Learning to be Choosy
One of the first emotional responses we must learn as children is how to handle disappointment and loss. Whether it’s learning to share a toy or coping with the loss of a family member, our formative years offer constant reminders that life doesn’t always work out how we want it.
Coming to terms with that is a huge part of growing up.
But I’m starting to see the other side of that coin.
As a young adult, I have the autonomy to be relentless in my pursuit of happiness. I don’t have to go to class. I don’t have to mow the lawn or do the dishes. There’s no systematic frustrations I must put up with or tribulations I must survive.
It is 100% up to me to make sure that I’m enjoying every single day. And if I’m not, it’s my own fault. The only constraint is that I provide for myself. Past that, I’m essentially unencumbered.
“Choosy” vs “Durable”
And so I have to start being more choosy with all of my decisions, to make the most of my time. This is something I’ve had to re-learn.
Do I really enjoy my career? Do the people I surround myself with make me happy? Am I learning new, interesting things? Am I getting enough exercise? If the answer is “no,” that might still be okay if there are no better options, but it should certainly give me pause.
It’s not selfish or egotistical, it’s just good living.
Growing up, I was constantly operating under what I’ll call a “durable” mindset: “This isn’t what I want to be doing, but I must do it so I might as well learn to enjoy it.”
Sometimes, you consciously put up with discomfort in the short term for some longer term benefit. But when you’re younger, it’s mostly because you “have to.”
You have to go to school and get good grades! they say, or else you won’t get a job. (Not that this is even true anymore.) Just tough it out and things will magically get better!
But when? And how?
Growing up, life didn’t always work out how I wanted it, but I became mature enough to put up with a decent amount of discomfort. At some points, I became numb to it, and put a lot of my life decisions on auto-pilot. I stopped being choosy about important things in my life.
However, I would notice the discomfort with some of my bigger commitments, like my high school swim team. From a Facebook note I published in the fall of 2006 (I was a junior in high school):
I’ve [swam] for so long that I’ve gotten so used to all that it entails: smelling like chlorine, shitty hair, a pretty good body, constant appetite, no free time, shaving your head and legs, being on one of our school’s best sports teams but getting absolutley no recognition. My recent label as a ‘slacker’ has gotten me thinking as to whether I ever will get back in the pool on a regular basis.
I’ve been taking for granted all these things that define a swimmer, never stopping to ask myself if I was doing something I wanted to do. This might sound corney, but people have always asked me, “Why do you do it?” and I’ve laughed it off, never really being able to answer. Its time for that to change.
I bring all this up because I see a lot of other young adults who aren’t being choosy about important things. They’re still operating under the durable mindset, sacrificing their quality of life now for some vague future payoff:
I don’t like this job but I need to start my career somewhere.
Now, maybe the transition from durable to choosy isn’t college graduation for everyone. But it should happen at some point. You shouldn’t have to put up with your life.
There’s a famous Steve Jobs quote that says:
I have looked at myself in the mirror every morning and asked myself, ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ and whenever the answer is ‘no’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
The Hard Part
I think the hard part for most people is knowing what to be choosy about, and when to grit your teeth and be durable.
Gary Vaynerchuck had a great quote in his keynote at Inbound 2012 when he said:
People nowadays put more effort into planning their wedding than they do their marriage.
We optimize the shit out of some things, and let other more important things go to waste. We’re choosy when we don’t need to be, and durable when we could have it so much better if we tried.
There’s a similar concept from Ramit Sethi in his awesome financial advice book “I Will Teach You To Be Rich”. The book is a great primer for young adults on how to be financially responsible. One of my favorite takeways from the book is what he calls “Conscious Spending”:
Don’t listen to experts telling you that you should stop [buying mp3s] or how you should brown bag a lunch. Think about your goals. Ask yourself if you’d rather spend $10 on lunch, or save $10 towards a house or car. If you would rather spend the money on lunch, by all means enjoy lunch! You save money so that you can spend it later on things that make you happy. You don’t save money just to watch your account balance grow.
In other words, be choosy where it makes you happy, and then suck it up and cut costs where you don’t mind it so much.
Of course, being choosy doesn’t suddenly make me immune to adversity. Tragedies still happen, there are obligations I must meet, some days just suck. I still need to be durable in many situations.
But it’s important to be aware of whether those situations are endogenous or exogenous, and make deliberate changes when things are going south.
This past week, I moved from the engineering team at HubSpot back to the marketing team.
A few weeks ago, I detected that my passion for my work was starting to wane. Things were progressing one way, when I had hoped they’d take a slightly different path. I wasn’t as excited about HubSpot as I used to be. Once I noticed it, it was impossible for me to ignore.
I talked to friends and mentors about it and pretty much everyone said the same things: give it some time.
Maybe you haven’t hit your stride yet. But you’re learning so much! It’s normal to hit a slump after 6 months in a position. It looks fishy on a resume if you don’t stick with things.
In a bunch of different ways, they were all encouraging me to be durable about the situation.
And I listened. I talked to my managers and tried to keep an open mind. Maybe the only thing that needed to change was my mindset. I could learn to love it.
But a few weeks later, things still hadn’t fully clicked. Should I keep trying to just stick it out? A lot of people were telling me yes. But I’ve found it’s usually better to zig when all signs are telling me to zag.
So I talked to my managers and coworkers about it and was able to keep my career from slipping into something that required me to be durable.
Fortunately, I had chosen to work with really awesome people who care about my happiness and career growth, which made the transition very smooth.
Now, I feel reinvigorated about my work. My job is something I spend half of my waking life thinking about. I didn’t want to have to put up with it.
On the one hand, life is short and you shouldn’t waste it with a routine that doesn’t make you happy. But on the other hand, you don’t get to live in your ideal world all the time, and you need to be durable if you’re going to survive life’s ups and downs.
The first 20 years of our life, society teaches us to be durable, but it’s up to us to move on from here now and be choosy. Always remember your durability when they doesn’t work out, but be relentless in choosing the things that make you happy.