Suppose you have two choices. Two concepts, either of which you can mould your life after: Greatness or Happiness. Which one would you choose?
Let's start with an example. You have two job offers:
Option 1. A young, fledgling startup with promising potential.
No one is sure how it is going to pan out in the long run. But, in the wise words of Sheryl Sandberg, the company is a ‘rocket ship’.
You will get good money, maybe not as much as your market value. You will get stock options which are potentially worth millions. You will work on something that you are passionate about. You will change the world - whether that is top 1% of the population or sub-Saharan Africa is a topic we’ll cover later.
You will be surrounded by brilliant people. As they say, you become average of the 5 people in the room. Accordingly, you would find personal intellectual growth. You will wake up every morning excited to go to work. You would be aiming for greatness, 'putting a dent in the universe'.
There is no downside right? Except:
You will work unimaginably long hours and most weekends. You will not take vacations. You will not spend enough time with your family. Your hobbies will take a back seat. You risk losing your job any time the company fails. There will be a lot of stress towards making sure that the startup survives and then grows at a rapid pace. For better or for worse, the startup would be your life.
Option 2. A medium to big sized organisation.
It is in a stable state with no tangible chance of drowning. You are assured of the best market salary. You work 8 hours a day. You get 20 vacation days a year + 10 public holidays. These are besides the sick leaves which you take on Fridays to devise an extended weekend. You go for one foreign vacation a year. An yearly appraisal of 10-20% and a decent sized bonus the size of a month or two’s salary is assured. You get time to pursue your hobbies and spend time with your family.
Life is rosy. But:
You will live weekend to weekend. You are not excited to wake up in the morning to go to work. Monday morning is a punch in the stomach. By Wednesday, you start looking forward to Friday. On Friday, you go to a happy hours place to drink your miseries away. You are not the master of your own time - 40 hours every week. You are a cog in the wheel, at the mercy of your boss who is a character straight out of a Dilbert comic strip. You will have existential angst.
So? Where would you want to work? Would you want to go for number 1 and chase the romantic notion of changing the world? Or would you choose number 2 and seek contentment with life as it comes?
Let me help you out by elaborating a bit.
#WHAT DO WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT GREATNESS?
Greatness no. 1
The standard narrative of greatness is one of overcoming odds and tribulations to effect lives of a large number of people. The hero of the story conquers the devils on the road with hard-work and determination. These are the people whom we consider our inspirations - Entrepreneurs, scientists, social change makers, sport stars. They have moved the human race forward and left a legacy behind for others to learn from.
One of such people is Elon Musk - my modern day hero. If you don't know who he is, you are browsing the wrong websites. All of us would agree that all of what Musk is doing, has done, and plans to do, is super humanly. He fits the bill of our narrative perfectly.
In an interview, when asked whether he gets to spend time with his children, Musk replies that he emails them sometimes. Ponder over it for a few seconds. He doesn’t see his kids often, and sacrifices this time to build a better world for us instead.
Do you, like I, who has grown up with conventional middle class values, find this shocking and painful? Would you be willing to take this route?
Perhaps he has made a choice he is ready to live with. After all, building epic things does have a charm of its own. And the money isn’t too bad either.
But, money can also be made without having to break virgin grounds everyday.
Look around you, for example, to your next browser tab. Does it say something like the following?
- 10 hilariously grumpy cat memes that have won the Internet today. 5th one made me laugh so hard. LOL!
- This man went into a cave. You wouldn't believe what happened next.
- 17 MUST-GO places that you HAVE to go before you turn 30
This - creating lists based click-bait headlines which coerce us to devour poorly researched, badly worded, piece of crap they call an article - is a lucrative business.
But, such work is not taking the human race forward, not creating any dent in the universe - this is probably shitting on the fucking thing. But, they make money. Lots of it. Because they have understood how to suck out our most valuable asset - our attention. The junk food they serve is gratifying in the moment but leaves us feeling hollow.
It's not just them. There are many others whose end-all of existence is making more money and how they get there is besides the point. But since they make good money, they are considered great businessmen. This horse vision towards making more money by hook or crook is Greatness no. 2
Do you see yourself working in such a company? Would you be able to sleep at night knowing that you've essentially wasted half of your day and by proxy, half of your life, doing nothing but moving the needle in some company's revenue sheet?
If you said Yes, then you would love what I have to say next.
The context of your hard work (for e.g. top 1% vs sub-Saharan Africa) may actually be much less important than my grandiose proclamations betray. I mean aren't we all going to die after spending a nanosecond on the grand cosmic scale. Then, who is to judge that building space travel ventures is grander than conjuring up 10 funniest cats with santa hats lists? You might as well do whatever makes you decent money without worrying about the bigger questions of life.
Don’t rush into choosing any of these definition over the other. There is yet another form of Greatness no. 3: Overcoming your own personal limitations and achieving something larger than your own self.
The worthy of this glory are the single moms who work two jobs to earn bread for their family.
Or the young kid who studies hard to become a decent human being fighting against poverty and deep rooted social inertia.
Or maybe, it is one of you.
For example, one Mr. G3 has financial troubles at home. The bread-earner of the family encounters a tragic accident which renders him incapable of doing any meaningful work. Mr. G3 thus takes it upon himself to support the family. He works at a regular job to send some money home. He has killed his dream of building a company or becoming a painter because he knows that the journey to it is fraught with risks and uncertainty given the condition at home.
