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Don’t Be Fooled by the Illusion of What Your Life Should Look Like


“There’s definitely this illusion of what our lives should look like. Whether its advertising or your Instagram or facebook feed, it’s this illusion that our live should be perfect” — Shannon Whitehead, Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things

Every single day we are exposed to a perpetual illusion of what we think life should look like that is portrayed through Instagram feeds, status updates, and all of the other media we consume

  • Perfect portraits, selfies with scenic backdrops, and laptops with beaches in the background
  • Magazine covers where people are dressed to the 9’s
  • Gadgets, gear, gizmos and luxury goods
  • Daily advertisements that litter our social feeds with something we think we want but don’t have

All of these are layers upon layers of social programming in the matrix. Not only that we all contribute, participate and add to the programming. And this illusion creates a perpetual state of dissatisfaction that keeps us buying shit we don’t need to impress people we don’t like. Our default is to feed a voracious and insatiable appetite for more. Buy, eat, download, and acquire more

The illusion is an imagined reality and social construct. But with enough consumption, it becomes quite easy for us to confuse this illusion with objective reality. When we an envy a life that someone has thoroughly curated, edited and uploaded we have bought into the illusion of what we think our lives should look like and overlook that what we’re experiencing is a filtered reality.

The illusion of what your life should look like is the ultimate marketing tool and a form of propaganda. Refuse to question it at your own peril.

The American Dream Isn’t Dead. It’s Just Changed

A few months ago I was on the elliptical machine at the gym, and I kept seeing a news story with the tagline “is the American dream dead?” It isn’t dead. It’s just being drastically reinvented. Courtney Martin has written a beautiful book about this called The New Better Off: Reinventing The American Dream. I believe it’s the most thought-provoking and meaningful book that I read in 2016. It’s a message that needs to spread, and it’s truly soulful exploration of living a life meaning, purpose, and fulfillment.

1. A Significant Cultural Value Shift

For decades we valued the notions of security and safety. A good life meant a good job with a steady paycheck. But when an entire generation watches the one that came before them lose their retirement funds, get let go by corporate behemoths like Microsoft and unicorns like Twitter, it’s not surprising that they don’t place much value on security.

Some have called millennials an entitled generation because they do things like write open letters to the CEO’s of their companies. But what’s happening is not just entitlement, but a significant cultural value shift. Meaning and significance of work and life have become a higher priority than safety and security. There’s so much more to all of us than can possibly be expressed through bullet points in a job description or a job title. And for work to be truly fulfilling that expression can’t be stifled.

2. A Greater Need than Ever for Community

If you asked me why any website, app, or creative project is a success, my answer would be that it satisfies our need for our community our need to belong to something.

The success that people like Joel Gascoigne have had with Buffer goes far beyond having a created a great product and hiring great people. They’ve built a community around their brand., Even if you don’t use Buffer, their blog is one of the most useful things you’ll ever read. It creates a sense of community. I don’t know even know that I’ve met Joel, but I’ve met Leo and I’ve always felt they have a profound understanding of what it means to connect.

In the early days of Yelp, they used to throw parties for their elite members. I was fortunate enough to become friends with people like Michael Ernst (who is now my roommate). And looking back what I realize is that they were building community. In fact, if anybody deserves credit for making the idea of meeting people that you only knew on the internet less creepy, it’s Yelp. They bridged a gap that so many before them had failed the bridge.

In a world where everyone is just a Facebook message or skype chat away, people are craving conferences. Hence the reason things like TED, The Summit Series and more have been such big success.

In Courtney’s book, she writes about a concept called co-housing. And it’s likely we’ll see more of it, not just for financial reasons, but because it provides people with a sense of community.

But, the world we live in paradoxically has made us more connected than we’ve ever been and at the same time even lonelier than we’ve ever been. In the words of Sherry Turtle, we’re alone together.

2. An Education System In Need of Serious Reform

When a college that has been around for 100 years has to close its doors, you have to begin to question whether the system at large is working. And there’s little incentive to change it because the people within the system benefit from its current structure. And I’m saying this as the son of a college professor with both a graduate and undergraduate degree.

Right now it’s a one sized fit all solution. We would never sell everyone the same size shoes and expect them to walk, but we seem to have no issues doing it with education and expecting them to thrive. In Zero to One, Peter Thiel described it as follows

Elite students climb confidently until they reach a level of competition sufficiently intense to beat their dreams out of them. Higher education is the place where people who had big plans in high school get stuck in fierce rivalries with equally smart peers over conventional careers like management consulting and investment banking. For the privilege of being turned into conformists, students (or their families) pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in skyrocketing tuition that continues to outpace inflation. Why are we doing this to ourselves?”

That about sums up my experience of going to Berkeley in a nutshell. A few of my friends are the investment bankers and management consultants he speaks of.

In a conversation with creative live founder Chase Jarvis, he said the following to me:

We throw around words like creativity, innovation and forward thinking and yet we don’t have an education system that is actually capable of producing that. Usually, people or ideas that come out of those things, come out of them in spite of all that programming, not because of it. There’s a lot of strong economic theory that a stagnating or lukewarm economy has student debt as its basis because the students are hamstrung with college debt.

If people are going to have five jobs at the same time, the way we are currently educating them is preparing them for a future that doesn’t exist. Something has to change. There’s only so long student loan vendors can keep lending out money that people are unable to pay back because they don’t have jobs until the roof caves in. As Seth Godin so eloquently put it, maybe it’s time for us to “stop stealing dreams.”

3. A Future of Exponential Change

I asked my business partner Brian’s 4-year old niece where she lived. She said, “I don’t know.” When I asked her how she got home, she said: “there’s a map on the phone.”

Between my conversations with people like Kevin Kelly and Salim Ismail, one thing is very clear. The amount of change we’re going to experience in the next 10 years will likely be greater than the change most of us have seen in the entirety of our lives. Self-driving cars, drone delivery, and AI are in so any ways the tip of the iceberg. If you’re not subscribed to Peter DiamandisAbundance Insider Newsletter, do yourself a favor and sign up. You’ll be amazed by some of the change that’s coming.

So where does this leave all of us? The pessimist would look at it and see the world as going to hell in a handbag. The optimist would see abundance and a significant amount of opportunity for improving the state of humanity. The illusion of what your life should look like contains one gem. It’s an illusion which means it can be shaped and molded to your own liking far beyond the imagined realities that we live in today.

If doing the best work of your life is important to you, check out my free guide: “Optimizing Productivity & Creativity.

The tactics I’ve packed into this guide allowed me to write over 1 million words in the last 2 years. What could it do for your life’s work? Don’t miss it.

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Srinivas Rao

Srinivas Rao

Candidate Conversations with Insanely Interesting People: Listen to the @Unmistakable Creative podcast in iTunes http://apple.co/1GfkvkP

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