I recently had a series of small experiences which have had a material impact on my life. It feels like a door has been blown off the hinges and a new perspective has firmly manifested. As a result, I’ve been thinking about the direction of G+D quite a bit. Particularly the purpose behind this project, and the meaning behind the tagline: Live A Life You Choose.
The entirety of G+D is dedicated to helping give fuel to that fire – providing tinder to ignite the flames of clarity for all of us to live life consciously. To choose how our existence unfolds in front of us. Hopefully, for readers, that is through providing thoughtful and entertaining writing helping each of us (especially me) get to wherever we want to go.
The more I learn and experience, the more I appreciate need to understand why before you can conquer how. I feel that my own ability to communicate what LALYC means is lacking, and so we have this article.
Action is always the preferred next step. Always. But the why is what keeps us going when we are alone in the dark filled with doubt. Why is the vision that guides us religiously toward what we have decided to pursue. Why is the mechanism to push through the psychological and physical obstacles, and to then fuel us to conquer how.
A powerful enough purpose is a bottomless reserve of premium gas for our own existential engine.
Anyway, what are some of the fundamental components which culminate in Live A Life You Choose? What are the pieces which help explain the “why”?
I’ve written before about the vastness of the universe and how in that sea of existence, there is only us. Only humans get to enjoy the intelligence which spawned penicillin and YouTube, and then the accompanying awareness which almost kills us before lunchtime each day.
When we look at the magnitude of Earth, let alone the Universe, we see how tiny we are. Further, when we understand the insignificance of a single human’s existence, we can appreciate the inherent purposelessness of life.
We’re all at a cosmic craps table hoping we don’t role snake eyes next. Even if we did, almost no one would miss a breath. Life goes on, with or without us. Eventually, without any of us. Life and death waltz together through the casino as the music echoes behind them, each only having meaning because they dance together.
Nothing inherently matters. The essence of existence is simply that – to exist. In the scope of the Universe, any of our births, an iPhone being released, nuclear war, and the Sun burning – locally these are events, each bigger than the last, but to the Universe – to the essence of life itself – these barely register as data points. Things matter locally, sure. But again – life is big. It’s bigger than you or me. It’s bigger than Earth. And there is no inherent meaning. Existence is the point.
Nothing really matters.
In that realization, we can start to find freedom. It’s easy to care too intensely about too much; it’s almost intoxicating. Many of us care about things that simply don’t matter. We mistake mounds of garbage – politics, convincing people you’re right, caring if people think you know the best coffee shop – for hills worth dying on; for an identity. And so, we miss out on actually having what could be great a life.
Freedom comes in realizing that because nothing matters, we get to decide what matters. We have the responsibility to do so.
Maybe for some of us, that results in thinking the answer is still nothing. If that’s your jam good luck, the Nihilists in The Big Lebowski never really appealed to me. But there are no real requirements. We don’t have to be right; we can’t be right. We don’t have to believe anything or be anyone. We can pick a few things or nothing.
Even more daunting, if nothing matters, we can start to play a dangerous game of why not. Why not do something crazy like move across the country? Why not start that project you’ve always wanted? Why not liquidate all your accounts to put on a crazy yolo options trade? Why not leave it all behind and start something you’ve always wanted to? Please note: some of these things may not be like the others.
The idea of nothing matters starts as a depressing, emo icepick to the cerebrum. At first, we may find ourselves smoking cigarettes in the rain thinking about what kind of rope you might need to buy at home depot to do the job. It can warp into a dark lethargy in which we rob ourselves of joy.
I know what this is like. It is unpleasant, suffocating, and feels unending.
In a desperate plea for anything to matter, we find ways to drown ourselves in everything. When seeking purpose, it’s impossible to find. It feels like a black raincloud which looms over us wherever we go.
We are the rain cloud.
If we push through, if we can plumb the depths of our mind to shake loose facets of our identity which may keep us locked in place, we might catch a glimpse of something which makes sense. We can realize that life having no inherent meaning isn’t merely an existential prison sentence, it’s a blank canvas. An open field of potential where, if we’re willing, we can decide what goes on it. We can choose what to care about, what to do, and how intensely to follow any ideas.
It’s an immense struggle with an unending supply work. It never really ends. But if you can push past the raw nihilism, you can find a little space to play around with. No meaning isn’t a death sentence, it’s the freedom to create and find meaning in life as you see fit. At the beach, in the patio (alley) of a local bar, in the mountains, or at the office. It’s your call. Nothing matters, but something has to go on the canvas.
“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
You Can’t Introspect your way to fulfillment
Self-reflection is fundamental to living a good life. It’s challenging to do consistently and productively. It requires the awareness to see our own faults, the desire to change, the resilience to explore challenging existential questions, and the humility to seek out multiple perspectives, and ultimately accept there really are many answers (or no answers).
Introspection with the intent trying to live a meaningful life is a painful process. It’s painful because we’re challenging our very identity and understanding of the world. This is precisely why it’s a necessary and helpful endeavor. Struggle is often an indicator we’re moving the right way.
I’ve found that introspection is always seen as viable prescription for someone struggling to live life in a way they value. I understand why, there’s no way of knowing where someone is at their journey, it can always be relevant, and it requires questioning your identity and beliefs – two things which many people simple choose not to or never think to do.
The dark side of introspection is quite literally driving yourself insane. There’s a self-indulgent need to get to the bottom of each and every scary thought or question which pass through our minds and creep out of memories. Every awkward past transgression needs to be catalogued on the spectrum of trauma and shame. Every question needs a corresponding value system and exposition so it can be marked complete. Everything needs to be investigated. Everything needs to be questioned. Everything needs to be answered.
You will drive yourself crazy doing this. After a certain amount of introspection. It’s time to act. The goal should be to pull enough levers, rethink enough ideas, and have enough experiences where a few things come together and click. For things to align in a way that says, “oh yeah, this is good enough” and we can get on with living.
A good goal is to do enough to develop a healthy sense of purpose, confidence, optimism, and humility. If we can work through emotions and thought patterns that were the most encumbering, if we can decide what sort of hobbies or experiences make us feel alive, and if we can adopt enough curiosity and humility to question everything in perpetuity (loss dogma, more scientist) – well then that’s a very flexible system to chase whatever matters to each of us while still enhancing our perspective on life.
But you have to chase something. You need action. Because introspection without action or joining the monastery, is stasis, or worse, psychology havoc.
Action provides information. It lets us try out ideas and hopes, and it builds momentum. If all we do is think and you never act, I can you it ends up feeling like trying to quench your thirst with sea water.
There Are No Right Answers
Letting go of the concept of there being “right” ideas is also critical. That sort of rigidity (and arrogance) on something so ethereal and will only result in building a mind with the fragility of a saltine. This is a common theme great philosophers like Nietzsche and Frankl have pontificated on; many believing the acceptance of this idea being fundamental to live a good life.
The idea that there is a right way to live is outrageous. Most reasonable people can agree on a collection of wrong ways, but these ideas exist so far on the extremes they’re almost not even worth mentioning. If someone needs to talk you down from starting a cult, joining ISIS, or eating other people, this is not really the message for you. And good God what brough you to this website.
Ignoring things like that. Everything else is fair game. And this gets back to the root of the phrase I’m trying to understand myself (live a life you choose), what Frankl means when he discusses individual responsibility, and what Nietzsche means when he says there is your way and my way, not the right way and the wrong way. The questions that matter in life when building a value system don’t have right answers.
This is why questioning your life is terrifying. We want to act like we don’t have as much freedom as we do, but we have a shocking amount of freedom. Truly. We don’t have to do anything. I’ve always hated that phrase because it feels hacky. It doesn’t seem to carry much pragmatism. And yet, we can go live in a tent, kill ourselves, quit our jobs today, go somewhere else altogether by whatever means we can. I know, I know what about our families, the sunk cost of our careers, and the bar down the corner where they give us discounts and play tame impala – look I’m not saying to do anything, I’m just pointing out there is lot more than we acknowledge, even maybe we shouldn’t.
So, the idea that there is a right way to do anything is absurd. You could walk away from everything, and it could be the best decision you ever made. You could chase your dream and devote yourself to it and hate it – you may end up believing it to be the worst decision of your life. Those are the stakes.
It’s overwhelmingly common that fear locks us in place. If life was embodied with any natural force, it’s inertia. We don’t have to choose anything because our current arrangement will carry us into the future. Maybe that’s the right move. Maybe not. But the raw fear of change can make anything sound wrong or crazy, but that idea itself is what’s wrong and crazy.
