What Life do You Want?

By Nat Eliason in Psychology

As we start 2016, I’m thinking about a question that I’ve been asking myself the last few years, and that I’ve encouraged anyone who will listen to ask themselves too:

What kind of life do you want?

In college, everyone wants to know what job you want, what kind of work you want to do, what company you want to work for.

No one asks:

  • “How much free time do you want?”
  • “What do you want to spend money on?”
  • “Who do you want to spend time with?”
  • “What do you want to do for fun?”

Yet, these are monumentally more significant questions.

The vast majority of my peers in college were working tirelessly towards getting a certain job. That could be in a certain niche (consulting, banking) or at a certain company (Google, Microsoft).

It was their main focus. Their main goal. The one thing they worked towards.

But since they’ve graduated, I’ve seen unhappiness. Dissatisfaction. Unrest.

They got the job they wanted, but they didn’t get a life they wanted. They didn’t consider (or they ignored) that the job might come with:

  • A horrible work life balance
  • Limited growth from being at “entry level” and there being fixed promotion tiers
  • No time to travel with a limited vacation allowance
  • Cut-throat competition among other first years
  • And other aspects that create an unhappy or unfulfilling life

They don’t always admit it, but when you’re working 80 hour weeks, complaining incessantly, using alcohol and drugs as your source of fun, not sleeping, dreading Monday, and longing for the weekend… you have a shitty life.

If you’re in college now, or even if you’re a recent graduate, I don’t want that to happen to you.

Take a few minutes (or hours) and seriously think about what kind of life you want to have. If you’re in college, that’s when you graduate. If you’ve graduated, then think about what life you want to have right now.

Instead of getting a job and then trying to get a good life out of it, create your idea of a good life now and find work that supports it. Doing it in this order is the only way to build a life you want and to not have to compromise what makes you happy.

Difficult? Yes. But life isn’t a dress rehearsal, you get one go at it and if you don’t start living it to the utmost now then when will you?

This is also the first step in finding fun work that you love after you graduate. If you’re a college student who isn’t excited about typical corporate prospects, defining your ideal life like this is the place to start.

So instead of setting a New Years resolution, and instead of thinking about what job you want, start thinking about what life you want.

Tips to Guide Your Thinking

Sitting down and trying to answer everything about your “ideal life” is difficult, so here are some tips and guiding questions to get you started.

Think about what you DON’T want

As a result of Impact Bias, the Empathy Gap, and a host of other biases, we’re terrible at predicting our own happiness.

We buy fancy things, then get used to them quickly. We go out drinking and have fun, then lose a day to a hangover. We think someone is “the one” then hate them 6 months later.

If you sit down and say “what will make me happy?” you’ll get it wrong. Instead, think about what makes you unhappy, and then about how you can create a life that avoids as many of those problems as possible.

For example, I hate:

  • Being told what to do
  • Dealing with stupid people
  • Having fixed work hours / locations
  • Feeling “stuck”
  • Slow personal growth / limited upward mobility

So I know I have to create a life that doesn’t allow any of these.

Focus on Experiences

For the reasons mentioned in the last section, “stuff” doesn’t make us happy.

Experiences, however, do have a lasting impact on our happiness. So don’t say you want a life where you’re rich and famous with a garage full of Ferraris and topless supermodels (idk why you’re keeping them in the garage, but who’s to judge).

Instead, think about the kinds of experiences you want to have and what a life with those experiences in it would look like.

That could be travel, it could be learning new skills, it could be being able to go completely offline after 6 pm. Think about the experiences that you know you want to have in your life and make sure they’re in your “ideal life” plan.

For example, I know I like traveling, whether it’s to visit friends, see new places, or just work from somewhere different. So my life has to support that.

‍I’m writing this from a tea house in Miami with one of my closest friends

Plan an Ideal Week

Take a minute and plan an ideal day or week. It doesn’t have to be down to the minute, but what do you definitely want in your typical week?

If you’re not sure what to put, then think back on some of your best days that were also productive. What happened during them? What makes them stand out?

For example, these are some of mine:

Find People You’re Jealous Of

Look for people older than you that you’re jealous of. What is it about what they’re doing that makes you envious? Is it what they’re getting paid for? How they’re impacting people? The size of their audience? Your sources of envy are a big indicator of what you (secretly or overtly) want in your life.

For example, I’ve always been a little jealous of people who can make a living off of their writing. I’m partially doing that now, and that’s also part of why I have this site.

Experiment More

You need a large data set to know what you like and don’t like.

Play around more, try new things, be willing to fail, and as you gain more exposure to different options you’ll get a better sense of what you like and don’t like.

For example, On the recommendation of a friend I went to a free acro-yoga class. Turns out it’s a ton of fun, and I’m going to start doing it more regularly.

Think About What Kind of Fun You Want

There needs to be some fun in your life. What types of fun activities get you the most jazzed up?

When you think about it, Netflix is most likely not something that you consider super fun, but something you do to veg out for a while. What do you find seriously fun that you want more of in your life?

For example, Don’t count out activities that might seem hard to do regularly like sailing, mountain climbing, or dirt bike racing. If that’s what you find fun and want more of in your life, then you should find a way to make it happen.

Ask Where do You Want to Be

Many people just go for the best job and don’t think about location as much. But think about where you want to live for the next few years of your life.

Somewhere with seasons? Warm all the time? Beach? Expensive? US? What kind of nightlife? Food? Consider the types of cities you’d be excited to be in.

For example, Maybe you don’t want to pay the high cost of living in New York City or SF. Come hang out in Austin instead.

Taking Action

This isn’t something you write down once and then go on with your life.

At the back of your mind, you should always be asking yourself:

What kind of life do I want

And

Is what I’m doing right now in line with that idea of an ideal life?

The type of work you do needs to fit that image of your ideal life. The other way around, the way most people do it, is a recipe for unhappiness.

Footnotes

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