If you ask someone under the age of thirty what their dreams are, how likely is it they will answer, ‘To invest 10,000 hours into the Mastery of my craft’? Not very. You are more likely to hear about some passive income business they wish to run via their phone, from a tropical beach. How likely is said young person to even have a craft, to even have something they are Mastering? Again, not very.
We live in a culture that values money, fame and instant results. Social media pours gasoline on this fire; creating false expectations for what our lives should be like, for what the day-to-day should feel like; only setting us up for disappointment.
Mental illness seems to be more prevalent than ever before, particularly amongst young people. There are a few theories attempting to answer why this is, but the one relevant to this essay is how our expectations do not align with reality, with the way the world actually works.
We are constantly bombarded with images of ‘perfection’ and plagued with stories of overnight ‘success’—falsely leading us to expect the same of ourselves. We expect ourselves to be perfect. We expect the things we want to come to us easily and immediately.
And when said things do not come easily and immediately, when they require sustained effort over a long period of time; we either blame society, and become bitter—or we blame ourselves, and become insecure.
But why is the cultural ideal of today the four-hour work week? Why would young people rather become ‘influencers’ instead of doing work that actually influences the world meaningfully? This is considered ‘the good life’: to make a passive income and have your ego stroked, while doing the least work possible. But is doing nothing of value with your time really ‘the good life’?
I am sure if I gave you $1,000,000,000, you would be elated. But for how long? Yes, at first, you would be jumping for joy; buying your dream house and your dream car and all the other materialistic junk you had been ogling. At first, you would be traveling to all those destinations you had been fantasizing about. At first, you would be partying and living it up with your friends.
But what would come after all that? When you eventually come down from your heavenly cloud and realize all those peak experiences were actually quite meaningless—particularly when you have an unlimited supply of them.
The ego may want pretty treasures; but the soul longs for meaning. You think you want to exert the least amount of effort, while still making good money and receiving recognition; but really, you want to work towards a meaningful long-term goal, one aligned with your authentic values, passions and strengths. You think you want the four-hour work week and a passive-income business; but really you want to Master something, to invest 10,000 hours into one specific thing.
Really, what you want is a Life Purpose. You want to feel your life has meaning beyond yourself. For without this sense of Life Purpose, you are just a rat on a wheel, running around and around; away from pain and towards pleasure; always caught up in the pettiness of survival, wasting this precious consciousness you have been blessed with.
You actually want to work—you just want to work on something meaningful. In fact, you want to work so badly, that if you do not find meaningful work, if you do not find a Life Purpose, you will construct all kinds of problems in your life, just to keep yourself entertained. Think of all those nothing-fights, all those times spent obsessing over someone or something that did not really matter, all those times you rearranged the clutter in your home… Were they isolated incidents, or the product of a deeper issue, a spiritual void?
Now, I am sure many of you reading this are cursing me. Maybe you feel life is hard, and that the best thing that could happen to you would be a winning lottery ticket. Maybe you do not know what it is you authentically value. Maybe you do not believe there is anything you could be passionate enough about to invest 10,000 hours into. Maybe you do not feel you have any significant talents or strengths.
I want to challenge the idea that those with passion and talent are rare, that they were just ‘born lucky’. I suppose, in a sense they are lucky—lucky that they have, somehow, stumbled into their Life Purpose. Maybe they accidentally discovered it, or maybe they introspected deeply enough to create it. However, these passionate and talented people are not lucky in the sense that they are special. They are just like everyone else—the only difference being, they have invested many hours into one thing. They have stoked their passion. They have fostered their strengths.
If you do not feel deeply passionate about something, this is your problem in life, much more than the lack of dollars in your bank account or the lack of followers you have on Instagram. Of course, money and fame are resources—they have their value. But do not underestimate the value of passion. Do not underestimate the value of time. You could have all the money and all the followers in the world, but if you do not feel you are doing something meaningful with your limited time here on Earth, you will be depressed.
So, if ‘the good life’ is not merely achieving large amounts of money and fame, then what is it? ‘The good life’ is a life of passion and purpose. ‘The good life’ is the path of Mastery. ‘The good life’ is cultivating a meaningful vision for your life, then stepping towards that North Star every single day.
But make no mistake about it: this is not always fun, and this is certainly not easy. ‘The good life’ requires you to work your ass off. ‘The good life’ requires you to face yourself. ‘The good life’ requires you to unpack all the bullshit you have been told, all the bullshit you tell yourself.
