The Pursuit of Excellence Practical steps toward happiness



What is purpose?

Is it some destiny we're fated to achieve? That's doubtful, given the number of people toiling away in bullshit jobs.

For those who have dedicated themselves to finding their purpose, where should they look? Is our purpose preordained, to be discovered under a rock, or behind a tree? This is the conventional wisdom brought on by stories of six year olds who just always wanted to heal people, then went on to medical school.

But what if there is no preset path for us? It's entirely possible that the universe has no plan for us because it is not self-aware or omnipotent.  It's scary to think that we are not 'meant' to do anything.

One option is to collapse in despair and succumb to nihilism. Those sampling that buffet for any length of time will find it nauseating.

What to do?

The only reasonable option for those that don't believe in fate or a higher power is to give the finger to nihilism and create beauty despite the futility.

We must create our own meaning. We must generate our own passion. Get your ass excited about something. Try new things until you find one that fires you up every single morning.

Fail until you find it. Fail again. Fail until you are so sick of doing the work of finding your purpose that all you want to do is go back to your paper-shuffling/sales-targeting/rock-breaking job that will pay you just enough so you can watch a movie and have a few drinks on the weekend.

Then say "fuck that" and try again. You are not alone, and you can do this.


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Do the Right Thing?

Do you always do the right thing, even when nobody's looking?

Don't feel bad, I don't either.

But I try really hard to.  It's not easy to live up to such a lofty goal, but I've learned that living with integrity will bring you joy.

I have this vivid memory from when I was 7 or 8 of coming home late from the park.  My dad was sitting in the bath tub grilling me about where I'd been.  I wasn't supposed to be out after dark.  I concocted the best lie I could with a 7 year old's brain, but it quickly crumbled under questioning.

"I'll be more upset with you for lying than for anything else you may have done," he said.

Need money for alcohol research

Thanks for your honesty, have a beer...

I came clean.  It was a powerful experience that stuck with me.  For a long time I was honest to a fault.  I couldn't even cheat at Monopoly!

Later in life the stakes became higher, and the tests more challenging.  In small ways, I sacrificed my principles.  I omitted the truth, bent it, ignored it, buried it.  I did mental gymnastics to be able to live with myself.  It was easier than starting a fight, saying sorry, or hurting someone because I had done something that I regret.

This didn't happen a lot, but those few transgressions were killing me inside.  I finally learned my lesson and I'm a lot happier now.

Unless you're a sociopath, you have a conscience; an understanding of morality.  When your actions are in conflict with your morals, you will have a constant thorn in your subconscious.  If the conflict is large, it may manifest in your external world.  You may have trouble sleeping or eating; you may start to hate yourself.  But when actions and morals are in sync, you give yourself a great gift: integrity.

Integrity means "to be whole."  Integrity is being true to your ideals and principles even when that's difficult, even in the face of reprisal.  Even when nobody is looking.  Honesty is just one facet of integrity.

Would you rather be whole, or a fraction of a human being?


Keep it together, man

"That's naive; the world doesn't work that way; you'll get fired!"  I've heard all the doubts.  I've HAD those doubts.  My resolve is tested often, but when I act with integrity, it feels really good.

Yes, it's easier to be part of the status quo.  But just the feeling of being whole is worth any kind of temporary hardship.  More tangibly, you're often rewarded for doing the right thing in the long-run.  It may lead to a better job or a healthier friendship.

Sometimes it's hard to know what is "the right thing to do."  We will all continue to get it wrong at times, but it's your intention that matters.  Strive for integrity, and you will find greater happiness.

That's the truth.

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Harden Up!

If I let myself, I would spend a lot more time indulging in self-pity.

We all have painful experiences from our past that we dwell on.  I've lost two great loves, a father, and all of my grandparents.  I've lost beloved jobs, pets, and friends.  In the years to come, chances are I will lose much more.

Beyond loss, you may be facing great challenges in the present, and more often than not it seems that these tests don't come into our lives one at a time.  As the saying goes, when it rains, it pours.  Sometimes I'm tempted to throw my hands up and say "it's too much, I give up."  I have days where I want to do nothing more than attach myself to the couch and sulk.  But like Buddhists say:

"Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional."

Even Alec Baldwin has bad days

I haven't met anyone who can turn negative emotions on an off like a light switch.  Sadness, fear, anger, and other negative emotions can grab our attention with an iron grip.  But I've noticed that some people are better than others at letting go of the hurt, picking themselves up, and getting back to living productive, healthy lives.  This suggests we can have control over our thoughts.

So what can we do to pull ourselves out of despair?

There are many strategies, but almost all of them start with our thoughts.  Lately my favourite is to simply tell myself to "Harden Up."  My desktop background (NSFW language) is an incredible photograph, taken at the invasion of Normandy from a landing craft, of soldiers crashing through the waves toward the beach.  The caption above simply reads, "Harden the F*** Up."

Whenever I feel like indulging my self-pity, this photograph reminds me that my 'bad day' is nothing compared to what these soldiers were facing.  It also reminds me to get back to work, and to fight for my long-term goals.

'Hardening Up' is about exercizing self-discipline and perseverance.

It is a mantra that I use when I'm feeling overwhelemed by life.  "Back to work," and "Do it now" are others I've borrowed from Brian Tracy, which I find helpful.  You may prefer your own, but the point is to find a tool that will motivate you, and cultivate a strong will to pursue your goals.

The benefits will come slowly but steadily.  Psychologists know that those who can delay gratification achieve more, and deal better with frustration and stress.  They also know that the human brain is a machine that, if not kept occupied with productive tasks and positive thoughts, has a tendency to dwell on the negative.

I'll leave you with two final thoughts.  First, I'm not suggesting that you sweep negative emotions under the rug.  That's a recipe for becoming emotionally crippled.  It's imperative that we acknowledge and deal with our pain, but ideally at some point we need to move our focus elsewhere.  Second, all work and no play is not the answer.

When it's time to work, harden up; when it's not, give yourself permission to loosen your tie, and put your feet up.

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