The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

I want to talk about how I recently flip-flopped on an issue that I had held strongly for many years.  I used to get upset with people who complain about their lives or their problems in general.  I would declare that we live in the best time in all of human history, and have it amazing compared to generations past. Running water, anesthetics, literally all of human knowledge in our pockets – we indeed live in an amazing time.  I used to compare how humans used to have to plow the field all day and pray the crops would survive so they could feed themselves.  People toiled all day to barely survive.  Before that, in the medieval days, people couldn’t even own land/real estate.  It all belonged to the king. There was no way you would ever get rich unless you were born into it.

I would compare our modern day “paradise” to those difficult days and get pissed about how anyone could complain about their lives.  Even poor people in the US can get food stamps to survive, section 8 housing assistance, and still have modern day comforts.  Why are these people unhappy and complaining?  Why why why?? I would ask myself and get upset over this and feel right on this issue.

I recently “flip-flopped” on this issue and feel that we actually live in a very difficult era, just difficult in a different way. Instead of struggling to survive, people are struggling to find purpose in their lives. Surviving is quite basic, similar to animals. Finding meaning and purpose and achieving self-actualization; these are more advanced tasks that require significantly more effort and brain power.

The problem is most people are average.  Think back to stats in college at the standard bell curve. The vast majority are quite ordinary people, yet we now have the ability to see the absolute best humanity has to offer.  Just browse around on Youtube and you can find incredible musicians, people who engage in extreme sports, and the pinnacle of human achievement. You can find amazing artists and people making a huge impact on the world. Then you do what everyone does, you compare. You say I’ll never be able to accomplish even a fraction of what these amazing people have done, and you shut down.

It’s not just the best of the best, it’s also your peers and people you grew up with. Facebook is a true double edged sword in that it is can be an awesome tool for staying connected and a platform to lead by example. It can also be a very depressing place because everyone is putting their best versions of themselves on there, and again we compare. We tend to measure ourselves against those around us, and if we are falling behind or not achieving as much, it will bring us down.

There is so much distraction in the modern world; endless entertainment – access to every TV show, movie, music, ever created.  Video games, junk food, modern day comforts and a society that demands everything at a moments notice.  What people have forgotten is the process.  It takes a lot of time and effort to become good at something. People tend to forget this in our instant everything world and will give up when they don’t see immediate results. We all want everything right now, whether that is the miracle diet pill, get rich quick scheme, or perfect relationship.

This deux ex machina event is very unlikely to happen, and even when it does, we throw it away. Look at past lottery winners and most of them have pissed away millions of dollars in an extremely short time. Find that perfect partner without accepting yourself, and you will quickly alienate them as you will feel there must be something wrong with them for being attracted to you, when you don’t accept yourself completely or put in the work to be a person of value.

So with all this going on around us, most people are just stuck. Whether that is analysis paralysis in trying to find their “passion” (when many studies have shown that passion only comes AFTER proficiency at something – check out Cal Newport’s writings) fear of failure, or just plain laziness and being too comfortable living in mom’s basement, I have indeed changed my mindset on this issue.  Nowadays people have it way harder than in the past.  Those were “simple” times. Keep your nose down, get the work done and don’t question authority. Nowadays people have endless options for what to do with their lives and access to all of human knowledge to achieve it. So if people have all the information and generally want to make something of themselves, why do most people fail to achieve their hopes and dreams?

A big part is, like I mentioned earlier, fear. Albeit irrational fear, but we are conditioned at a young age that failure is a bad thing, when we should be seeing it as a learning experience. Another big part of it is people don’t realize that it takes time to learn a skill, improve yourself, or change your mindset. It’s the little actions everyday that add up to the final product years later. If people were to read just 10 pages a day of a life-changing book, after 1 year that would be 3650 pages. That would likely be over 10 books of life-changing, reality-shattering, mind-blowing information. 10 pages a day. That is NOTHING. Yet most won’t do it. It’s the little things daily and creating good habits that will help people get on the path of achieving their goals.  There is no instant result for this in our current society who worships getting everything now now now.

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