Every single time I've tried to push my life in a direction, tried to bend it to my will, it has blown up in my face. So, while I have things I'd like to do and places I'd like to go, I've learned to just let things unfold as they may. I try to influence and guide it, but I don't push it anymore.
I think it comes down to my reaction to the results of trying to push it. When I'm letting it glide, I'm unconcerned about things going in the wrong direction and am happy when they do. If I'm trying to push it, I wind up concerned when things go in the wrong direction and not particularly happy when they do (that was where they were supposed to go, after all).
I learned this lesson at a much older age than I should have.
For example, I tried to make friends in the first week of college by talking to random people. I joined some clubs and went to events. This completely failed, I didn't click with anyone; these kinds of things didn't fit with my personality. All of my current friends I've met serendipitously. And, because I stopped caring so much about it, I think I have much better social skills now.
Kind of fits with the Daoist philosophy of wu wei: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_wei
EDIT: hah, looks like someone else made the same connection :D
In my mind the hardest part of life is figuring out and prioritizing what I should do. During my freshman year of college (another 19-year-old here) I was very deliberate about taking classes I was interested in, rather than ones that my friends from orientation were taking. As a result I learned a ton of great stuff, I had an awesome schedule, and I met kids I wouldn't have met from just staying within my comfort zone. At the same time, I missed out on valuable chances to get to know other kids that were in the same boat as me: fledgling freshman looking for a friend group. I think if I had gone with the flow in this situation I would have been much happier that first semester. I would've been taking easier classes, getting more sleep and exercise, and hanging out with soon-to-become lifetime friends. That's what I've been trying out this semester, and it's turned out that I'm much happier for it. But is this a road I want to keep going down?
In tasting the happiness of wu wei and satisfaction of focused drive, I've realized the dilemma that I've always been in. As a social yet ambitious individual the hardest part of my life has been finding balance.
Not caring about stuff that doesn't matter and being good at things go hand in hand.
(no commercial interest)
I got damn close, too. It would've been really easy to go through with it. I didn't go through with it, and I got help. I'm now actively making my life better each day. I am pursuing the direction I want to go in life, and I am happier than I've ever been. Have I had setbacks? Of course, I can't predict everything. Doesn't mean I'm going to abandon this. I know that this is the right direction for me, but it's not the default direction.
I think the difference is, he is talking about, in the past, forcing the external circumstances of his life to conform to some ideal, where as now, he accepts that this isn't possible.
You, on the other hand, are talking about fighting your own internal battle to make yourself the best you can be. Your battle does sound exceptionally difficult, but we all fight that one.
I think maybe the point that I take away from all of this is, you can't always change the world. But (with a lot of hard work) you can change how you react to it. And that's the more important battle than any external circumstance anyway.
It certainly doesn't mean I don't have dreams, aspirations and goals. It doesn't mean that I didn't spend most of the day yesterday working on a side project that I hope to bootstrap. It just means that I won't pursue that bootstrapping in a way that, ultimately, is damaging to myself and my relationships with others.
It is complicated and not at all easy to write out.
It came to me several years ago when I was visiting an aquarium in Hawaii, out of all places. One of the videos they were showing explained the life that plankton live. These are micro-organisms that literally drift in the ocean and go wherever the currents take them. And in the end, most are eaten by a larger organism. One might argue that this is a fine way for a plankton to live, because their "purpose" in life is to end up as food for something else.
And many humans live their lives as plankton. Why? The simplest and most realistic answer is that it's the path of least resistance. It's much easier to drift in life and go wherever the currents take you, than to try to swim and go where you actually want to go. But to say (or, in the article's case, imply) that this is the right "lesson" is a bit annoying.
After that aquarium visit, I had about a week to think things true. And I realized that I had lived my life as a plankton up until then, and it had not resulted in much happiness. I was always reacting what was happening to me, and letting people push me around much like ocean currents push plankton around. In the end, I decided that I would rather be a shark. And that's when my life started to change for the better in almost every way.
Don't try to like the things you think you ought to like, just let yourself like the things you do like.
It seems simple enough, but I found it quite difficult to actually do. If you succeed though, it not only makes you happier, it also seems to inoculate you against pretentiousness.
Editing your own reward matrix should certainly be approached with extreme caution, but I see no reason to rule it out altogether.
On a day-to-day basis, what's the difference between "influencing and guiding it" vs. "pushing it"? No snark, just trying to understand your POV a bit better.
Forcing it: I learn everything I can about AI. I attend meetups, conferences, whatever. I begin obsessing about how little progress I'm making towards my goal. Eventually, I either give up in frustration, or I take a sub-optimal leap in that direction just so I can make some progress.
It is the frustration and the sub-optimal leaps that cause the problems. The frustration leads to self-loathing and depression; the suboptimal leaps result in me being somewhere that, ultimately, doesn't lead where I want, leading me back to frustration.
