- Do I like what I’m doing?
- Is it getting me somewhere I want to go?
- What am I giving up to be here?
These seem like simple questions. Obvious even. No need to be reminded of them.
Yet so much of what we do is the result of habit, social norms, envy, fear, outside pressure, or laziness in thought and action. We follow paths already worn whether or not they’re a good fit for us. The first step in the process of waking up to a full and free life is asking these simple questions.
It’s harder than you think.
It will take more time to answer than you think.
That’s OK. Take your time. Wrestle with the questions. Don’t lie to yourself. Don’t ask them with a preconceived idea of what kind of person answers this way or that. If you do you’re likely to give answers that reflect the person you think others will find cool rather than the person you actually are.
Even if everyone in the world envies what you’re doing and thinks it’s the pinnacle of success, fun, or fulfillment, if you don’t like it be honest with yourself. I know so many people who stay in crappy situations simply because they feel guilty about not liking something others would love. You’re not them. And there’s nothing noble about suffering through something you hate unless you are firmly committed to it as a clear and definite route to something you love in relatively short order.
If you don’t know where you want to go it’s especially bad to suffer through things you don’t like. You’re suffering for no particular reason with no known payoff. It’s OK to not know where you want to go. If you don’t, start exploring things until you get a better idea. The fastest way to find out where you want to go is to try things and eliminate the ones you really dislike.
Finally, even if you have an idea where you want to go and you’re doing something you dislike right now to get there, you need to compare to the alternatives. Just because an elaborate and expensive exotic diet and mountainside yoga routine could help you lose 10 pounds, could you have lost the same weight doing something cheaper and less painful like portion control and a little cardio?
The danger of having someplace you want to go – a goal – is that it can blind you to opportunity cost. If you know you want to reach X, and you know Y is a way to do it, you may overlook the fact that Y is a lot more painful than A, B, or C, all of which could also get you to X and give you a lot more in the process. Just because you have a goal doesn’t mean the common path to reach it is the only or best.
Ask yourself these questions a lot. Don’t get panicky. Don’t walk out on your boss in the middle of work because you got bored for a few minutes. This isn’t about being flaky or avoiding difficulty. It’s about being resolute and facing difficulty and fear head on but knowing why you’re doing it. It’s not about the path of least resistance, it’s about having a reason – your reason – for fighting. It’s about choosing your own challenges instead of floating downstream just because.
You might be amazed how many things you’re doing that you dislike, that have no connection to somewhere you want to go, and that are causing you to miss amazing and valuable experiences.
Questions are powerful things.
Isaac Morehouse is president of Praxis.