Hey amazing human,
A key theme that’s been swirling in my mental landscape this past week is the concept of enduring discomfort in the short-term for my future self’s benefit. In the past few weeks I’ve struggled to stay mentally balanced amidst the myriad of side projects, social zoom gatherings, and professional endeavors that have flooded the time-abundant valley of shelter-in-place.
These 3 concepts have helped me filter what is truly worthy of pursuing:
- The optionality fallacy
- Seneca’s perspective on time
The Optionality Fallacy 💡
Many of my peers can probably attest to this as well: we are addicted to optionality. Especially optionality that is coupled with prestige. From the moment we enter high school to when we land our first job - it’s an optimization game to land the most socially acceptable internship or job to open more doors later on.
What we may fail to recognize is that the conventional path of accumulating optionality provides you with short-term reassurances but long-term limitations. As Erik Torenberg explains, it can be “like spending your whole life filling up the gas tank without ever driving.”
No doubt, I think there is a lot of value in amassing options that are purposely broad. We do this to explore interests or earn admission into doors that were previously shut. I’m guilty of this. However, at some point it’s important to attune to your learnings from these experiences, and double down on what stirs your soul.
The best options may involve lots of experimenting, tinkering, and feel inherently risky - but in the long-term, they will lend to your self-actualization. As Mirhir Desai puts it, “the shortest distance between two points is reliably a straight line. If your dreams are apparent to you, pursue them. Creating optionality and buying lottery tickets are not way stations on the road to pursuing your dreamy outcomes. They are dangerous diversions that will change you.”
Seneca’s perspective on time ⏳
“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.”
- Seneca on The Shortness of Life
We tend to be frugal and prudent with aspects of our life like money and possessions. Yet when it comes to time, we rarely guard it and give up a great deal of it to things/people that we wouldn’t consider to be worthy if we just slowed down and reflected. We live today as if we were going to live until 80+, but if you knew you were going to lose your life in the next few years, how would you live life differently? To contemplate death, before you actually die, can be a clarifying exercise and one practiced frequently by the Stoics.
Another take on time is to orient towards making most out of the present. Instead of looking towards the future for solace, it’s better to savor the present. Not because the future might not come but because when it arrives, that it’ll likely just be another moment preparing and longing for further future moments. Seneca advocated for allocating one’s time to well-focused leisure - wherein one contemplates philosophy and finds stillness and tranquility in themselves. Paradoxically, pondering time and how to best use it, is using it well. One’s “leisure” activities might not be the same as Seneca’s, but it’s worth reflecting on what brings you the most joy and “aliveness” and to do more of it in the present.
Essentialism is about living life by design, not default. To live purposefully and eliminate things that aren’t essential. Without clarity into what we value and the long term goals that are informed by them, we run the risk of getting lost in the day-to-day with low value tasks and decisions that don’t build onto one another. Essentialism touts that unless it’s a "Fuck yes”, don’t do it. (Check out this essay by Derek Sivers called Hell Yes or Hell No, or Mark Manson’s similar sentiment on relationships.) One’s default should be saying "no" to things in order to eliminate options that might even be really good, but get in the way of the essential. Decrease activities and increase meaning.
In leaving you with these 3 concepts, what would you do differently or eliminate in your day to day?