Where do all these acts of courage fit in? Are you willing to call this a life well lived?
Let's bring in the other bad boy in the fight. Presenting you, drum rolls please - Happiness.
#WHAT'S THIS MUMBO-JUMBO ABOUT HAPPINESS AND CONTENTMENT?
When we talk about contentment and happiness, we imagine bald heads and orange robes assembled in an ashram to practice meditation. Like this ex-Top Gear anchor who became a Buddhist nun. We think of these lives as stripped away from reality and irrelevant to our society. Though, we acknowledge that they do seem serene.
On the other extreme, we look at dope-heads and addicts and feel that they are living shitty lives and wasting it all away. They live what in our minds are unhappy lives.
But, life is absurd. All your pleasures, pains, fights, lovers are going to die with you in some years. Nobody knows for sure what happens after we die - whether all our good deeds have any effect on our after-life, if any such thing exists. Thus, a lot of our consented social norms and values break down. If there are no repercussions of your present birth's actions on your after life, then you can do whatever you want to. Love, compassion, not hurting others, theft, murders all become just choices without anyone to tell which one's right and which one's not.
So, are the extra 2 hours you spend in office every day to rise the corporate ladder faster really worth it? Is sacrificing the weekend worth the higher salary (and the extra stress that comes along with it)? What is the need of all of this extra misplaced labor?
I believe that more than happiness/greatness, we need to feel Relevant- through fame, fortune or respect. The act of me writing these lines itself is a clarion call to have my thoughts acknowledged. This need of acknowledgement is a common phenomenon often veiled in one or the other form. Violence in the name of religion, spreading gossips, sharing our life’s stories on Facebook are all ways to seek relevance. These are methods (sometimes of madness) to validate our existence in this world. These acts comfort us by showing that our actions have effect in someone else’s life.
How does it fit in the context of greatness?
Great things call for sacrifice, pain, labor and many things which we otherwise would not endure in our daily lives - People giving up on parties to stay home at weekends to focus on their work - preparing for entrance examinations, writing a book, building a startup.
Or extreme sports people- the fliers (video below) or the no-rope mountain climbers. What drives them to take such risks?
Perhaps, these driven, over-achievers and risk-takers, like Elon Musk, have found their purpose in this seemingly meaningless life by drowning themselves in what they do. It may not seem worth the pain from the outside but their work gives them a reason to wake up every morning and not want to kill themselves.
But, if the sole reason is to find purpose and a reason to exist, can we try and find it in things that are less taxing on ourselves and on those around us? Can we lower our ambitions and instead be content in where we are?
What if you don't have to BE something to be content? After all, isn’t happiness a state of mind?
What if you don't need to find a purpose? Let's say that making the most of each moment as it comes is your purpose?
What if you don't care about leaving a legacy, creating a dent whatever?
Can you spend your time watching TV the whole day, everyday?
Can you find peace with going to your office daily, providing for our family and living a regular life like the most of us around? Many people have.
#WHAT ARE WE REALLY AFTER?
Here’s a personal story from a few month before the release of my book:
It is a Friday night and I have just finished editing my book. It is meant for March end release and I am under pressure to finish it in time. After working on it for a bit, I felt like relaxing. I could have chosen to watch a movie, chill with my girlfriend, or get a drink.
But, I came to write this? Why?
1. Because I felt like I had to say something.
2. Because I've been conditioned to believe that by sacrificing your time with your loved ones, by giving up on temporary pleasures, you really achieve greatness. Whether it be a sport-star, or writer or anything. Thus, I am willing to forgo these momentary pleasures to spend time on my long term goal of becoming a better writer.
Is it worth it?
I guess for now it is, because during this act of writing, I don't feel that I am missing out anything else. There is no place that I'd rather be or there is not other thing that I'd rather be doing right now. I feel these are the kind of moments we find in our areas of passion. Even without all the comforts and pleasures, I am OK, in fact I am more than OK. I am perfectly content to be doing this right now.
This is what we all crave for. To find that one thing, that passion which makes you feel, not just once, but over and over again that this is what you'd rather do than anything else.
There is a cathartic pleasure-pain dynamic in the act of doing such things. Even my writing is a sacrifice. I mean, I could be doing simpler things like watching a movie, reading a book or even cleaning the house. But, I know that writing will eventually give me more contentment and that is why I persevere through it even though it is a harder thing to do.
And being true to one’s own self, not only the bravest thing to do but also the surest way to achieve greatness/happiness.
Each one of us has to find and follow our own definition of Greatness/Happiness. We are susceptible to jealousy and fear of missing out. But, the worst way to live life would be to emulate someone else’s version of greatness/contentment. Slightly less worse would be to judge others whose version of it is different than yours. And almost criminal would be to just float by in this sea of human mass for whatever little time we are here.
Each one of us has to MAKE and not just find their own meaning in our lives. To find peace, contentment and relevance in whatever we choose to do. That one thing for which you are willing to go through all the troubles. All of us, our own different one. Let's just settle for that. I'll search for mine and I wish you bon voyage on the journey to find yours.
By the way, which job offer would you take?
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