Today is my 26th birthday.
Ever since I was small I imagined grown-up me as a wise university professor with a grey beard.
I will remember this year as the year I decided to stop pursuing an academic career.
I love being a (non-academic) writer a lot more.
I’ve also changed my mind about more important things.
For example, I now think banana milkshakes taste better than chocolate ones.
Here are my main lessons from the past year.
1. Rejection ≠ unworthiness
Some people possess this inherent sense of worthiness. For others, that kind of self-image comes less naturally.
I’ve discovered I’m in the latter category.
I have to work for that relationship with myself. It’s not the default.
For instance, I often have thoughts as “Who do you think you are to tell people that they must think about their values, or how they should best read a book, or declare that our education system is dysfunctional, or [insert anything else I’ve written?”
That’s shame talking. And it’s not healthy.
Here is my biggest, and most difficult, lesson of this year:
A lot of us had it ingrained into us all of our lives that rejection is wrong and should be avoided, but rejection is not a bad thing.
Rejection, or people saying you’re “weird” — these are not bad things, even though they still hurt. They are merely neutral signs of incompatibility between two human beings.
Every time we refrain from doing something which might be “weird”, or from saying or publishing something that might “expose” the real you or cause personal disagreement, or from expressing our personal needs, desires and values, we put more weight on the opinions of other people about us than on our own opinions about us.
When we do that, we prioritize other people not rejecting us over embodying our identities. That’s an expensive bargain.
If you’re engineering your life to remain insignificant, yes, you might avoid critics and ridicule and the judgment you so fear, but it’s not just your life that will stay small.
Vulnerability is incredible power.
2. Everything around me was made
by people that were no smarter than me
I used to think older people were somehow above me. More advanced.
Now, my favorite all-time quote might be Steve Jobs saying this:
“When you grow up, you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life.
Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact. And that is:Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
We all know someone who’s been at the office for 30 years and claims to have 30 years of experience, but actually has one year repeated 30 times.
They stopped growing a long time ago.
So, in terms of personal development, they’re only a few years ahead of me. In fact, I think I’m already there.
Now it’s time to make a difference.
A big pointer for year 27 is getting clear on the change I seek to make and take action accordingly.
3. Independence is a myth
Totally in sync with the flawed Western cultural narrative about happiness, I used to think I was a strong, independent man who could flourish anywhere.
It took me many Sunday-nights of loneliness to realize I was deluding myself. Despite my simultaneously Spartan and romantic ideal of independent self-reliance, place did affect my well-being. A lot.
I underestimated how much not being in a place that I can call home for nine months a year affects my daily happiness levels.
That’s a powerful lesson.
It’s just not true you can be happy everywhere as long as you meditate and do your gratitude exercises and make some friends and have a coffee every morning — and oh, don’t you have a roof and a bed?
That’s what’s wrong with Buddhism.
Life is way much more complex than that.
As nice as it is to meet new people and to connect with them in ways that you maybe didn’t even realize you could in spite of your differences, the novelty of a new relationship still pales in comparison to something that has survived the test of time, space, and changing life circumstances.
4. Personal growth is not just a means
I used to idealize lives in which one doesn’t work a lot but just hangs out a lot.
In fact, I have the space to do that now.
And it’s not as good as I thought it would be. In fact, it bores me after two days.
It’s not that there is something inherently wrong with a relaxed life, but, at least for now, it’s just not my cup of tea.
This year I realized I need a certain amount of productivity and self-improvement in my life, even if I don’t need the money or the improvement to get somewhere else. The feeling of progress in itself makes me happy. It gets me up in the morning and gets me excited about my life. And not only is that not a bad thing, since life is in a sense meaningless, it’s the only thing.
5. I want freedom, for now — long-term plans are overrated
But having the freedom to not having to be anywhere, anytime, and being able to prioritize other things above work, has me going singing in the shower on all the days that are not too close to a dissertation deadline.
And if you call me up and ask whether I won’t maybe blow off work and check out the new American Wing at the Met or ogle girls in Central Park or just drink chilled pink minty cocktails all day long, I will say, “What time?” — Tim Kreider, Lazy: A Manifesto
I never realized how important freedom was to me, until I saw most of my college and high-school buddies slip into the usual 9-to-6 grind.
While I thought it fun to, in my Medium bio, self-describe as “the laziest ambitious person you know”, friends describe me as a hard worker. Neither do I find idleness particularly pleasurable. I merely ask for the possibility to focus on what personally matters most to me.
To that end, I should design a high-degree-of-freedom life.
Then again, if life has taught me one thing this year it’s that (i) what I want changes often — and is something I can be dead wrong about — and that (ii) life doesn’t always respond to “design choices” in the way I expect.
Yes, I know those are actually two things.
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