The Emotional Myth That Keeps You Stuck (and How to Overcome It)

This post originally appeared as a message to private email list I send out every Monday. You can find details on joining the “Monday Motivation” list below.

I know you want a better life, regardless of who you are.


Because human beings are built to seek, build, advance, and adapt. In a way, our need to want something better — either for ourselves or civilization — is driven by the feeling of not being good enough. If you think about it, a stability inducing a level of contentment across all human beings could cause progression to…stop.

And for all of human history, we haven’t been able to unilaterally agree on, find, or create a sense of certainty in one word — happiness.

We chase after happiness.

On that chase, we can accomplish quite a bit. We can make the world a better place. But does anyone truly capture happiness? Maybe, I don’t know. But today I want to share a thought I’ve been pondering for a while — one that’s helped me move forward in my life with a little less pressure, a dose of realism, and even a twisted sense of motivation.

Maybe the ultimate goal of life isn’t to be happy.

Think about it. Since the beginning of time, nature has never favored the needs of the individual. Species go extinct. Natural disasters wipe out swaths of land and the living organisms in it.

Look at the realm of employment, art, and commerce. For every successful business, there are hundreds of failures. For every famous writer, artist, or musician, there’s a waiter getting rejected through countless rejections at auditions. For every applicant that gets the job, there is a stack of resumes lost in the shuffle.

But we need both the success and the failures to benefit the greater good. Without people trying and failing — lots of people — we wouldn’t advance as a society. So, maybe your job isn’t to try to feel as warm and fuzzy and good as possible before you try to accomplish anything.

Maybe you owe us.

Somewhere along the line, this idea of happiness came about, but the world never wanted or needed happiness from us. It needed our contribution. Maybe happiness is an accidental bi-product of contributing. Maybe wanting happiness first is backward.

If the purpose of life isn’t happiness, what is it? Again, I don’t know. But if I had to guess, I’d guess the purpose of life is to be useful.

I found the sense of serving my duty as a human being useful. It motivates me. I don’t always feel like writing these emails, but I made a promise to you and everyone else who gave me permission to communicate with them. I’ve heard from many of you. I know some find these emails quite useful, necessary even. So who the hell am I to stop writing them just because I don’t have rainbows and sunshine coming from my you-know-what that day?

It’s an interesting way to think. That you should pursue big things as a repayment of the debt you owe for being blessed with life.

I know you. You have these big dreams for your life — either tucked away in the back of your mind or in crystal clear HD in the front of it — but you’re waiting until you feel like doing something about your situation, or more accurately until you feel like you’re good enough to do something.

Of course, there has to be some inkling or jolt of motivation to start, but if you wait until you’re 100 percent self-confident, content, and happy before you pursue your dreams you’ll never pursue them. Plus, if you were 100 percent self-confident, content, and happy you wouldn’t need to pursue anything. You could just die right then and there — purpose served.

So here we are again. Having this conversation about what you have to offer.

I do my best to steer clear of cliched positivity


You have so so so so much to offer. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about life it’s this — most people die never even fulfilling 10 percent of their potential because they’re sitting around waiting to feel good about themselves before they do anything. What a waste.

I’m not self-confident. I’m not “happy.” I’m not content. I don’t know what I am, but I do know what I do. I use the skills and talent I’ve been given to make my small contribution. How successful will I become? No clue, but I can feel at peace knowing I’m pushing my chips into the “all in bet” of human civilization. And I’ve come to find that doing provides those ephemeral feelings of contentment and joy.

So let’s make this actionable.

What can you do today to be more useful? You won’t accomplish your dreams this second, so we’ll have to be more practical.

Why not give your job 100% effort today? — make phone calls to the clients you dislike to see how you can help them, put a big dumb smile on your face at the retail counter or drive-through window, set a personal record for the time it takes to install a part at the factory, drink a ton of coffee and reduce your paperwork to zero.

Give your friends or family the most of you today — be completely present with your friends, partner, child (ren), or family members.

Better yet, put some damn effort into that little project you have going on — the blog post…the craft…the business plan…the song you’re writing… the “thing” you know damn well you really want to do but have been putting off. Putting effort into that will really give you a boost.

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