Often times what we want is a completely different thing than what it takes to get there. The most popular pitfalls are money and fame.
Let’s say I want to be rich. But I can’t work at being rich. Being rich by itself doesn’t make me more money. Selling goods, services, or ideas can make money. Investing money can make more money, but the main activity there is investing which breaks down to research, strategy, risk management and so on. Money is the end result of doing something well, if we’re lucky. Luck also covers things like the lottery and inheritance.
What about fame? Aren’t there people that are famous for being famous? No. The people that seem famous for being famous over long periods of time are experts at marketing and publicity. There is a lot of work behind the scenes to make sure your name stays on everyone’s lips. Fame is the result or side effect of something else. Again, luck also plays a role in cases like being born into royalty.
This expands to other desires as well. Say I want to be my own boss. Great, that sounds amazing and amazingly vague at the same time. How do I become my own boss? I need to run some kind of a business where I get to decide the work I take on. Being my own boss is then the result of choosing and successfully running the right type of business.
What happens if we want the result but not the work? Ask the question: If the work is miserable, is the result still worth it?
I started this post a year ago after a trip. And it sat unfinished while I procrastinated. I didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t want to look at the obvious truth. A co-worker I had known for over ten years died this week and now I’m again forced to stare at the truth
Every time I pack for a flight I get slightly panicked. I’m always afraid that I will forget something or miss the flight. A million things run through my head, all of the ways the trip could go wrong. As I was riding the shuttle to the terminal I thought about why.
And it was obvious. I don’t fly often, at most a handful of times a year. While I know how to get around an airport as well as anyone, it isn’t my comfort zone. What is a comfort zone? It’s where we know how things work and what to expect. It’s where we feel safe.
But are we really safe? Is “safe” even a real thing? It’s an illusion. It’s a byproduct of routine, of the familiar. We want the world around us to be predictable. We want just a tiny bit of control over our lives. In reality what we control is only our decisions. Surprises happen, good and bad. We don’t think about how fragile life is until we’re forced into an unfamiliar situation or someone we know is hit by tragedy. We do everything we can to make it seem like we’re safe, our families are safe, and everything is okay. But by doing so we also ignore how precious our time is, how nothing is guaranteed.
This isn’t meant to motivate by fear. This is meant to motivate by seeing clearly that reality is unpredictable. We can ignore the truth or spend each day fully aware of how much of a gift our time and our abilities are.
If we’re lucky enough and unlucky enough, at some point in our lives we have experienced great pain. The pain was enough to cause us to look, to examine, to learn, to accept, and if possible to fix it.
How do we continue to have these periods of growth and correction without being fueled by immense pain?
Pain is an amazing motivator. We like to avoid it as much as we can. We also like to solve it as quickly as possible. Discomfort is a different animal. It seems we can avoid it or live with it indefinitely. Whatever our avoidance of choice is, food, hobby, staying busy, it takes our minds off of discomfort. Discomfort is present, in the here and now. Avoidance, our escape, focuses our minds on a task, on a pleasure, anything but being uncomfortable.
In between the episodes of pain that force us examine our lives, discomfort is where we can spend time, to sit, to learn, to understand, and possibly to change what’s broken. Whatever we’re avoiding, whatever is causing discomfort, whatever is causing anxiety, whatever we’re scared of, they’re probably what we need to look at.