Guiding it, on the other hand, starts similarly: I learn everything I can about AI. I attend meetups, conferences, whatever. What changes is the obsessing part. Now I'm trying to enjoy the experience, the knowledge and the people. Eventually, I find that it's not what I thought it was or a place where I fit opens naturally. If its the former, there's no frustration; if its the latter, huzzah.
I don't want to sound like I have some zen capability or anything (trust me, I'm far from that!). I have to remind myself very regularly the pitfalls of pushing things because I'm a very impatient person. I also have struggled with depression, so I also have to continually remind myself that, even if I feel like I'm not making progress, I am and that the alternative, feeling like I'm making progress when I'm not really, is far worse.
Yes life is what happens when you get too busy making just plans. A plan is where you want to be, but to get there your plan needs action items when when executed one at a time or in iterations will get you there.
Basically you need to do work to make it happen.
I could give 'day-to-day' examples, but maybe that's not even necessary.
I'm not the parent of this thread, but I'll try to give my side of the story. The thing is that you cannot control absolutely everything. When you think you have it all, there's suddenly divorce/nasty break-up (as it also happened to me), disease, loss of loved ones, a once in a century economic crisis while you're stuck somewhere in the middle of no-where etc.
I'm not arguing for fatalism :), on the contrary, but I think that if one has this on the back of his/her mind (s)he'll be a stronger person.
People learn things when their mind is clear. During my teenage and college years, my mind was convoluted by ideal thoughts and I may have been blinded by those thoughts.
As I get older, I tend to sit back a little bit and observe more than be trigger-happy (in giving advises, in sharing opinions, in giving orders, etc.), I learn a lot more about life by doing this.
It seems like I can't do anything and make anything in my life happen. When I get home from work all I can do is sleep or lie down. I'm positively bored most of the time but don't know how to fix it.
I would encourage you to talk to a doctor and find a good psychologist who understands cognitive based therapies. The best responses to depression include both pharmacological and brain hacking (which is what CBT is). They can help you understand if you are burned out, depressed or both.
I wish you well. It's a hard spot to be in, but one you can get out of. Feel free to email me (in my profile) if I can answer any questions (or do much of anything else) for you.
I've felt depressed (distinct from episodes of 'proper' depression) very often in my life. It often too much longer to get out of this because I was looking for a fix, while the fix often resulted from just doing something different, sometimes even seemingly stupid. But it always worked. Breaking patterns.
Other than that, though, my life seems like a ridiculous streak of luck. I could go into detail, but suffice to say that serendipity is a running theme.
Now of course part of it is coming from a (relatively) stable family, being white and educated. I am aware of that.
But compared to others just like me, on paper anyways, I still have a ridiculously good life.
I truly believe a lot of that has to do with expectations, and the perspective you choose to have. I don't think it has much to do with personality. By nature I worry a lot, and I tend to be depressed and pessimistic.
For me, it's the difference between reacting and responding. When I 'react', it is a passive/automatic action following some event, some intrusion, something unexpected. I was not prepared for this event, so my reaction is often not optimal, in hindsight.
When I respond, the actual responds might be equally 'automatic', but it is based on a more generic kind of preparation, and leads to better results. In hindsight, it seems like I knew what was going to happen.
I have, through circumstance, spent most of my life with a lot of uncertainty, so I naturally developed skills that allow me to 'respond'. And as a result, many good things came about because I 'responded' correctly, based on some trained principle or perspective. And many bad things didn't impact me as much, because I feel like most of my life is improvisation anyways.
Also a certain amount of contrast is good in life. Just going with the flow seems to dull life, removing inner conflict, conflict with others, pain, excitement...
I think 'going with the flow' can go further than just on a life scale. In my case it means making decisions that often shake things up and seem a bit silly and counter-productive. I make these decisions because usually they work out and at least keep things interesting. But within these paths of conflict/difficulty I go with the flow. Not necessarily as an all-encompassing approach to life.
I still hope I can get my side project to a reasonable level of completeness and people will have some interest in it. It's just that, now, my identity isn't tied up in it.
And maybe that's what it comes down to: is my identity tied up in what I'm trying to accomplish? Because if it is, and I fail, that makes me a failure.
I use a train of thought along the lines of: All of my suffering comes from a desire to be somewhere I'm not.
Consider a captive. Imagine the isolation and abuse that goes along with a typical scenario of being held captive. Much like an animal put into captivity, if the captive accepts his/her life situation (of being in captivity, abuse and all) he/she does not suffer from it, it is simply his/her way of life.
Whether I like it or not, I'm a captive of life. That's not to say I shouldn't or can't influence it, of course I can, but I cannot make it what it is not. I can guide my life where I think it needs to go but I should have no expectations and welcome whatever I find, oasis and monsters alike, with a smile, curiosity and affection. It lets me be content, whatever the weather.