Wrong stakes

One of the marks of an unconscious approach to life or business is to get the stakes all wrong. This approach has two modes – a mission critical mode and an unconscious mode.

The mission critical mode involves words like “crisis” and, well, “mission critical” and could last long periods of time. The unconscious mode serves simply as a lull between two crises. The stakes seem non existent and the activity is uninspired.

In reality, however, both these modes rarely exist.

Most of us are never really in “crisis” mode. That’s just a result of the proliferation of battle terminology in business (which spills over to life). As long as we aren’t shipping life saving drugs, things are generally going to be fine. There’s really no need for the drama. Creating conditions of unnatural pressure for long periods of time isn’t a recipe for long term well being or success. Give people a chance to work toward a true calling or mission (e.g. I want to build an electric car that will actually make it mainstream and reduce our world’s reliance on oil) and they’ll do the work with limited push.

Second, even if the stakes aren’t as high as we sometimes make it sound, there isn’t such a thing as a low stakes life either. The stakes always exist  in the “no drama” zone and the things we do always matter. We touch many people every single day and affect their happiness. The work we do, the art we create likely does the same as well. Sure, we might pine for bigger impact but, if we look carefully, the number of people we get to impact impact in meaningful ways over the course of a normal lifetime adds up to large numbers. Pretending that it doesn’t matter is an abuse of privilege.

It is a privilege to be alive. And, now that we’re here and functioning, what we do and say matters.

We can choose to do it well, to make it meaningful and count. We can choose to commit to doing the small things with extraordinary love.

Needless to say, the unconscious approach is easier and lets us off the hook. The tough part about these choices is that we must find strong intrinsic reasons to do it – regardless of the stakes. It isn’t easy to pay attention in our lives. And, it is very hard to keep applying consistent effort because, for the longest time, it feels like all the effort counts for very little.

Until it does.

What to do versus who to be

A close friend emailed Hunter Thompson’s letter “On Finding Your Purpose.” I’d read this a while back but I’d forgotten about it. And, it resonated very deeply this time around. The part that resonated was his distinction between what we want to do and who we want to be. I picked out my favorite notes below.

As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors — but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal.

Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”

And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know — is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

I feel I’ve been stumbling at the fringes of this idea in my years writing here without ever explaining it with such clarity. Its beauty lies in its simplicity. The conventional approach to life is to focus on what we want to do. We, then, shape who we want to be in accordance. If we end up in a job that requires us to work 90 hours a week, so be it. We’ll give up those dreams of valuing health or family. It assumes no thought or intention.

Instead, decide who we want to be and seek to find a career that conforms. This is hard. Who knows what we want to be?

It turns out we don’t really know what we want to do either. For the most part, we just start with an unconscious hypothesis and keep moving forward. The only difference is that we seem to be following millions of others who are doing the same thing. It is easier.

And, as always, let’s not confuse easier with better.

Default setting

There’s plenty of great research that shows that our actions are heavily biased by the default option. Given how important defaults are to our decision making, every once a while, it is helpful to ask ourselves – what is our default setting?

For instance, we can choose to:

– Trust or to doubt.

– Take responsibility or make excuses.

– Read a non-fiction book or scroll further down our Facebook feed.

– Ask the hard question or stay silent.

– Acknowledge mistakes and learn from them or pretend they didn’t happen.

– Observe or judge.

– Save or spend.

– Respond with fantastic attitude or be defensive and prickly.

– Love or hate.

– Exercise or watch TV.

– Care or be ambivalent.

Whatever the decision, our actions are likely to follow our default setting.

It is on us to choose wisely.

Easy and hard

Things that are easy to do: Procrastinate, criticize a person or initiative, destroy spirit, waste time and resources, be negative, forget commitments or don’t bother making them in the first place, over promise and under deliver, give in to the resistance, use fear as an excuse, never apologize, sacrifice authenticity and avoid the truth.

Things that are hard to do: Build something, fail, be happy, acknowledge failure,  be positive, embrace the struggle, express love, stand up for what you believe in, never tolerate disrespect, empathize, give, share joy, lead, follow, hug, and create.

We face the choice between easy and hard every moment. The more mature we are, the more choices we see. However, maturity only helps us see the choices – only our will power and determination can make us consistently choose the harder path. The hard path is, well, hard. But, it is better. And, even if we start with the best of intentions, after a series of inevitable failures, it may feel like the effort is not worth it.

Until it is.