Know These 4 Facts About Life To Reach Your Potential

You’ll be a better person if you’re aware of these.

The self-help industry is funny. We run after tips and tricks yet, the defining moments of our lives never come from them. Learning the latest productivity hack or a computerized meditation program will not help you light a fire under your a**.

But, embracing death, for instance, can push you to limits you never thought you were capable of.

As another example, reading “The 4-Hour Workweek” didn’t do so much for me as reading the “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” did.

It’s not that Tim Ferris isn’t as good of a writer as Mark Manson. The point is, the former lays out a few hacks to build a lifestyle business, whereas the latter challenges a lot of fundamental psychological blocks that people deal with. In this particular case, if someone asks me which book they should read, I’ll go with the latter.

At least I can say that for myself.

The point is this — every single moment of growth in my life has happened when I’ve swallowed a hard pill.

When I look back to the young and ambitious 15-year-old me, I realize the reason I couldn’t achieve what I wanted to was always due to a lack of embracing the uncomfortable.

No, I’m not talking about going outside my comfort zone. I’m talking about embracing certain truths that were right in front of my face. Yet, I ever took the time to notice, let alone explore them.

Here are some things I’ve learned recently that have again changed the way I look at success and life. I hope they do the same for you.

Your Definition of Success Is Completely Arbitrary

Most of us either pick our definitions of success

  • from the outside world, or

  • to fill the holes in our own psyche.

Let’s take it one at a time.

First, your definition of “success” comes from your environment, not inside you. It’s the reason why many people think entrepreneurship is about cash lying on the bed with models on top of it who just flew in with a private jet on an island in Pattaya.

When you see most people doing one thing around you, you come to believe that’s what a “successful” life is. Decades ago it wasn’t uncommon for a child to adopt his father’s profession. Since he was always surrounded by doctors, engineers, etc, he thought that’s the only way to become successful.

As communication around the globe became better, the world became a smaller place. People started hearing about different fields. But more importantly, they heard stories that convinced them that a different life is possible. That it’s possible to start with nothing and build the life you want.

Nevertheless, this made Instagram influencers a yardstick to measure our success against. Show what pages a person follows and I show you what kind of life he wants for himself.

Second, if it’s not for our environment, we make up our goals to reduce our own feelings of inadequacy.

Consider John. John grew up in a family with money problems. He always had a hard time getting what he wanted. He could never get the toys, the latest gadgets, video games, clothes, and all the other cool things his friends had. He was lonely most times thinking about his dire situation.

Fifteen years later, it’s not surprising that John’s actions are motivated by:

  • The desire for money: The lack of money he experienced as a kid makes him overvalue wealth.

  • **The desire to please others: **Never able to win approval from his friends. He still worked hard to get everyone’s attention and approval.

The story of John is the story of our lives. I, for instance, grew up in a family where almost no one had a business. I saw other kids whose families had a business running for decades. To add to that, social media had glorified entrepreneurship which made me “realize” that entrepreneurship is my career path.

The point is that it may or may not be right. But there’s a kind of freedom in being aware of why you make the choices you do.

Once you understand this, you can fight off the harmful instincts that are inside you for years. You can finally start to question where you choices are coming from and introspect to see if that’s what you really want.

Don’t wait until you have a mid-life crisis.

Narrative Fallacy

First, let’s define Narrative Fallacy

“The narrative fallacy leads us to see events as stories, with logical chains of cause and effect. Stories help us make sense of the world. However, if we’re not aware of the narrative fallacy it can lead us to believe we understand the world more than we really do.” writes FS.

There’s one problem with all the biographies of successful people.

Whether you read about Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Elon Musk, or Warren Buffet.

You’ll find clues that suggest these people were different from an early age. Then the author tells how they revolutionized an industry or changed the game.

There are 2 problems with this:

  • Many other kids dropped out with Steve Jobs, who were better at electronics but didn’t found billion-dollar companies.

  • Just because two events in a notable person’s life appear connected does not mean that they are connected. The author connects them because they form a great narrative. Not necessarily because they reflect reality.

This is how we fall prey to the narrative fallacy.

Consider another example from the life of Nassim Taleb who talks about this concept in his book Black Swan.

