours before bed.
Since as early as age 10, I became addicted to not just pornography, but evading my responsibilities and “not feeling.” The result was a 10 year old walking and talking in a 22 year old’s body.
If I was uncomfortable — stressed, sad, lonely, angry, afraid — I escaped to a small, dark room of “feeling nice.”
Maybe you do, too.
But that life sucks.
Turning Your Obstacles Into Speed Boosters
Your level of success will rarely exceed your level of personal development, because success is something you attract by the person you become. -Ryan Holiday
We need to give up this notion that our lives are meant to be walks in the park. Life is going to be hard, and life usually throws more and more difficult obstacles at those who keep growing. There is no end, which is good news.
Every obstacle is a bag of power-ups, supplies, a speed booster, and experience points that help to elevate us higher than we were before. Fortunately for us, these situations are abundant and plentiful, and always will be.
My wife and I are currently teaching English abroad in South Korea. We teach in several classrooms a day, and boy do I really hate teaching some kids in particular. They’re lazy, disruptive, and are just little shits most of the time.
But I find myself looking forward to those hard classes, while my coworkers endlessly complain about their problem students. Why? Because it’s a chance for me to practice another teaching strategy. It’s an opportunity to train myself to be patience, forgiving, and to take myself less seriously — I mean, these kids are Korean. They can barely understand “cat” and “dog,” let along “Would you please stop yelling and disrupting the other kids.”
It’s a chance for me to grow. To become better. To develop myself so when I get back home in a year, I’ll be even greater and a higher version of myself than ever before.
You can look at the world that way, too.
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