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Tell me if this sounds familiar, you finished school, went to college, did the drinking, experimented with drugs (allegedly of course), had many late nights that turned into early mornings, met friends for life and others that you haven’t seen since graduation, and now you’ve finished college and got your first big boy or big girl job and you might even have a significant other you’re getting serious with. You’ve achieved many of the markers associated with traditional success, and yet you’re stuck with this feeling of…now what? If this is you then the pre-existing life blueprint says that all there’s left for you to do is to have kids and that’s your life basically complete. From here you can just take up some kind of hobby like gardening to hold you over in your day to day until the clock runs out on this thing called life. But something tells me neither you nor I want that for ourselves. Personally, being on the cusp of 25 I can honestly tell you I don’t have a fucking clue what’s going on right now or what it is that I’m supposed to be doing. 

If you can relate to any of that then good news, you are not alone, there’s thousands of us in the same boat. The bad news however is most of us have no idea where to go from here, the road map that existed for previous generations no longer applies to us because we live in a vastly different world than any that came before us. Life as we know it has never been as different than it is right now, and it just feels like every year things seem to stray further and further away from our preconceived notions of “normality”.

It feels like everywhere I look around me everyone seems to be going through an existential crisis of some sorts. They say it’s the growing pains of being in your 20’s but for our generation it feels like it’s something deeper than that. But is there any way to navigate this weird time in our lives or are we just left to aimlessly scroll our phones forever searching for the next big thing that will supposedly bring meaning to our life?

By no means do I have it all figured out by any stretch of the imagination, but it feels like some things are starting to fall into place. If you’re short on time or just impatient like me click here to skip straight to the things that have helped me navigate through this shit show called life. 

The Netflix Dilemma

Have you ever gone on Netflix with good intentions of relaxing and watching a movie, only to spend 3 hours stressing trying to decide what to watch? Which ultimately ends with you watching nothing at all. Or you put on a movie/show you’ve seen dozens of times already while scrolling on your phone? Because same, and it’s definitely happened more than once. But why does this happen, what is it inside of us that can’t decide on something as simple as a movie. It’s because so many of us are concerned with making the best possible choice, nobody wants to waste their precious afternoon watching something that ultimately ends up being shit. The psychological term for people like this is Maximisers; people who are concerned with making the best possible decision in any given situation. Maximisers often agonise over their decision making for hours and even days, ultimately leading them to having choice paralysis. And in the modern western world where there are hundreds of choices you could possibly make, from career path to romantic partner to elf bar flavour if you make a choice and it’s not perfect, it’s easy to imagine that you could’ve made a different choice that would’ve been better. And what happens is, this imagined alternative induces you to regret the decision you made. Avoidance of choice has become a defence against the possibility of regret. 

Economist Barry Schwartz expressed that “The way to maximise freedom is to maximise choice. The more choice people have, the more freedom they have, and the more freedom they have, the more welfare they have.”  But choice is a relatively new human luxury. For most of human civilization choice was nowhere near as abundant as it is now. For a lot of people what you did with your life was often predetermined. If your father was a farmer you were going to farm as well, if your mother was a seamstress then you would learn to sew and make garments, simply put you did what you were born into.

For some people the heritage of their family’s professions is literally in their name. Surnames such as Smith, Baker, Tailor all marked the line of work you were in. Even after the various industrial revolutions that civilization had gone through, choice, while prevalent, still wasn’t anywhere near the level of what it is today. The average life of a person pre-internet might have looked something like this; you go to school, get a part time job at 16 to save up for that first beat up car for when you get your licence, go to college, get a nice suit and tie 9 to 5 job, put down a deposit on a mortgage for a place of your own, find a nice partner to settle down with, have a couple of kids and once the little shits have gone off to college you can retire from that nice pension fund you’ve been contributing to all these years. This was, roughly speaking, the life blueprint. 

And then came the internet….

