Last night, I had dinner with my friends Vlada and Michal.
And, before I go on, some context: periodically, I get lost. CRAZY LOST. In my head, it sounds like this. “What am I DOING with my life? Where am I going? How did I ever think I was on the right track? I don’t even know what brings me alive. Wait, no, I think I do, sometimes, but I’m too chickenshit to do anything about it. Uhg, I have SUCH potential, I can feel it, and I’m squandering it away being lost.”
That’s right. First I get lost, and then I get mad at myself for being lost and the spiral goes on…remember that scene in Alice in Wonderland where she’s falling down a bottomless pit? It feels a lot like that, except I’m not nearly so chipper as she is, and it doesn’t end in tea parties.
Then I enter the final stage of the first-world guilt-trip; the surest way to fall flat on my back if I’m not there already. “AND on top of all that, I’m so damned privileged I don’t even deserve to be unhappy….Harrumph!”
The problem with all of these mind-generated though-bombs, is they’re true. I mean, just as true as they’re not true. If you haven’t figured it out by now, the universe is one big fat paradox after another. Solid ground is a total illusion and you’re really not going to chill out until you learn to swim in the sea of change. (unless, of course, change is the illusion, and we’re all strung together in one multi-dimensional moment of perfection….see what I mean?)
Anyway. Last night I had dinner with Vlada & Michal. From the outside, I sure didn’t look lost. I drove myself down to Palo Alto to have dinner with two of the most beautiful beings on the planet. Afterwards I sat on the couch reading stories to their 1 & 3 year old daughters making all the funny voices. After nearly every sentence, Ella asked, “Why? Why? Why?” “Wow,” I thought, “we sure are BORN seekers, aren’t we?” When it was time for bed, they both said “No!” Ella, 3, asked to sleep out in the living room with me. Maya Cried.
…But…despite all the counterevidence, my mind was still labeling my current life (whatever that means, exactly), as “Lost.” So after the girls were tucked in, Maya, fast asleep, and Ella in the other room joyfully talking to herself, or possibly her invisible friend “Gaga” (no relation to “Lady”…I asked.) I told Vlada and Michal “I’m Lost….again.”
Currently, Viada and Michal have their dream life. They have their dream family. They have their dream partner. They have their dream job, working together on their dream product on the path to fulfilling their dream mission. And how did they get there, you might ask? (I sure as hell did.)
By choosing to be LOST.
One day, nearly two years ago. They were visiting me at The Happiness Institute. They were NOT happy with work. They were not fulfilled. They had plans and dreams to make 1 billion people happy, but it just wasn’t turning out right, because they weren’t happy. On their way in, they caught a quote posted on the door. At the time, it with the Happiness institute’s Mission statement.
“Do not ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do that. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.”Howard Thurman
In that moment, they made a commitment to each other. From now on, we’re going to do what makes us happy. even if we can’t connect it to our broader goal. And we’re going to trust that this will lead us to our life’s work.
For the next several months, six or more, they experimented. “That was maybe the trickiest part.” Vlada said, Change. Every now and then they would catch hold of something that felt great and thought, “This might be it.” But soon, the energy would leave, and because of their commitment, they’d let the thread go, and grab a new one. What I loved about this is in this lens Change isn’t happening to you, it’s something you choose, something you use.
Allow change. YES.
Michal offered, “One thing that’s really helpful during an experiment like this, is to have some constraints.” And the one he chose, he initially got from Paul Graham: “Produce” Whatever you do in your explorations for what to do just produce something.
Produce is going to mean different things for different people. And I don’t think it’s really worth defining but you just know it when you’ve done it. Sometimes writing an email is producing, but sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes dancing is producing, but sometimes it isn’t. You know what I mean? You know?
At this, I LIT UP. In three years of soul searching now, I often get strung out (metaphorically, but it feels quite literal in my body) between the high rises of “Doing” and “Being.” Or “Giving” and “Receiving.” I can only meditate for so long before I chide myself for hiding. I can only engage for so long before I lose myself in the very people I’m trying to love.
Lately, they’ve added something else into the mix. “Optimize for Effortlessness.” For years they found themselves pushing pushing pushing for things. But recently they’ve found all their success has come from absolutely no effort whatsoever. It’s come from flukes, serendipities, accidents, and good fortune. That’s not to say they don’t work hard, they do, but they work on that which comes easily, which flows. When they find themselves crimping their flow to get something done, they stop. “This isn’t wanting to happen now.” And they do something else. Later, they find something that was taking them hours before takes five minutes when the time is right.
Optimize for Effortlessness. YES.
“One thing we had to constantly remind ourselves and each other, was that even on days when we felt as far away as ever, whatever we were looking for might always be right around the corner.” And in fact, this is what happened to them. Michal was remembering that it was a few days before everything changed when they were feeling almost (key word) hopeless. They reminded each other, yet again, everything could change tomorrow. And sure enough, a few days later they had dinner with
a friend who pointed at a little app they had built together for their daughter, “just for fun”, during all this exploring. “Build that. And I’ll be your first investor.”
In the last two years they have launched their product, grown their company, engaged thousands and thousands of users, fulfilling their mission: making people happy.
By the end of the evening, I had repeated about ten times:
- Do what makes us happy
- Optimize for Effortlessness.
- Allow for Change.
- And Trust.
Today, I took their advice. And I have to say, it’s only day one, but I just don’t feel so lost anymore.