A professor once congratulated Nassim on the success of his first book, Fooled by Randomness. But instead of his work, the professor congratulates Nassim on his luck by being born in Lebanon:

“… had you grown up in a Protestant society where people are told that efforts are linked to rewards and individual responsibility is emphasized, you would never have seen the world in such a manner. You were able to see luck and separate cause-and-effect because of your Eastern Orthodox Mediterranean heritage.”

But Nassim knew this wasn’t true. He writes,

“How do I know that this attribution to the background is bogus? I did my own empirical test by checking how many traders with my background who experienced the same war become skeptical empiricists, and found none out of twenty-six.”

Narrative fallacy paints an all-too-wonderful picture of success which is not true at all. This leads to us judging ourselves and comparing ourselves with what we’ve heard about these successful individuals.

This comparison not only makes us sad but also pushes us to make bad decisions in the long term. Most importantly, this fallacy makes us believe that you can predict the future.

The next time you read about a “successful” person, beware. The media around us is constantly making this and countless other fallacies.

They don’t show the sheer amount of work and more importantly luck and timing behind the rags-to-riches story you’re so motivated by.

Sunday Neurosis

A University of Hamburg professor Wolfgang Maennig, using a study called German Socio-Economic Panel examined 16 years of data about 34,000 German workers.

He found, to his surprise, that workers had lower “life satisfaction values” on the weekends than the weekdays. Plus, the more educated the workers were, the lower their satisfaction was on the weekends.

The reason for this is linked to “Sunday Neurosis” or what Maennig reframes as “Weekend Neurosis”.

It’s the kind of depression that afflicts people who become aware of the lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week is over and the void within themselves becomes manifest.

Many people face existential crises on Sundays — when the chatter of the busy week comes to an end, we all are forced to come to terms with reality.

Mostly due to a lack of structure on the weekends, we think about our “life.” Things like the amount of work lying in front of us, whether we like our job, whether we’re growing every day or just stuck, etc. Things that slide off our consciousness during the busy workweek come back to the front of our consciousness.

Very occasionally it comes to the existential question — what is the meaning of life? Why am I doing what I am doing?

And I’m here to tell you this is good. These are questions you’d never get the chance to answer if it were not for the weekend.

But most of us find a way out of them. How? By being busy or dulling themselves with the plethora of distractions present today.

Now that you’re reading this, ask yourself the important questions that you need to ask. Although uncomfortable, their answers contain the key to your growth.

They contain the key to your living a life of meaning.

The only choice is — will you answer them with courage or will you avoid them forever?

Humans are Meaning Making Machines

Victor Frankl, writer of the famous Man’s Search for Meaning came up with Logotherapy — a theory that suggests human nature is motivated by the search for purpose in life.

We don’t need grandiose visions of the future. We don’t need cars and models and bucket loads of cash to live a fulfilling life. We need meaning.

Everything we do is to find meaning in our lives.

So, everyone who chases an arbitrary definition of success tries to give their life a meaning.

Realize that whatever definition of success you may have, it will fail to give you fulfillment if it’s devoid of meaning. Making as much money as possible would not give your life meaning. But building a billion-dollar company that continues to serve customers long after you’re gone, can.

Once an elderly man visited Frankl to cure his depression on the death of his wife two years ago. Frankl, confused about what he should say, asked him a question, “What would have happened, if you had died first, and your wife would’ve had to survive you?”

“Oh”, the man said, “for her, this would’ve been terrible; how she would’ve suffered!”

Frankl replied, “You see, such a suffering has been spared her, and it was you who have spared her this suffering — to be sure, at the price that now you have to survive and mourn her.”

The man shook Frankl’s hand and left. What happened? The man’s suffering was no more painful since he had found meaning in it.

Frankl himself had a similar experience in the concentration camp. No prisoner knew how long the concentration camp would last.

But those who survived almost always had a meaning in life to look forward to. A hope to cling their minds to in moments of suffering. For Frankl, it was his desire to complete his work.

How else would you explain the fact that sometime after being released from the camp, Frankl wrote Man’s Search for Meaning in nine days!

So as you live your life, remember that meaning is what will free you — everything else is commentary.

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Written on October 31, 2020