I don’t think our generation truly appreciates what the internet did since not only did we grow up alongside it but it has become an integral part of our everyday lives, so it’s hard to comprehend what adult life was like without it. In the three or so decades since the internet came into the mainstream, what was once considered normal and traditional has vanished. The internet disrupted traditional systems like nothing that came before. Suddenly knowledge that was gatekept by professionals so they could charge you extortionate prices for their services became readily available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection. People now had access to non-traditional career paths that would have otherwise required them to know somebody in that industry to get their foot in the door. And with these options came a rejection of the established way of living.

The once coveted 9 to 5 has become an almost demonised life path, now often referred to as “a rat race”, a relentless and exhausting cycle of work and consumption, where people are driven to constantly strive for more money, possessions, and success to keep up with others and avoid falling behind. The possibilities granted by the internet opened people’s eyes to the fact that despite all the advancements that had occurred up until that point, the choices the everyday person had of what to do with their life was still largely limited. All of a sudden the accountant who once dreamed of being a DJ can download a sound board and start posting on Soundcloud, the person who never thought they could make money from their art could now put it on the internet for people to buy, the examples could be endless. In theory, anyone could now be anything they ever wanted. So it’s no wonder that we’re a generation that feels lost since we’re living through a shift in lifestyle like no other. We don’t have the luxury of looking back to previous generations for guidance like so many before us would have because much of the advice they might have to give can no longer be applied to the world we live in today. 

Our life expectations are FUCKED

So why am I telling you all of this? Why does any of it have any significance to you or me? One word; expectations.

Before there was an element of expectation that certain things should happen by a certain age. The pressure to figure out what to do in your 20’s is nothing new, what is new however is the level of success people are finding earlier and earlier in their lives. Pre-internet once you finished school you either went to work or you went to college. Education was often seen as the better alternative because it promised the prospect of better career opportunity once you completed it. But now a degree just feels far less significant, not only because it’s so common, but because while you worked tirelessly for years to achieve this esteemed honour, some kid sold an NFT of a wet sock on the internet for a gazillion dollars and bought a villa in the Hamptons. And something about that just doesn’t feel quite right. No 11-year-old should be making 30 million a year (no seriously go Google how much Ryan’s ToyReview makes and then we can both cry ourselves to sleep).

The expectation has always been that your 20’s are for figuring stuff out, setting roots and then reaping the rewards of your hard work in your 30’s. But now we are actively seeing more people achieve success at a much earlier stage in their life. And since we’re so predisposed to it thanks to social media, in our minds the exception has become the expectation. And that makes us feel inadequate because we start to ask ourselves “why is it that they have achieved this success and I haven’t done anything remotely as significant? Why them and not me? What if I’m just not good enough?” and before you know it you’re down this spiral loop of anxiety ordering a Chinese to make yourself feel better. But quite often the answer to many of those questions is as simple as they actually tried and stuck to something. That’s it, that’s the only difference. 

It’s easy to feel that somehow everyone else around you managed to make the right choices and you didn’t. So you become hesitant to make any other choices on what to do for fear that you choose wrong again and you’ll be doomed to keep watching the people around you succeed while you stay stagnant. And I don’t sit here writing this as someone who’s achieved a great amount of success in life, it’s exactly because I haven’t that I really understand the difficulty of trying to choose something to commit to. Much like choosing a Netflix movie, the last thing I would want to do is choose something that would be a waste of time. 

On top of all this the rise in “hustle porn”, which is just dudes on the internet yelling at you for being a loser for not running 15 businesses at once and owning a Ferrari fresh out of the womb, has really amplified these negative feelings and added a sense of pressure to do something to feel like you’re not “falling behind” in life. But as annoying as these people are, they are right about one thing, you should do something, not buy their stupid course, but something. And look by all means, if you are in a job you enjoy and watching TikTok for hours on end after a hard day’s work is what makes you happy then don’t let anyone take that away from you or tell you that you need to do more with your life. This post probably wasn’t for you to begin with. But if you are anything like me and get a sense of uneasiness and anxiousness every time you catch yourself mindlessly scrolling your apps, feeling like you’re wasting your time, that you could and should be doing more, then you owe it to yourself to figure out what it is you want to do instead with your time. Even if you end up being wrong at least it’s something you can scratch off your list and have peace of mind knowing it’s not for you rather than wondering “what if”.

taking action

In my attempts to figure out what the hell it is I’m doing with my life these are the three things I have found that have helped me the most to find some sense of direction in life and feel a sense of progress towards something rather than being stuck in a loop of starting and stopping a new project every other week.