Most people resist doing this work; both the work in the external world: the practical steps required to create that business or develop those skills; and the work in their internal world: the deep introspection required to change your thinking.
Working towards a meaningful long-term goal, one that might take ten or twenty years to fully realize, requires a certain psychology. Do not get it twisted: society has not programmed you with this psychology. Society has programmed you with the psychology opposite. Society has conditioned you to look for a hack, a short-cut. Society has conditioned you not to take the Master’s path.
If you are more concerned with the petty problems of today, rather than the life you could have ten or twenty years from now, you will continue to be a cog in the machine, maintaining the status quo. You will keep going to that soul-sucking job, because it pays you a good sum of money. You will keep buying into the latest trend because it makes you seem like a worthwhile citizen. You will keep buying the same overpriced coffee from Starbucks every morning, because you are miserable and this indulgence is one of the few things that gives you a sliver of joy.
But if you are conscious of where you are going, if you are following your North Star, you will look for other opportunities. You will say ‘no’ to things that do not align with your vision, even when they seem ‘good’ on paper. You will be more motivated by passion and purpose than you are money or status. You will save your coins and invest in yourself, rather than purchasing some material crap you do not need. You will happily make your coffee at home because there are other, more meaningful things that get you out of bed in the morning; you need not dangle a carrot in front of your face.
It takes serious willpower: going against the grain, fighting mediocrity, prioritizing your self-actualization. But if you desire an extraordinary life, if you have dreams beyond the life you are living now, it is worthwhile—and not just for the reasons you might think.
Of course, achieving your goals is fantastic. But really, when you achieve a goal, what happens? You set another goal. You raise the bar. When you receive something you desire, what happens then? You desire more.
Do not worry—this is normal. We are hard-wired this way for our survival. Still, it is important to be mindful of how manifesting a desire in the external world will never, ultimately, fulfill you.
And this brings me to the real reason why working towards a Life Purpose and your self-actualization is so worthwhile: when you go against the grain, when you fight mediocrity, when you say ‘no’ to the trivial bullshit society attempts to sell you, delaying gratification; and instead work towards a big, long-term vision; you find an inner peace you had previously not known possible.
While at first, it takes enormous will-power—changing your patterns, eliminating your bad habits and developing good habits—eventually, your tastes start to change. Over time, your psychology starts to shift; from one that chases dopamine hit after dopamine hit, to a perspective of higher-consciousness. And really, this is where all the joy in life is.
Speaking for myself, everyday, I step closer toward my North Star: writing stories and essays that ask and, at times, attempt to answer, big philosophical questions. In these last three years, I have achieved many of my goals: I have revised and edited my high-fantasy manuscript, getting it ready for publication. I have drafted another manuscript, a horror manuscript. I have launched a website and a Patreon for my writing. And I have improved my skills as a writer.
I am proud of the work I have done and it has brought me enormous amounts of joy. But really, most of this joy comes, not from having a manuscript ready for publication, nor from finishing another manuscript. Rather, most of this joy comes from being in the flow of my writing, being in the rhythm of my routine.
Sure, every time I post a new piece of writing to my website or Patreon, I am excited. Yes, when I post this essay, I will feel joy. But really, most of the joy is felt, right now, as I type this. Believe it or not, most of the joy comes from dragging my ass out of bed three hours before I clock-in at my day-job, so I can get some words written prior.
I will leave you with this paradox: Many of us believe, to be happy, we need an easy life, with as much pleasure and as little pain as possible. This is faulty thinking. Ironically, if you try to have an easy life, you will have a hard life. If you are always chasing pleasure, you will always find yourself running from pain—you will constantly find yourself in pain. However, if you embrace the challenges life has to offer, if you rise up to meet your potential, you will live a life of ease; because you will be living in harmony with Truth.
Stop chasing success for success’s sake. Stop chasing money for money’s sake. Stop chasing fame and fads. Stop chasing dopamine hit after dopamine hit. Stop trying to go fast. Stop trying to find a hack or a cheat. Stop trying to take that shortcut. Stop resisting work.
Start doing meaningful work. Get on the path of Mastery. Begin investing 10,000 hours into one thing. Build your passion. Align yourself with your purpose. Embrace the journey. Expand your consciousness and evolve your tastes. Understand that truly valuable things require development over time, cultivate patience, and trust you will reach your North Star—if, everyday, you take the steps required to make the journey there.
This is ‘the good life’, not the four-hour work week.
Author’s note: If you found this essay inspiring, you may also take inspiration from Stop Creating Content And Start Creating Art.