A life worth living

Believe me, I am not an expert on this. What I realised about  year ago while working for a startup was that somehow, despite earning more money than I ever had in my life, being able to buy just about anything I wanted and having plenty of opportunities to socialize with my quirky, crazy-brilliant friends, I didn’t really think my life was worth living.

Everything was a dark grey, especially on Sunday night. Worse on Monday morning. Dread filled me. But it was confusing. My income was above the 95th percentile for my age group. I had a boyfriend (a very good person!) I had been dating for a couple of years. Everything looked excellent on paper. Who was I not to be happy? On top of everything, guilt. So many people had it worse than me. What did I even want?

I wanted a life worth living. But I made the mistake of using everyone else’s definition. I never asked myself the question “what do I want” because I assumed that having what everyone else wants for should make me happy too. Wrong.

There is a story I’ve read in passing: a professor presents a container filled with rocks and asks his students if it’s full. “Yes,” they respond. He then pours pebbles in, until the spaces between the rocks are filled too. He asks again. They respond “yes” again. He repeats this twice more, with sand, then water. The point of his demonstration is that if he had done this exercise in any other order, not everything would fit. This story has been used as a metaphor for life: what we put in first should be of primary importance to us.

That was my mistake. The things I spent the most time on were the things I valued the least: my job, Tumblr, playing flash games on Facebook, watching TV shows. The latter 3 made time pass more quickly. But there was nothing I was looking forward to… I was squandering time until my eventual death, I suppose.

I hesitate to tell you my conclusions because I’m sure they won’t be yours. The point is that you have to ask yourself what the rocks are. What are the most important things in your life? It may be counterintuitive, but you probably don’t treat them that way. Suppose you’re a math graduate student (this was once my story) and you have obligations in decreasing importance to you: your research, studying for your quals, your homework, and your teaching obligations. However, the less important something is to you, the more urgent the deadlines are, so you spend time doing those things first and neglect the more important things.

Life is similar! It maybe be extremely important that you paint or write or travel, but none of those things have “urgent” deadlines. So you put them off, sometimes forever. Meanwhile, what gets your attention? That work email to fix a build. Doing the laundry. Once you’ve taken care of all the things you have to do now, you’re too drained to even think about reading Dostoyevsky or practicing Liebestraum on the piano, so you end up playing Candy Crush with the rest of your time.

tl;dr — the first step in having a life worth living is figuring out what is important to you.

North Beach at sunset, before cioppino at Sotto Mare

For me, of course, it’s the Bohemian ideals. Perhaps they’ll each get their own entry one day: Truth, Beauty, Freedom (and above all else) Love.

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