On significance

One of my old neighbors once told me that deep down all people want to be loved and truly liked. If they can’t get that they want to be respected. If that’s out of reach they want to be disliked or even hated. People are rather despised than ignored. Why is this? What’s so bad about ignoring people, why do we hate being ignored so much?

Our actions define us, we decide our essence. When someone refuses to acknowledge our actions and presence they take away our freedom to define ourselves. They take away the significance of our lives by ignoring our existence. This is a pretty harsh thing to do.

Maybe that’s what we deep down really crave; to be significant. We want our existence to have mattered in some way. Being loved, liked, and respected are a sign our contributions are appreciated. Being disliked or hated at least means we made a difference which is the essence of significance. If our lives didn’t make any difference they were insignificant. And insignificance is a pretty uncomfortable feeling since we do have to put up with all the ups and downs just by being alive. That we are here without any predefined reason is worse enough, if we can’t exercise our freedom to make our own lives meaningful we end up stuck with just the bad without the good.

This may explain why people can be so mean to others. It’s easier to destroy something great than create it. Destruction is a more efficient way to achieve significance. The same goes with being liked or disliked. It’s easier to get people to hate you than really like you. People who feel insignificant can lash out by being mean in order to get at least acknowledged. When you punch someone or block their path it’s hard for them to ignore you. Ignoring people who are mean might not be the best way to deal with them since it will only make it worse. The same goes for people with destructive tendencies ‘at least I made a difference’ could be a prime motivator.

However, since getting people to hate you and destroying things are easier than the opposites or it they are worth less. Being intentional mean or destroying something, be it an object or someone’s ambition might give you a quick fix of feeling significant but over the long run it will only isolate you more and more of the world. If you go too far the world will physically prevent you from ruining the lives of others. The negative is the easy cheap fix, go for quality instead.

Do something worthwhile by creating something others enjoy, be nice to you fellow people. Built them up instead of tearing them down and you end up living a very significant life, one that makes people happy that you were alive and sad you are no longer here. Life is hard enough without people making it worse for each other, instead we can all benefit by trying to make it a little better.

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The decision

“How can we be sure?”
“Of what?”
“This. Life. Anything. How can we be sure that we aren’t dreaming right now?”
“Really, this again? Can’t you just admit that you went to bed too late yesterday instead of trying to get out of going to work by tricking everyone into questioning their existence?”
“What? I wasn’t trying to …”
“I’m not falling for it. Get to the office within 10 minutes or you are fired.”
*The phone disconnected.*

15 minutes later…

“Look, time is relative right? It is going slower closer to huge bodies of mass. My apartment is on the ground floor. I really had enough time when I left. It’s just that this office which is located at the 4th floor has a faster flow of time. I can’t help it…”
“Dude, just go do your job and set your alarm a bit earlier from now on.”

He cleared out his e-mailbox which had filled with 50 new messages in the 2 hours he missed in the morning. Another bug, another change request. Always the same.
Seriously, what am I doing with my life? Is this all there is to it?
He had always thought he was supposed to do something great with his life but never figured out just what.
One day I’ll write history is what he keeps telling himself but he has no clue how yet.

Across the room he saw one of his colleagues stressing out as usual. If only she worked less hard she would get so much more done He thought. Sarah had a habit of always diving headfirst into the tasks assigned to it instead of thinking it through first. Good intentions, shitty execution. She’d been there for 11 years now. What if I end up like her? The thought scared him.

“Yo, Sarah. Why are you alive?”
“Excuse me?!” Sarah was visibly offended.
“Sorry, didn’t mean it that way. I mean, what are you living for? Why do you get up in the morning and go to work for?”
“Well I have to get up and work so I can make money of course.”
“But what for?”
“So I can pay rent and pay for food obviously. Why are you asking these dumb questions?”
“You misunderstand me, I get that we need a roof over our head, and we need food to survive. Having a job is a way to pay for that. But what is it we live for in the first place? It seems like there should be something more to it. Something we still want to do and achieve. What is your dream? Or what is the most important thing in life for you?”
“Well, I love travel and hanging out with my friends. Meeting new people, experiencing new cultures.” Sarah answered.
“Really?”
“What’s up with that reply?”
“I mean, would you say that traveling and hanging out with your friends make life enjoyable and worth living?”
“Exactly.”
“Then why do you still work here? This company and the work you do have nothing to do with traveling. And since you work 5 days a week you don’t have much time to spend with you friends either do you? Do you hang out with your friends a lot? Do you travel often?
“Well, we are adults with real responsibilities right? I see my friends in the weekends and I go abroad once a year… Anyway, stop bothering me I have work to do. I’m trying to figure out why this chart isn’t showing the right data…”
“Turn of your filters… Bye.”