One thing at a time: Chances are at some point in your life you decided to get your shit together one random 3am and it probably went something like this; you told yourself “that’s it I’m getting up at 5am tomorrow, I’m hitting the gym, I’m going to journal, get my diet right, skincare going to be on point, going to start my YouTube channel or learning code [or insert whatever thing you want to do and have been putting off doing] and fuck it I might just cure Malaria while I’m at it.”

And then what happened? The alarm went off and you said “nah, I’ll start tomorrow” and hit snooze. And truth be told I don’t blame you, if I had to go from doing nothing to doing all those things at once I wouldn’t want to get out of bed either (because I’ve quite literally done that whole process more times than I’m proud to admit). Personally, I’ve found that the biggest problem when trying to start something new is starting too many things at once. I think this is definitely an influence of that hustle culture I mentioned where we’ve been made to feel that if we’re not doing 152 things at once then we’re not doing enough. 

Start with just one thing, one task, one action, introduce just one new thing into your daily routine and see if you can stick to it for a whole week, no days off. If you manage that successfully then introduce one new thing and do it alongside whatever you introduced last week. Do that until you feel like you have a productive routine of tasks that make you feel accomplished day in and day out.

A juggler doesn’t learn by starting with 15 balls at once but by getting better with one ball at a time. 

Choose your problem not your passion: In his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, author Mark Manson proposes the idea of choosing your problems. He writes “Often the only difference between a problem being painful and being powerful is a sense that we chose it, and that we are responsible for it…. when we feel that we’re choosing our problems we feel empowered. When we feel that our problems are being forced upon us against our will, we feel victimised and miserable.”

This is often the reason you’ll hear as to why many people choose to go out and start their own business. They would rather put up with the problem of not knowing if they’ll even be able to make a profit in their endeavour rather than deal with the problem of their boss yelling at them for printing a document in the wrong font size. 

An everyday example is the gym. I like the gym, but I’d be lying if I said it’s my passion. Some days it’s just a big drag, sure I feel great during and immediately after, but it leaves me tired, tired from waking up early, tired from the exercise.

But I would take that tiredness every day of the week over the feeling of being tired from just walking up the stairs and being out of breath because I continuously neglected to go and got out of shape. And from that perspective going to the gym doesn’t seem like that big of a grind compared to the consequences of the alternative. If I have to be tired one way or the other, I know which one I want, I’m choosing my problem. 

A passion can dwindle over time but you’re always going to have to deal with some sort of problem in life, so decide what problems are worth dealing with.

Throw perfectionism out the window: If you only take one thing away from this whole article, I hope it’s this; Perfect only exists as a word in the dictionary, everything else will always have a flaw. The likelihood that you are going to be shit at whatever new thing you start is damn near 100%, and that’s ok. Michael Jordan didn’t pick up a basketball one day and win a Championship the next. In fact, he was cut from his high school basketball team, yes that Michael Jordan, the consensus greatest basketball player of all time was told he wasn’t good enough to play for his high school varsity team. And at the time he probably wasn’t. 

When you ultimately decide on what it is you want to pursue there is going to be a temptation to look up everything possible about that thing you just started. Resist that temptation at all costs. If you watch 5 different videos you’re going to hear 5 different opinions on where to start or what’s the best way to do x,y and z and all of a sudden you’re stuck with choice paralysis again not knowing what to do. Don’t overthink it, just do it. There is definitely value in doing research and learning from the mistakes of others, but you have to be willing to make a few mistakes of your own first hand. Otherwise, you’ll second guess every move you go to make. 

If you chase perfection you’ll never get anywhere, and even as I write what feels like the 5th draft of this thing I’m still not happy with it, but that’s the thing, even if I wrote this 100 more times I still wouldn’t be, it could never reach my elusive idea of perfection. But I have to keep going with this not only because I told myself I would but because I want to, it’s the only way I can possibly get better. And for me anything that’s worth doing to you in this life is worth doing poorly. 

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