(September 2019 at Ladies View, Ring of Kerry, Ireland)
Summary of points in this post:
- Life is great right now but I feel guilty for feeling content.
- Questioned the idea of comfort zone. Are we really ever comfortable?
- Disillusioned: apparently I don’t enjoy the things I thought I’d love to do. I don’t want to go where I thought I wanted to.
- Dreams are better than reality? My theory on why goals sometime pale in comparison to our expectations.
- Hedonic setpoints. Why we’ll never arrive / get “there”.
- A couple of goals I now found to be overrated (e.g. why travelling doesn’t appeal to me anymore) and goals I still haven’t verified / reality checked
- Lack of meaning / purpose. Wanting to define what my long term game is and then play it.
- Fear of unfulfilled potentials. Wanting to produce, create, and share more.
- How about you? How are you really?
I realise I grazed upon 4-5 separate big ideas but it feels awkward to break this train of thought into smaller pieces.
Youtube recommended this video to me this morning, Quite similar to Humans of New York but instead of photos with the stories as captions, Thoraya interviews strangers, asks them one question, and compile the answers in a video.
One of the questions is “how are you doing really?”
I haven’t asked that to myself for some time so I decided let’s use this quiet Saturday morning to reflect.
How am I? How am I doing really? What’s on my mind?
Happy, I think. Grateful for sure.
Life is really good right now.
I am financially secure, emotionally stable, and physically fit. Mentally restless though. Let’s double click on this later.
Got a comfortable career, feeling resourceful, able to notice abundant sources of joy and opportunities in life. Feeling optimistic and secure.
Got social approval / status on things I care about and am fully aware of the things I don’t. Blessed with support system and healthy relationships that gives me peace of mind.
Still challenged and have opportunities to learn new things on a daily basis (well at least I try to look for way to reframe it this way…)
Able to find meaning in the things I work on… for the most parts. OK another thing to double click on here.
Can work when I want and where I want to. Got the physical capacity and fitness to move freely and go where I want. Can afford to enjoy any food I want without any allergies or things to avoid for health reasons. Pretty cheap taste as well, it’s not difficult to make my tummy happy.
Have enough free time to do the things I choose to do. Can read, can travel, can listen to music. Have no spouse or children. Can afford to be very self absorbed, haha.
So, onto the mentally restless part.
I just find myself with questions, buzzing quietly at the back of my mind. Like white noise.
“Is this it?”. Have I “made it”? Have I arrived?
Second guessing myself.
I can’t think of any bigger wants or desires. I am content.
Is this okay?
Am I surrendering to this idea of “comfort zone” ? Why is it a bad thing?
Does having no desire means staying in comfort zone? Content? Complacent?
Am I in comfort zone? What is comfort zone?
I definitely still push myself to grow…
I put myself uncomfortable situations. First because I want to observe how I feel and react. Seeking self knowledge. And second to get that feeling of “been there, handled that, ready for more” coming out of it.
I make an effort to nurture relationships with people I care about. Be a good friend, good daughter, good human. I want people to be able to say their lives are better because of things I say, give, create.
I exercise daily, care about doing good work (which is not always comfortable, of course I’d prefer if I can show up for work only when I want to), and face the day to day problems and inconveniences most human population living in modern society deal with.
I collect new experiences. I explore the world as a playground and a lab.
I have some skills I want to develop, improve on, and endless things I’d like to learn more about. I am trying to get back to having healthy relationship with food.
So I am not in a comfort zone, at least not in the way I define it. Contentment zone?
Actually, is there really such thing as a “comfort zone”?
From what I see, human CANNOT stay comfortable for long. We’ll drive ourselves mad if we stay still.
We’re wired to always be moving towards something. We seek for more. More challenge, to go on quests. Even creating problem just to be able to solve them.
We grow uncomfortable after being comfortable for some time. “Hedonic setpoint” they call it?
We want to enhance our lives, grow, progress. Bigger faster better.
We are always uncomfortable.
Perhaps this idea of comfort zone has caused more damage to society than it does good. Do we really need the pressure of being told to grow ourselves and make progress? Do whatever you want. Perhaps it’s a lie of capitalism and self help industry? Hmmmm
To be fair it’s not like I don’t have any wants, desires, and goals at all. I do have some “if only”‘s, “it’d be nice if”, but some of these I have found to be inaccurate anyway.
Things that I thought I wanted but after trying or experiencing, apparently it’s just meh. Imagination vs reality.
To give you an example: I always thought one day when I retired, I will spend all the free time to just read and listen to music all day.
I then heard about the idea of retirement trial runs from a book or podcast, I think it’s Tim Ferriss. The idea is to do a mini version of your utopia. Reality check your dreams, verify if that is really something you would enjoy. What if you don’t have time to ever do it? Why postpone? So I decided to test it out.
I took some time off work, get a short quiet getaway. Packed a bunch of books on the phone, some physical books, packed my favorite songs and albums. Yet I found I don’t enjoy reading that much anymore?? It doesn’t get me into flow. Well I did get some “high” moments with the music and the books, but the whole experience was just okay.
Wrong books? Wrong songs? Too high of an expectation? Shortened attention span?
And to be clear I am not expecting to be in 100% joy the whole month or something just reading and indulging, that’d be unrealistic. I know life are moments and moments are fleeting.
But I am fully aware that I now feel different level of thrill and pleasure from these activities compared to perhaps what I felt as a teenager. I am of course a different person with different life situation now.
But this is interesting.
