When I woke up this morning, I found myself thinking about how it’s much easier for us to waste our lives than it is to make something of ourselves. This world has a million different things competing for your thoughts every second; it’s unrelenting. I wanted to take a brief moment to share some thoughts on this.
As I studied philosophy many years ago, I became interested in the nature of space and time, as well as what makes up physical matter. I wanted to know what this world is, how it came into existence, and why I was experiencing it. I’d look at myself in the mirror and see this strange human body and wondered why the things around me existed in the way that they do. So, I set out on a journey to understand.
It’s been well over ten years now, maybe more; I can’t really remember. What I do know is that a while back, I had this comfortable job, sitting in this nice desk, working in an office, and I was bored out of my mind. What was the point of going through that routine each and every day? I’d wake up early in the morning, go into that building at 8 AM, stay there all morning, work until noon, have a one hour lunch break, and then head back to the grind for another five hours, and then come home. I’d do that five days a week, the vast majority of my waking hours. If I factor in the amount of time it took to shower, prepare breakfast, get dressed, the drive there and back, and everything else, if was my life.
But it gets worse. Even the small amount of free time I had, by the time I would get home, I was tired, so I’d just plop down on a computer and play video games, watch movies, or do some other passive activity. I struggled to find the energy to exercise and found myself falling out of shape. If I would’ve stayed on that track, I would be completely miserable today.
Strangely that was the easier road to stay on; it had the least resistance. In order to escape that, in order to have a meaningful existence, I had to completely abandon everything. I came to the realization that in order to have anything worth having in this life requires you have to be ready for an uphill climb. The natural progression of affairs in this life is not anything you want. If you just go with the flow, this world will deal you a bad hand.
I had to completely reevaluate all of my pursuits and how I was spending my time. I would encourage all of you, especially if you’re still young, to take time to just look at your life and where you are. Write down how you spend your waking hours and just ask yourself, “Is this what I want my life to be? Am I satisfied with this?”
I can tell you exactly what will happen if you actually take me up on this little exercise. You’re probably going to say that you’d like more from life, but when you look at what would have to change, it will scare you. There’s going to be some obstacle or some change that’s going to ask a lot out of you. I’ll share my own story.
I never wanted to attend college. I can’t stand universities. I hate classrooms. I hate homework. I hate tests. I hate grades. I hate most everything about that place, but I knew that the only way I was going to be able to spend time thinking about space and time, and do some form of meaningful work for me was to become a physicist. For example, I could become an astrophysicist and study the universe, work on big simulations of stellar evolution, and other things. But here’s the catch — it was going to to take years and years of education in a university. There was no way around it. I couldn’t find any sort of backdoor around it.
I could’ve stayed where I was, writing business software, creating reports, doing financial accounting, data entry screens, and other boring things. The money was good. Why not? After all, nobody gets everything they want in life. Be thankful, right? Or is that terrible advice? I’d say it is. That’s the very sort of thing you can tell yourself each day, and one day you’ll wake up and realize that you’ve wasted all your time. You’ll look in the mirror, you’ll be old, tired, and out of energy. You’re done. And what did you do? Nothing at all.
I enrolled and told myself, “Whatever. Let’s just get this thing over with.” I paced myself and adapted to this university hell by using an almost Zen like meditative state. In each class, I was solely in the moment, not thinking of anything. Thank God for Alan Watts. When I was attending mandatory lectures and doing homework, I never let myself think, “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to do this.” I didn’t think about anything at all. I just did whatever I was asked to do, and when I finished all assignments, I didn’t think of that place at all. I worked on my own things afterward, and slowly trudged through the valley of death. And you know what? I’m almost done! One step at a time does the trick.
But I look at people who were at the same place I was fifteen years ago and they didn’t make the change. They didn’t make the effort. They stopped moving forward. You know what? Not only have they not moved forward, but they started sliding backward. Most of them are in worse positions now than they were then. As I said before, the natural progression of things in this world is to be sucked into this black hole of crap.
One guy I’ve known for ages just plays video games all day long. There are all these gaming websites these days and I pulled up his profile and saw that he spends forty to fifty hours each week playing video games. He doesn’t have the job he wants, he doesn’t have the relationship he wants, or much of anything he wants. But it’s easier for him to turn on those games and just get sucked into them, and that’s what he does. And life for him continues to slide backward. I talked with him recently and told him, “Dude, we’re not getting any younger. In seven or so years I’ll be forty. That’s not long, think of the last ten years. You’re not far behind me. Is this what you want your life to be? Or do you want more?”
I have other friends from my business days, and we get together and they talk about their next venture. It’s like having the exact same discussion we had ten years ago. It’s the same sorts of projects, same stuff. I sat across the table and silently thought to myself, “I’ve left all of this behind a decade ago. It’s not for me. I’m not spending any more time or thought on these things that don’t matter to me.”
Every day I run anywhere from four to eight miles. Why do I do that? That’s the fight against the natural progression of things. That’s what it takes to keep your body healthy. You have to take control of your diet and exercise. It’s the same with anything else. Your mind requires stimulation. You have to keep pushing. You can’t stop. You need to read books that are over your head, that take you time to digest, the sort of books you have to re-read several times, and maybe look up several things while you’re doing so. Work on your education and skills. It’s not always fun, but that’s how you get somewhere.
Today there’s a common mindset that you’re to pursue your bliss. That’s only partially true. To be anywhere you want to be will ask a lot out of you. The rain will be pouring, it’s going to be cold, and you’re going to want to stay wherever you are. You have to put on your rain coat, get out your tools, and trudge forward through the rain, slugging your way through the mud.
There are a lot of things you’ll never experience if you’re not willing to put in the time and effort required. If you’re interested in physics for example, you’ll never get as much as I do out of it by watching popular science programs, or reading introductory level books written for the general public. You have to get your hands dirty, study all the nitty-gritty mathematics, and really get in there. It takes years and years of intense study before you’re even ready to approach something like quantum mechanics.