When You Get Where You're Going, You Won't Be (That Much) Happier
"You have power over your mind - not outside events." - Marcus Aurelius
Let’s turn back the clock to last October.
I’d just moved into my new apartment a few weeks earlier. I was writing 2000–3000 words per day, I was freelancing for 11 clients, I was training Jiu-Jitsu 2–3 times per day, and I was on the mend from a devastating week where I injured my back, neck, and ribs, all in the same week.
Life was different then. It was a simpler time, but not really in a good way. I was desperate for any glimpse of success, and achieving that was all I wanted and thought about.
I was working my butt off, I wasn’t making that much money in reward for my efforts, and I didn’t do anything besides work for a long time.
I barely saw my friends besides my gym friends at the gym. I couldn’t really afford to date. All I could do was eat (mostly beef and broccoli), sleep, train, and write.
That was my life for about 8 months — 12–16 hours per day, 6-7 days per week.
It was tough. It was gritty. My days weren’t glamorous, they were monotonous. Everything was difficult, pretty much all the time.
But strangely enough, I look back on those days now and I miss that struggle and blind motivation. I miss not making enough money to date and barely seeing my friends and having to work 12 hours per day. I miss only being able to eat beef and broccoli and being too anxious about money to take myself out for a coffee in the afternoon.
I miss all this stuff.
What the heck is wrong with me?
I‘ve felt this way before.
When I look back on the last year, I reminisce the same way I reminisce about my last season of wrestling when I was in high school.
Wrestling was hard.
During my final season, I was cutting weight constantly to make the 160-pound weight division (yo-yo dieting — gaining and losing 8–10 pounds per week), I was dealing with college applications and school, and I had my first girlfriend ever. There were a lot of things happening at once, and life was overwhelming.
All I really wanted at that moment was for the wrestling season to be over, to be done with school, and for my girlfriend to give me a break. I wanted these things, and eventually, I got my wish with all of them.
My wrestling season ended — although not the way I wanted it to. I graduated from high school — although again, not really the wanted to. My girlfriend and I broke up a few weeks before we left for college and I didn’t handle the breakup the way I wanted to either.
It took a while to hit me, but in the weeks before I left for college that fall, I started to realize how much time I had wasted wanting things to be over.
It was also depressing because everything I had used to build my identity was gone and I didn’t know who I was anymore. I wanted the tough days back because I defined my identity and gave myself self-esteem from my ability to overcome struggles.
I had to find new struggles to help me define and identify myself.
You can have anything, but not everything.
With fewer exceptions than you realize, you can have anything you want.
The problem for most people is the sacrifice that comes with having what we want.
We want to be fit, but we don't want to give up junk food. We want to have less anxiety, but we don’t want to sleep better or make time for a weekly therapy visit.
Everyone gets excited about doing stuff, but no one gets excited about the discipline aspect of becoming good at things.
This is what happened to me over the last year.
In the early days of my journey to trying to make a living for myself through Jiu-Jitsu and writing, I struggled with giving up my free time to work more and working when others were enjoying themselves.
I also just struggled because I working full-time on 2 projects at the same time. Most people can’t write or do martial arts at a high level. I was trying to do both at the same time.
Over time, however, these perceived limits didn’t matter anymore. My work started to pay off.
I got better competition results, my writing got more views, and I started to make more money. Life became less difficult and more fun. I got to do more fun stuff and less work stuff.
This culminated in me taking myself on a trip to Europe back in May. It was my way of rewarding myself for 8 months of working like a lunatic to build “the life I wanted”.
It was nice, but I felt like something was missing while I was on vacation.
The messed up thing is, when I was on that trip in Europe, all I could think about was how I wanted to go home and train and write. I missed struggling.
For a while, I thought that this was because the only way to feel fulfillment and peace was through doing hard things. This is not the case.
Now I’m going to tell you what took me the entire summer to figure out.
The problem is that we have activity-based identities.
How do you define yourself?
A writer? An athlete? A teacher? A trauma survivor? A hard worker?
People use all these words to describe themselves because these words give them a sense of power. They make them feel like they are in control of their lives. They make them feel like the things they do matter.
But really, the question shouldn’t be “How do you define yourself?”.
The question should be “Why do you define yourself?”
You’ll find more from answering that than in any label.
Why do you define yourself? Why do you need a label? Is there any other value besides a false sense of comfort that that label gives you?
Labels provide comfort, but they do little else for us without living in accordance with those values.
People in married relationships still cheat. People who call themselves writers still give up on writing. People who are athletes eventually give up their athletic careers.
Because we use labels to build our identities, we become attached to times in our lives when our identity is strongest. After a big win in Jiu-Jitsu, I feel especially validated as an athlete. After an article performs well, I feel validated as a writer. After the girl I like tells me she thinks I’m cute, I feel attractive.
The problem is, this validation is fleeting. You have to constantly feed that need in order to feel happy from it.
That’s why you have to find another way to keep yourself happy. You have to develop lasting motivation in a way that combats your fleeting identity.
If you lost everything tomorrow, how would you rebuild?
If you tore every ligament in your knee and you could never play sports again, what would you do to pass the time? If you had to stop writing or painting, how would you express yourself? If your partner left you, how would you rebuild?
These are dark questions and maybe they seem rooted in scarcity, but it’s essential to think this kind of stuff about if you want to build a strong sense of peace. By diving into the scarcity of reality, you find an abundance of peace.
I don’t care about your identity. I don’t want you to build a strong identity. I want peace.
Peace comes from climbing a mountain without constantly thinking about how you’re going to feel when you reach the top. Peace comes from finding flow in the act of climbing the mountain.
That is how you become happier through the pursuit of your goals.
“For man is always bound so long as he depends for his happiness on a partial experience; joy must always give way to sorrow, otherwise it can never be known as joy.” — Alan Watts
This week’s articles from The Grappler’s Diary: