Craft a life with as much zeal as it takes to craft great weekends
It was a sunny Wednesday, around 8AM on this particular morning. I was sitting at a local coffeeshop, with the whole day ahead just to myself.
Earlier, I had decided to have some breakfast outside, just to break up the routine a little and to be in a different environment. Often, it is little things like these that do it for me.
As I was going about minding my own business, enjoying the sunshine and sipping coffee, I started to overhear and lean towards a lively conversation between two strangers a few tables away from me.
For some reason, their discussion had caught my attention. It started off with something like this.
“ We’ve got big plans for this weekend! On Friday, the car will be all packed up and ready to go, and I’ll make sure that we have X, Y, Z…
Then at 5:30PM, we’ll start driving North to get there by nightfall. Then on Saturday…”
She continued to elaborate, with extensive details, all the way through what Saturday would look like and then the return journey on Sunday before the start of the new week.
I felt drawn towards the conversation, impressed by the meticulousness required to craft such a plan and the energy of her presentation. By the end of it, I found myself feeling excited for these strangers, and hoped the best for her plans coming to fruition.
There was something invigorating about that sense of clarity and focus around what the future could look like.
And then came some interesting questions.
Living on the weekends
If we have the capacity to wholeheartedly craft a plan all week long and commit five days to live fully for the two-day weekend, what would it look like if we took the same level of passion to wholeheartedly craft a good life?
Such a big question from a seemingly mundane casual conversation between a couple of strangers, yikes.
Here we go.
The frame I started off with was a deceptively simple question: ‘What does a good life even look like?’
I sat down one early morning after grabbing a pen and some paper, and simply brainstormed anything and everything that came to mind. To avoid getting bogged down too early, I honed it in a little by using a tried-and-tested framework that I often use, which is called ‘PIES’:
What emerged for me were clear threads around sustainable habits for physical fitness, engaging and fun conversation with others, time spent around the dinner table, travel and many others.
This turned out to be a lot of fun, and after an hour or so, I started to see that what was on the page was a summary of a life that was very close to what I already have.
In that moment, I felt a flood of gratitude. That I was alive and already leading a good life.
“If you want to understand how this world is made or where it came from, the only way is to actually get up and go out there, feel it with your body. That’s how I learned.
Actually meeting people, actually climbing mountains. And after all my travels, I am more and more certain of that now.”
— Naoki Ishikawa
To have, to do, to be
In Tim Ferriss’ 2017 podcast interview with the incredible Terry Crews (you might recognise him as the guy on the right hand side of the photo below), Terry shared a remarkable insight he had found through his own experiences of learning about concept of the ‘Master Key System’.
He distilled down the concept into an understanding of how the sequencing of ‘being’, ‘doing’ and ‘having’ makes a world of difference.
The paradigm that comes to mind for most of us when we think about those three words likely looks something like this.
For example, let’s take a scenario with an initial statement like: ‘I want to be successful.’
Then the breakdown follows: In order to be successful, I would first have to do what successful people do. In order to do what successful people do, I will first have to have what successful people have.
This paradigm can also be used as a lens to better understand why people chase after money. The self-talk would go something like this: ‘I want to have money, in order to do what successful people do and then finally, I will be successful.’
Terry then goes to share that one of his breakthrough insights came from the inversion of this paradigm.
Let’s take the same scenario as above: ‘I want to be successful.’
Okay, I already am successful. This is the baseline.
Now, what do successful people do? What do they spend their time doing? What do they do to produce value for others? Then, what should I do next?
Finally, the rewards of being a successful person and doing what successful people do over a sustained period of time is to ultimately have what the successful have.
It is intriguing how the having element, the external indicators of ‘success’, is what is most obvious and what is most ingrained to the psyche by default. It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the possession of material wealth is what leads to the true sources of wealth generation, that having leads to being, while the underlying reality seems to be the complete inverse.
Successful people first decide to become successful, then they figure out the skills, tools, networks and strategies required to do what already-successful people do, to ultimately enjoy and relish in the rewards that the successful have.
It is also fascinating to use the mental model of ‘inversion’ when dealing with such big questions, asking not ‘what should I do?’ but instead ‘what should I avoid?’
Knowing what you do not want is as useful, if not more so, than knowing what you do want.
A fork in the trail
The next question then emerged.
“What would a great life look like?”
- First, who would I be?
- What would I have to do?
- Then, what would I have?
The starting point was the same, one early morning with a pen and paper.
The process was also fun, but I distinctly recall having to face a tinge of fear and nervousness from just looking at such a question.
Was I ready to see what could be in store?
Things quickly got bold and ambitious.
There were big goals etched into the paper, backed by big monetary values as well, of the type of life that would be great.
By the end, it occurred to me that most of what emerged had very little basis in my current reality.
This clarity came about from a particularly unpleasant truth behind the ‘money’ chapter. Not surprisingly, the topic of money emerged on the brainstorm after I had started to concretely roadmap what the tangible resources might have to look like, in order to facilitate the rest of the network of bold and ambitious goals.
It struck fear in my guts, because the dollar figure was set at what I perceived as an incredibly aspirational figure. The bar was set high, would I even be able to reach it?