Adriaan walked away lost in thought. He wondered why people who claim to know what’s important to them don’t just act on it. He then questioned whether it wasn’t the same for him. What were his goals anyway? Why did he bother getting up?
Start a company. See the Earth from outer space. It’s not like he had no dreams and goals. Just no clue how to get started. Once he graduated he landed a job in a software company. He had been bored out of his mind for the last ten months. Something had to change. He remembered his old colleague John from his previous job who had been working at his uncle’s store for over 25 years. Not that he wanted to but he always said that it was acceptable and even though he always was talking about wanting to do something else he never figured out what so he just stuck around. This was 6 years ago now. John still works at the store.

Suddenly a thought hit him. That’s it. People don’t go after their dreams because they have an easy option available. The thing that kept his old colleague in the store is that it was the default and safe option. He was pretty sure he could stay working at this company for the foreseeable future as well. Even though this would have been seen as a good thing by most people it freaked him out. This has to change he said to himself before getting up and walking up to his boss.

Okay, I have eliminated the easy option. Now what?
Adriaan no longer worked at the company.

What am I doing here?

On acting on past choices when circumstances change

I landed at the airport, took a cab to the apartment, and started to unpack. Suddenly a dread took hold of me. One big question kept going through my mind; what am I doing here?

Last December I signed up for a Master’s degree in Entrepreneurship and Innovation management in Helsinki, Finland. I had just quit my job to start a company. The plan was to study a bit more to learn about how to run a company and meet new interesting people. It would also give me a 2 year break of worrying about my living expenses as it would enable me to take out some student loans. Since I had already enjoyed 3 years studying in Finland before it seemed like the perfect plan.

I signed up to take the GMAT exam 3 months earlier, a prerequisite to apply. I spend the evenings after work studying and passed with a decent score. From there on everything went on autopilot mode. I applied in December, the same month I quit my job to focus on growing my company. 3 months later I got news I got accepted, I was ecstatic. June rolled around and I started looking for apartments. My Finnish friends helped me find some good message boards and before I knew it I had everything set up. I even managed to arrange the internet subscription in such a way that the router arrived by mail the same day that I got there. So far so good.

On arrival it suddenly hit me. Ever since I decided on taking the GMAT to apply to this study everything relating to the study had been in automatic pilot. I hadn’t even looked into the curriculum yet. With each step my enthusiasm grew smaller and smaller, until the moment was there that I arrived at my apartment in Finland with everything set up and I finally asked myself what I was doing.

You may wonder why I was asking such a seemingly silly question. Something to keep in mind is that I signed up to the Master’s degree not for the paper but to learn some useful stuff so I could one day run a company that supported my living expenses in a fulfilling way. What I didn’t see along the way was that during the year I was already taking concrete steps towards this goal. I spend the last few months working on projects for clients and so far they paid the bills and offered an interesting challenge. I suddenly pulled brake on this to move to Finland. Once I arrived it finally dawned on me what I had done. I totally missed the point. I paused building a company to study it, trading in the real thing  which is a great learning experience with real world feedback, for studying the theory in a class setting.

Was it really worth it to take a 2 year break from fully focusing on building my company and to double my student loans? I was happy to be accepted into the program and it seemed genuinely interesting, but all along it may had been motivated by curiosity about whether or not I would be able to get in. As soon as I did the challenge of it started fading and reality caught up with me. The silly part is that the reason I forgot to take a step back while preparing to move to Finland because I was so caught up in actually running my company, the thing I signed up to learn about.

After arriving in Finland I met up with one of my friends and old classmates who by now was running two companies already. Seeing him just going for it was the thing that made it clear to me what I wanted to do right now. In the end I decided that for now I’d rather learn from the real thing which is why I decided to book a flight back home and cancel my enrollment and focus on building a company instead.

It brought home the point of applying positive laziness on the macrolevel. So far all the preparations where done as effective and efficient as possible and it was all set in motion with proper intentions, but as time moved on things changed. Not the overarching goal, but the route available towards it and my position along the way. It is helpful to stop once in a while and reevaluate the goals you are working towards and the path you are taking in order to achieve them even if when setting them you already put a lot of thought into it and worked out the route in advance.

What are you after?

Before you can find the most effective way to achieve something you first need to clearly define what it is you are really after. Putting in effort to find more efficient ways to do your tasks can end up being counterproductive if you fail to take this step.

For example; If you are doing some cleaning at work, finding a more efficient way to clean the place so you can go home earlier might work counterproductive if you get paid by the hour. This because it either leads to more work being expected or you making less money for the same work.

Especially if you clean for a living, the real purpose of cleaning at work is to make the money so you can pay the rent. Once you realize this, you could either decide to look for a higher paid job or start offering cleaning services as a freelancer based per cleaning session instead of per hour. In this case you employing more efficient cleaning methods will enable you to get to your desirable endpoint more effectively (making the money to pay the rent in less time).

Daylight Dreamer Manifesto

1. The universe has no plans for us, it is just there. It is up to us to decide what to do with our lives

2.This life is all we have. Don’t waste it.

