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I spent so much time trying to organize the life that I thought I wanted. It wasn’t the same as living.

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.

This is basically how I live my life. Throughout high school and freshman year college (I'm 19) I was always so concerned about things that were utterly unimportant in hindsight, like not offending people, making friends, not being a shut-in (I've always been an introvert). I've found that simply not caring about stuff has made the biggest improvement in my life satisfaction.

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

I think that this passive philosophy is important for finding happiness, but that going against the grain is exactly what it takes to achieve success.

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.

I don't think that "not caring about stuff" and "relying on serendipity" necessarily go together.

Not caring about stuff that doesn't matter and being good at things go hand in hand.

I'm a fan of this book ... partly because of the philosophy and partly because of the profanity: thefuckitlife.com

(no commercial interest)

I disagree. For most people, it's fine and all to just go with the flow. Not me. I have an affliction that, statistically, I commit suicide if I try to go with the flow.

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 agree with you, but I also agree with the original sentiment.

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.

Going with the flow doesn't mean not trying to improve myself. I think it's more about not getting my identity wrapped up in what I'm trying to do to the point that, if I don't succeed, all I can conclude is that I am a failure.

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's funny you call it a "lesson" because I learned the exact opposite "lesson."

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.

Living your life as plankton is the same thing as never going outside your comfort zone. And while a minuscule few have great things fall into their lap, most of us have to push outside the comfort zone to find anything meaningful and worthwhile in life.

I personally find it useful to have a plankton mode and a shark mode, switching between them as necessary. Drifting is useful at times, but you definitely miss out on many of the best parts of life if you don't push yourself.

To this I might add my own minim of insight:

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.

I don't know. It took me a lot of time to gain any kind of appreciation for classic literature; I would often at least publicly claim that it was all a nexus of empty pretension. But I kept at it, motivated mostly by guilt, and I've developed an appreciation that means I can enjoy things that more people can talk about (compared to the sci-fi I've always read), and that makes me feel better about myself. Whether I'm actually better off is of course an open question.

Editing your own reward matrix should certainly be approached with extreme caution, but I see no reason to rule it out altogether.

I don't know. We all have outcomes we prefer. Shouldn't we take rational actions to create those outcomes? Sure, "life is what happens while you're busy making plans," but some people do accomplish what they set out to do. I want to join their ranks.

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.

It's all mindset. Say AI has really struck my fancy. It's a fascinating space with a lot of interesting work going on. Let's compare forcing it and guiding it:

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.

>>"life is what happens while you're busy making plans,"

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'd say it's all about focusing on principles over rules, or at least being aware that the rules you apply are based on underlying principles. We tend to focus on rules, and apply those in both big and small decisions. Trying to be aware of what's behind those rules can make it easier to deviate, to improvise. Sometimes you still 'push it', but you're often more likely to realize that this thing you're 'pushing for' is a rule, not a principle, and that there are other ways to achieve the goal without blindly staring at one outcome.

I could give 'day-to-day' examples, but maybe that's not even necessary.

> On a day-to-day basis, what's the difference between "influencing and guiding it" vs. "pushing it"?

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.

That's deep. Really deep.

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.

So what happens when I let it go to the other direction too much?

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'm not a doctor, but I've dealt with these before. You may be burned out, depressed, or both. While taking a good break and changing up your life can help if your burned out, it will often just mask depression.

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.

Since I don't know your situation, I obviously cannot give proper informed advice. But one option is to quit and/or to move.

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.

This issue has been on my mind quite a bit recently. There's significant parts of my life that are not going great, but I have nobody to blame for that other than myself, and with some willpower those areas will improve.

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.

I am not exactly sure what kind of pushes you gave, but I do believe, that one should not just go with the flow. Going against the flow is what shapes you as a human being. If in doubt choose the harder option. The hard times have shaped me more as a human than the easy times.

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'm actually not sure that's true. For me going with the flow does dull life, but it increases inner conflict and pain. Because the 'flow' is often much more based on perceived rules and on social or societal pressure.

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 agree that it is possible to get too passive, and I wouldn't advocate that. I guess it's a matter of learning what to push and what expectations to have. Honestly, what I do is rarely that different between pushing it and not pushing it. The primary difference is how I react to it.

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.

This seems to be similar to the concept of wu wei ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_wei )

I too have found great satisfaction with being content with things the way which they are.

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.

The unaimed arrow never misses.

The only problem is you shouldn't complain of the target it hits when it does.

Man plans and God laughs.

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