I think of it this way: When we set goals, we take a snapshot of reality, an imagined one. A simplified image.
Goals are states, two dimensional. They are destinations. Experience and the journey on the other hand, are iterative, non linear, and multi dimensional.
Like photos vs videos.
Videos vs Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality vs being physically somewhere and seeing with your own eyes.
And seeing with your own eyes vs knowing what you’re perceiving is still a small slice of reality — a very subjective one.
Different levels of abstractions.
So all we have are these highly compressed snapshot of ideas of what we want. The ideals, the imagined future. But we can’t accurately assess, extrapolate, or estimate the impact, significance, and duration of the feelings or sensation the real experience will bring us. Imagination is often better than reality. Highlight vs behind the scenes.
And then after getting “there”, you’ll quickly get over the thrill and onto the next destination.
Which is completely inevitable and not a bad thing on itself. This explains why we’ll never be satisfied.
Becoming aware of the way we’re wired should make us feel empowered. We can now see through all our obsessions and desires from a distant, and managed the perspective. To go into things more intentionally.
Sidenote: I believe one of the things we fundamentally seek in life are those moments of being alive. So I will definitely write another piece to unpack the idea of what “reality” means here in relation to that notion. It can be “flow”, meaningful moments, of thrill, of being fully present.
Apologies for the abstract philosophical detour. Backtracking again….
I’ve since done more trial runs on more of my “dreams”, and they are all almost “overrated”.
I am not saying this means I will talk myself out of doing or pursuing any of the other “wants” I have. It’s actually the opposite. I am more ready to go out, try out, and challenge them each time. To refine that list.
My verified sources of joy and flow right now:
- working, writing, creating
- learning, teaching, sharing
- food videos
Things I thought I wanted / would enjoy but are now missing a lot of the (imagined?) magic:
- Travelling. I have made many fond and amazing memories during my travels but lately I find myself going back feeling like I am taking the time away from things I could have been doing instead. Travelling now feels like expenses of time instead of investment of time. By travelling I have grown more confident. It also helps me prove my independence and grown that self efficacy. I now know there is nothing in life I can’t handle if I just take one step at a time, on my own pace and capacity. I think I have seen enough of the world now to know that apparently I need to check out the grass on the other side to realise I have a damn meadow back home. I have confirmed that people are people no matter what race, gender, culture, background, and upbringing. We are all fundamentally the same. I also know now that I am not missing out on much if I don’t travel extensively ever again. Sure there are too many sceneries I haven’t seen and will never see but I don’t care that much about them. I travel to understand people and see lives.
- Family time. Frankly they are boring and uneventful. I still allocate time for this because supposedly relationships are the key to happiness. I’m just gonna shoot down any unrealistic idea or expectation of what “quality time” looks like and just be physically present because it’s better than nothing.
- Hanging out with friends. Lack of depth, with decreasing intersection of areas of our lives. Things are still comfortable but I do miss the bond and intensity.
- Staying somewhere with direct view / access to mountains and lakes. The maximum duration I can sit there, soak it all in, or just read is 2 hours. Perhaps I need to train that muscle of sitting still and doing nothing because right now I need snacks and screens to accompany me near these views. Perhaps what’s missing is hot chocolate and a good conversation partner (so far myself, which means I journal by the lake which beats the purpose, I could have just done it at home.)
Things I have yet to verify:
- Having conversations with interesting people doing interesting things. Podcast. I always have this idea at the back of my mind that I would enjoy hosting a talk show, asking questions, and listening (my favorite activity). I think I have solid empathy and have built a vast knowledge to be able to hold good conversation with people from different background.
- To live near to nature where I can bike and enjoy the clear air. It just feels healthy and wholesome.
Things I used to do and think I would still enjoy:
- going to concerts
- playing guitar
Now, if I go one step further and think about the feelings I thought these goals, activities, and situations will bring, it’s the idea of freedom, new experiences, fitting in / belonging, quiet and stable life.
And I actually have access to all of these benefits right now. I am blessed with all of these right now. I am actually experiencing that parable of businessman and the fisherman.
So I am back to square one: is this it? Have I arrived?
All these “shoulds and coulds”, ideas, wants, projects, starting a side hustle, passive income, financial freedom, personal branding, finding my tribe, making friends, sharing, creating and dedicating my life to something larger than myself. Is it worth the effort? What do I want to get out of it? Is it really about the end results?
Isn’t it more about growing to be someone who is capable of handling the situation with all the challenges in the journey? To start from deciding what kind person do I want to be, and what experience do I need to go through to enable that transformation.
So, onto the meaning part.
I enjoy what I do but it feels lately like I am just going through the motion, picking the low hanging fruit, optimising for short term gains, and cannot see what’s the long term game.
Perhaps it’s lack of clarity of what I find meaningful, that sense of purpose.
I get to use my strengths at work, able to get into flow doing what I do professionally. I try to get better, be a better person, always learning and unlearning. I don’t think I am causing any harm to the world. Well I try, within the boundaries and limitation of what I know, feel, and perceive. No idea if I am achieving that 100%.
Is this just normal adult life?
Another source of angst for me is this fear of unfulfilled potential.
I feel like there are many interests and ideas I haven’t fully explored, expressed, and shared with the world. I haven’t created that much.
If I died tomorrow I would probably leave some footprints and impact, but not as much as I think I could have….
OK I think that’s all I have in my mind now.
Now: How are you? How are you really?
Let me know if you can relate, feel the same, any thoughts or stories you’d like to share, or just say hi.
Also published on Medium.