Ultimately, I started to see that if I were to simply continue down my current trajectory of doing all of what I currently do in order to have a ‘good life’, I will not even come close to the greatness that I secretly dream about.
In that moment, I realised that I had 2 options:
A) To change (and downgrade) the dream
B) To alter my current trajectory
There is no undo for the gift that is your life
To be honest, I did not have an immediate, nicely packaged answer to that question. I wish I did, it irked me to no end that there was no immediate closure.
There was a overwhelming and curious feeling of having seen something that cannot been unseen. It was sticky and tenacious, and found a cosy dwelling somewhere in the back recesses of my mind as I went about my ordinary day-to-day.
It was a big question, and needed its own time to unpack. As much as we live in a ‘life hack’ society, there are plenty of things that cannot be rushed or fast forwarded or accelerated or skipped.
For me, I found more solace through leaning in towards the moments of tension rather than turning away from them. By making my way closer and closer to harshness of reality, to what is true and what is now, I was able to gain a better grasp of where I am at currently, which is what I needed to understand in order to even have a chance of figuring out what to do next.
I went down the path of doing a closer examination of my professional ‘career’ to-date.
2018 was when I started walking along the path towards an ambition of becoming a ‘competent engineer that contributes towards solving some of the world’s biggest problems’. The only reason why I still remember this word for word is because I created the original mission for myself through writing it down on a piece of paper.
I knew that my understanding of the realities of the working world was incredibly limited and that I had to go out there to see it for myself. Prior to graduation, I had some exposure through internships in companies and so on, but these experiences were more akin to being a fly on the wall as opposed to being the actual boots on the ground at the front lines.
Then the first two years post-university had gotten more hands on and immersive — made possible through taking on more personal accountability for what I say and do. Then the third year was a jump into the deep end of the pool — I was no longer a shielded, innocent ‘graduate’ and instead a fully fledged junior process engineer.
It was a journey of going from the pan and straight into the fire. It was a tumultuous period of growth, with experiences of both the heights of successes and the terrible pits of failures, for all of 2020, then rolling over into 2021.
Through these times, and by leaning into the moments of tension that came about from asking more and more questions, I started to look around and up the ‘tree’ that I had been working relentlessly on ascending over the past few years.
Who were the people around me at work? To what end was I trying to reach?
‘What would a great life look like?’
The question revealed the dissonance I harboured between what I was doing and the vision of life I had silently dreamt of having.
I came to recognise that I really was not that much smarter or hardworking or talented than the people around me; how could I reasonably expect for my path forward to be any different to the paths that they have already gone on, years ahead of me?
The people I get to work with, they are all highly competent professionals, each in their own right, and it has been an immense privilege to have had the opportunity to learn and grow with them.
However, there was now a fork in the trail ahead that had to be reckoned with, a journey that only I can make. Something that cannot be unseen or avoided.
I have had to reconcile in myself that a ‘good life’ is not what I would like to aim for with the rest of the time I have left.
How could I reasonably expect to lead a great life, to have what I do not have, if I am not willing to change what I am currently doing?
Expecting different results from repeating the same sets of actions is a great inroad towards a life of angst, frustration and negative feedback loops.
The default, easier path would be to submit into the momentum, of repeating what has worked for me previously — and this is a fork of reality that I have been most afraid of. I enjoy being committed to a purpose and have developed a reliable internal engine that allows me to remain disciplined and produce over a sustained period of time, which consequently makes me especially prone to slipping into the comforts of momentum.
In the face of seeing internal truths that cannot be unseen, there is a subtle and exorbitant cost for saying ‘yes’ to momentum that is rarely ever talked about. To make the decision to be unconscious, of putting aside the dormant desires within yourself, is to relinquish any hope of becoming the greatest self you can possibly be within your lifetime. And that price is just too much to pay for.
And at the end of it all, if you do choose to lead an unconscious life, you cannot reasonably expect to demand conscious standards or expectations or any sort of judgement of the end results.
‘How did I get here? This is not where I had wanted to go.’
Perhaps, this is the type of hell that produces the cliché saying of: ‘It is what it is.’
You will never be able to hit a target that you do not identify, to arrive at a place where you would love to be without consciously steering yourself towards it at every juncture.
You cannot have your cake and eat it too. Reality will eventually demand of you to make a choice.
The upside of staking for your internal truths and saying ‘no, but thank you’ to pressures of momentum is that it places you directly in the driver’s seat of your life, and you would be surprised by how much lies within your own circle of influence.
You can mould the future, play with it, test and experiment, succeed and learn important lessons through failure. This possibility of greatness is the prize of choosing to be conscious, but to be conscious is also to be aware of your own vulnerabilities, your own fragility, your own obstacles.
There is no exposure to upsides without the exposure to downsides, no reward without risk, no actions without consequences.
Greatness will never come from mimicking the motions of what average people do. Average doing by definition leads to a good, average, life.
Hard choices are called so for a reason
The fork in the trail was demanding of me to make a decision.
A) To change (and downgrade) the dream
B) To alter my current trajectory
Eventually, I came to land on what appeared to be the ‘least terrible’ choice, which was option B).
It is time to get to work.