3.Every choice is eventually made. If we don’t make the decisions someone else or the
circumstances will make them for us.

4. The more skills we develop the more opportunities open up. The stronger and smarter we get,
the more control over our lives we gain.

5. Challenging goals push us to develop new skills, become more tenacious, and disciplined. They
make us stronger and make it easier to deal with whatever life may bring.

6. Our bucket list items are our current reasons to live. It consists of all the things we still want to
experience and achieve before we die. Achieving the goals on this list should be our main
priority.

7. We don’t need to know how we want to spend the rest of our lives, as long as we know what
goals we want to work towards right now. Once we achieved these we can set new ones.

8. Life is neither fair nor unfair, it just is. Shit happens. We are fully responsible for dealing with
whatever happens to us. This is because we are the ones who have to deal with the
consequences of not doing so.

9. A positive attitude is great, but action beats mere thinking. Wishful thinking alone does not solve
anything. Take action.

10. Help others but don’t sacrifice your own happiness, dreams, and wellbeing. Don’t act like a
crutch, show people how to stand on their own feet. Inspire others to chase their dreams by
setting the right example.

11. We don’t get what we deserve. We get what we settle for.

Chemical life

Have you ever stopped to consider what life is?

All living beings are the continuation of a chemical reaction that keeps fueling itself which started about 3,7 billion years ago on a planet revolving just one  of the billions of stars in the universe. You and me are no different. The fact that part of us consists of the most complex structure in the known universe, the human brain, and are able to be conscious of our existence doesn’t change the fact of what we ultimately are. A super complex structure with thoughts and feelings, but a chemical reaction nonetheless.

It always makes me chuckle when people claim that chemicals, in general, are bad since the people who say so are a chemical reaction itself and often promoting an organic diet which consists of the results of one of the oldest chemical reactions on earth since fruit and vegetables are the result of the same chemical reaction we emerged from.

Keeping in mind that we are just a chemical reaction can help put things in perspective a bit if you ever feel overwhelmed or are tempted to take life too serious.  But does this make life less valuable? Not at all. To change the perspective a bit you could consider the following as well which is equally true: We are a part of the universe that is able to observe and experience itself, which is pretty cool. If we didn’t exist no one would ever notice the universe existed at all. Our existence makes the entire universe more meaningful. Without anyone noticing it being there it would be completely pointless.

Choice paralysis (why it’s so hard to really decide what to do with our lives)

It’s good to have options and be able to choose. However, when we are presented with too much options all at once we often end up with choice paralysis leading us to not making a choice at all (which is a choice itself). Since it’s up to us to decide what we make of our lives we can face the same issue when trying to come up with an answer to the most important question in our lives. What is it I’m going to do with my life?

At least you don’t have to worry about missing out on the thing you were supposed to be doing since there is no such thing. This doesn’t make it easier. Every time we decide to do one thing it means we are not doing a million other possible things. Economist refer to these options we have to miss out on as alternative costs. These alternative costs playing in the back in our mind can be the cause of the choice paralysis many of us experience when we can’t decide what it is we really want to do with our lives.

It’s not hard to come up with dozens if not hundreds of things you could do with your life. Even if you limit yourself to goals that are realistic in a reasonable short time span, with your current skills and knowledge, it can still be a daunting task to decide what to do. And with deciding I don’t mean just saying to yourself that you want to accomplish something, but actually taking action to achieve that which you intent to do (more on this here).

The feeling of existential angst that occurs when we suddenly realize that there is no  predefined reason for us to be here may very well be a manifestation of choice paralysis. Once we realize there is nothing we have to do, except dealing with the consequences of our actions, we also realize there isn’t one right answer to the question of what we are supposed to do. This takes away the possibility of finding the one “right” answer, something we are destined to do, there is no such thing. So now there isn’t just one right answer, instead there are an infinite number of answers and we have to decide which ones to go for. This can be a daunting task which explains why so many people go through life settling for a mediocre path of choices they more or less stumbled into. In the face of a limitless amount of options they froze and ended up going for the default option.

However, finding an answer to the question about our reasons to exist is important in order to live a meaningful fulfilling life. Giving up on it because it’s a difficult question is not a very appealing option. As long as we don’t decide what we want to do with our lives we are just wondering about aimlessly, waiting for the time to pass until we die. So what can we do about this?

In the end it’s about finding something that excites you and just going for it. It can help to start with setting smaller goals if you are still fuzzy about what big dreams you want to realize. The important thing is to actually take action and do something. And if you do have a big dream, do yourself a favor and give it your all.

I’m not saying it’s easy to decide what you want to do with your life, far from it, no matter how smart you are. Being smart can even work against you since it opens up even more possibilities. Nonetheless we’ll have to keep looking for an answer. It’s not about having to do anything, it’s about wanting to do certain things. It’s your life, are you going to settle for the default settings or are you making something worthwhile of it?