Life Is A Collection Of Tradeoffs
Sacrifice is the word that should get a larger seat at the table in our existential decision-making models. To do anything in life is to sacrifice everything else. This is a pillar to pursuing your goals and changing your life.
Everything we have to do is a result of the decisions we have made up to this point. These decisions have been reinforced and manifested as our current decision-making template – the impulses we have and the way you process existential problems.
I have always found a crushing frustration with not having developed more clear, tangible skills (who hasn’t). Particularly creative skills. Besides the wonderful art, this is why we fawn over the stories of creators and people that took chances – that built something. People like a psychedelic wizard from Fremantle who saw music as an escape from isolation, an identity or a modern-day Tony Stark who splits time between designing luxury electric vehicles and then designing rockets which will then shoot those same vehicles into space.
We love the edge cases. Everything else is a little too bland.
Life being a collection of tradeoffs is a key tenant for the edge cases, but more importantly, for doing anything you decide is meaningful. Finishing a book you want to read means not binging another Netflix show. Taking a class to develop skills to start a personal project may mean skipping Friday and Saturday nights at the bar (they add up).
Picking anything to pursue, to try to get really good at (let alone great at), means letting it consume you. However your days may currently be going, things have to be taken out to do new things. It’s a trite platitude but it’s piercingly true – you only get the same twenty-four hours each day. Even if you’re just letting the day go by without structure, time still needs to be carved up to do what you want.
Getting started is hard. Choosing is terrifying. Being terrible in service of being good is disheartening. So, we fall back to inertia.
To do anything, in that moment, means to sacrifice everything else.
Choose, Act, Reflect, Repeat
At the end of it all is the greatest obstacle to life. Choice. Choice is the concrete wall that eliminates 99% of people from exploring what could be.
Ignore ideas of potential, good vs. great, and the requirements of sacrifice. Most people, due to the fear of doing the wrong thing (or not “knowing” the right thing), choose to do nothing. They mortgage the beauty, the insanity, and the humanity inside themselves because choosing is horrifying. As Frankl discusses, it’s about responsibility. And life has already given us so much responsibility. None of us are supposed to be anywhere, none of asked to be here.
This is what’s so appealing about society and corporate structure. You get to de-risk your life. If the company closes, you move on and get another job. You don’t have to worry about vision or mission, margin calls, bank loans, or invoices. We just have to do your job and have ambition to the extent you choose; the rest just happens. We only have to do, not choose what has to get done. The stakes are also relatively low. While the fear of getting fired or looking stupid can be crushing, what really happens? We get fired. We’ve gotten a job before, we’ll (probably) be able to do it again.
Things exist now, however they do, and it works. It works in service of keeping us alive. In a world without meaning, existing is maybe the only thing that is “right”. If wondering if there’s more, a better or different way, just remember something new can’t take shape by doing what we’ve always done. We know that.
Then we must choose. And that’s the hard part, because getting over that fear is only the beginning.
Following right behind making a choice – any choice – is the responsibility to act. We act, and then in time we can check-in; reflect on how it’s going. We either redirect or continue down the path again (choose, and act). Then we just…keep doing that. Like everything else. Even then, we may never be sure. We’ll almost certainly never be sure. How could we be? We’re literally choosing to not do everything else.
The fear of picking the wrong path is a fallacy that robs us of living.
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet, and another fig was a brilliant professor…I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
Live A Life You Choose
Maybe these ideas are enough. Hopefully they’re enough to get started. They’ve helped me get started.
The fog of the cosmos, of existence, doesn’t clear. Life is ironically filled with oppressive freedom. We all wish for different circumstances, but even in unfavorable circumstances, the magnitude of choices we technically have are a bit astounding. But that’s easy to say from here, and maybe it doesn’t matter. After all, I’m sure it’s nice to see a cluster of zeroes on the left side of a decimal in your Chase app.
Anyway, to live a life you choose, to me, also has no right answer. But it does require working through and working with these concepts. It requires seeing the world and yourself as objectively as possible, getting to know yourself a bit, and then making a choice. A commitment. Or maybe not. And maybe that’s the point.
We all deserve and have the capacity to live a life we choose.