The Crucial Question of Your Life

All people desire pleasant sensations. Everybody wants to be carefree, happy, and easygoing. They also want to fall in love and have amazing relationships and sex. They also want to look good and make money. They also want to be popular, well-liked, and admired. They want to be total ballers who make people part like the Red Sea when they enter a room.

What would you like to achieve in life, if I asked you? you say something along the lines of, “I want to be happy, have a wonderful family, and a job I like,” It is so commonplace that it has lost any meaning.

What pain do you want in your life is a more intriguing query, one that you may have never given much thought to. For what are you willing to fight? Because that appears to have a bigger impact on how our lives turn out.

Everyone desires a fantastic job and financial independence, but not everyone desires to put up with 60-hour work weeks, lengthy commutes, annoying paperwork, arbitrary corporate hierarchies, and the blasé constraints of an endless cubicle hell. People want to be wealthy without having to take any risks, make any sacrifices, or wait till they get their money.

They see pain as something inherently bad that should be avoided at all costs, but reality is considerably more complex. We can all provide meaning to our grief, and doing so can really give our lives purpose, as I discuss in great detail in The Subtle Art School’s Resilience Course, which I teach.

Most individuals, however, are unaware of this. So they make their peace. They remain still and keep asking themselves, “What if?” until the query changes from “What if?” to “Was that it? “. And the attorneys ask, “What was that for?” when they receive the alimony cheque in the mail after they return home. What would have happened if not for their decreased expectations and standards 20 years earlier?

To be happy, one must work hard. Managing the negative has a positive byproduct. You can only avoid unpleasant events for so long before they resurface.

Our basic requirements are more or less the same across the board in all human conduct. Positivity is simple to handle. By definition, it is a bad event that we all battle with. As a result, what we get out of life depends less on the positive emotions we want to experience and more on the negative emotions we are ready and able to endure in order to get those positive emotions.

People aspire to have fantastic bodies. But unless you genuinely embrace the anguish and physical stress that come with spending hours upon hours inside a gym,3 unless you enjoy weighing and measuring the food you consume, and planning your entire life out in tiny plate-sized quantities, you won’t end up with one.

People desire to launch their own businesses or achieve financial independence. But in order to become a successful entrepreneur, you must learn to embrace the risk, the unpredictability, the repeated failures, and the ridiculous hours needed to work on a project with no guarantee of success.

Everyone wants a spouse or a partner. But you don’t end up attracting someone fantastic if you don’t understand the emotional upheaval that comes with dealing with rejection, developing sexual tension that never releases, and idly staring at an unanswered phone. The game of love includes it. Without participating, you cannot win.

The phrase “You’ve only got to desire it enough!” appears in a lot of bad advice.

Everyone desires something. And everyone has a sufficient desire. They simply don’t know what they want, or rather, what they consider to be “enough.”

Because if you desire something’s advantages, you must also desire its drawbacks. If you want the beach physique, you must be willing to put up with the sweat, soreness, early mornings, and hunger pangs. You have to want the yacht in addition to the late nights, hazardous business dealings, and the potential for upsetting one or ten thousand people.

If you keep desiring something month after month, year after year, but nothing ever materializes and you never get any closer to it, it’s possible that what you’re really seeking is a fantasy, an idealization, an image, or a broken promise. You can merely enjoy wanting rather than actually wanting what you think you desire. Perhaps you are faking your desire for it.

What level of suffering are you willing to endure?

That response will actually lead to something. Your life could alter in response to that query. It is what distinguishes you and me. It is what distinguishes us from one another and eventually binds us together.

I dreamed of being a musician for the most of my teens and early adulthood, specifically a rock star. I used to close my eyes whenever I heard a song on the guitar and see myself playing it live in front of a crowd while they shout and lose their minds to my lovely finger-noodling.

I could lose hours of my life in this fantasy. Even when I left music school and stopped playing seriously, the fantasy persisted throughout college.

However, even then, the uncertainty of when I would be on stage performing in front of boisterous crowds was always present. Before I could put in the necessary time and effort to get out there and make it work, I was biding my time. I first needed to complete my education. I then had to start earning money. I then had to make the time. Next, nothing.

For more than half my life, I had fantasized about this, but it never materialized. And it took me a long time—and a lot of bad things—to realize why: I didn’t really want it.

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In our culture, I would be told that I have somehow failed, that I have given up, or that I am a loser. Self-help experts might claim that I lacked the necessary bravery, tenacity, or self-confidence. The startup/entrepreneurial crowd would accuse me of giving up on my dream and succumbing to my ingrained social conditioning.  Affirmations, joining a mastermind group, manifesting, or some other instruction would be given to me.

However, the reality is much less intriguing than that: I initially believed I wanted something, but it turns out I didn’t. Story done.

I didn’t want to fight; I just wanted the payoff. The outcome was what I intended, not the method. I was just in love with the victory and not with the battle.

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