Letters to my sons
A collection of thoughts and lessons I've learned along the way for my little men, and anyone else that's interested.
Posts tagged with #Joy
Popular culture today is centered around, and even driven by the catch phrase “fomo” (fear of missing out). It is engrained in the way we think, the way we act, and the way we process and apply our values. Whole companies are built around creating more fomo and then capitalizing on that fomo to drive our behaviors. Our capitalist society is indeed founded on the basic engine of fomo -> consumer behaviors.
Take advertising. The goal of advertisers is to convince you as their target customer to believe that you’re missing out on whatever glamorous and glorious thing the more-beautiful-than-average model on your screen is doing. Always put together, fashionable, and incredibly happy, the models tell you that whatever they’re selling has just changed their lives. And not just that, it’ll change yours too! So call/click now and get your life upgrade!
Or consider social media. Whether you’re on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or whatever the latest craze is of your day, the basic premise is the same. Give people the tools to glam up their public persona (ie Insta filters etc), give them a targeted platform to share that persona (ie your social network paired with an AI-based recommendation engine), and then create a virtuous cycle of likes, re-tweets, and dopamine hits. All of that to keep you coming back for more, and to make you feel like you’re missing out and need a change.
And so we click.
We click through ads that promise us that same happiness that we see our friends enjoying. We buy things that help us glam up our own personas by adding filters, buying light rings, and learning the right selfie angle to make our pictures really pop. We engage with content that tells us our kids need to be in more camps, need to learn more skills, need to have a long list of extra-curriculars.
Annnnnd cue the fear!
Bombarded by these messages daily, even hourly, we are left defenseless to the onslaught of subtle messaging telling us that we’re missing out, that our children are missing out. Over time, we begin to live that life - you know, the one that is so busy with scheduled stuff that there is no room for rest and relaxation. We begin to internalize the rat race as the correct way to live life. We begin to let fomo ruin (ahem, run) our lives.
The down side of fomo
There are many, many down sides of fomo, and this post is not not a fomo post after all, so I won’t even attempt to cover them all. I will however share a few that I believe are particularly problematic.
- Fomo causes us to lose control of our lives. We move to a space where the driving force is social media, or what our friends share with us, or what we see on TV. Regardless of the source, fomo causes us to relinquish control over where we spend our time and how we spend our thought energies.
- Fomo doesn’t allow us to enjoy life. Le joie de vivre is not experienced by running around following our fears; rather, it is experienced by ignoring everything else and focusing on the current moment.
- Fomo does not elevate life. It is focused on the surface, on the veneer. It causes us to spend our time replicating the actions of others instead of introspecting and expanding on the grand and elevated life.
So what’s the alternative?
The joy of missing out
To figure out an alternative mindset, let’s first dive into why fomo exists in the first place.
Popular culture tells us that missing out on something is bad, and as such is something that we should be fearful of. It tells us that when we miss out on something, our life is less than it would have been if we hadn’t missed out, and as a result we ought to aim to never miss out on things.
That fundamental line of thinking has driven so much of our industry, our products, and our cultural norms. It is deemed socially acceptable for one to be out with friends but also having a full asynchronous texting conversation that requires concentrating on one’s phone for 30 seconds every several minutes. It is normal for one to receive a notification and pull out one’s phone, handle the event, and return to the conversation without any apology because there’s nothing culturally wrong with the behavior!
Not only is this rude, but it also misses out on a basic premise of human life: one cannot fully appreciate that which one is not fully immersed or present in.
This means that by having fomo, by multi-tasking, being never fully present, and by attempting to keep abreast of all the social media posts and topics that are constantly bombarding our phones, we miss the life that is being lived in front of our eyes. In other words, fomo is causing us to have a worse life.
Instead, we should realize that missing out is a good thing. In economics, we’re taught that the opportunity cost of investing in option A is the ability to invest in every other option out there. But if we invest in a way such that we want to not pay any opportunity costs, then we don’t make any investments at all and therefore remain stagnant. If we choose to hedge our bets and invest a little in everything, we completely fail to capture exceptional growth events in a particular option.
This is exactly true in our personal lives as well. To have a rich and full life, we must choose things to invest in, and by definition pay the opportunity cost of not being able to invest in everything else. In other words, missing out on one thing means that we’ve invested fully in something else. It means we’ve explicitly chosen something else to spend our time on, and in so choosing have committed ourselves to something rather than sitting around waiting for the possibility of something.
This is why we should live with the joy of missing out.
In order to fully embrace the richness of each experience, we need to ruthlessly prioritize what we spend our time on. A few notes on ruthless prioritization, as it’s slightly different than your standard prioritization.
- Ruthless prioritization requires a stack rank, with no ties. For you logic/math people out there, this means that for two goals A and B, it must be true that A > B or B > A. This also means there is no “P1 bucket”. Each discrete goal has its own priority, and it is explicitly not equal to any other.
- You cannot accomplish all your goals. There exists some maximum number of goals that are accomplishable in a given timespan, and that is almost always a smaller number than the things that you might want to have on your priorities list. This means explicitly that there are things on your list that you will not be able to accomplish. This is hard for many people to accept, and as a result many try (and fail) to do a little bit of everything. This is foolish, and will always end in either failure or in burning yourself out.
- Goal N+1 will always be the worst! This is because it was just under the line, which means that it’s something you value. As a result, it will be tempting to spend just a little bit of time on it. Don’t. You need to actively decide not to do it, as it didn’t make the list.
By actively prioritizing the things that you do, you intentionally set aside things that you would have liked to do but aren’t going to, which in turn allows you to focus on the things that are the most important! Welcome to the joy of missing out!
And so my boys, my hope for you is that you’re able to experience the deep joy that comes from a life well lived, filled with rich experiences and strong connections with loved ones. My prayer is that you never fear missing out on things but instead take joy in the knowledge that you’ve intentionally decided on the experiences you want in your life, as well as those that you don’t.
Tags: #Prioritization #Mindset #Fear #Joy
The French have a lovely phrase - “la joie de vivre” - which loosely translates into the joy of living. This phrase has been floating around in my head all week, and as I sit on the deck of the S. S. Catherine, docked presently in Avignon on the Rhône River, I thought I’d share some of the thoughts that have been marinating.
What are you about?
We are constantly bombarded with a steady stream of messages telling us what we should do, how we should dress, what we should think about, and what our lives ought to look like. These mimetic models come in the form of ads trying to sell us not just a product but a lifestyle, curated and idealized Instagram photos showing us that our friends have it all, and everything in between.
So how do we find signal in all that noise? How do we find out not what others think we should do, but what we want our lives to be characterized by? How do we find that joie de vivre that allows us to live lives consistent with our values in a way that brings us a daily and sustained joy?
First, we need to look up. Someone once said that
“If you’re never looking up, you’re always just looking around”
There is immense value of having a viewpoint which transcends the mundane. Life is a series of connected moments that may at many times seem random and disconnected. It is up to us to add value and meaning to those moments such that over the course of our lives they string together to build a beautiful tapestry of our history.
By constantly looking around us and never looking up at the loftier things, we reduce our lives to the mundane and meaningless drivel of existence. However, if we deign to look up every so often and fix our eyes on the grand, we turn that mundane existence into rich and meaningful life. We begin to see our place in the grander scheme, and are able to take things in stride.
Looking up gives us context. It puts our lives in perspective. It allows us to see that we are a part of a greater whole. As the saying goes,
“If the vision is big enough, the details don’t matter”
If we’re able to see the grand story of Life with a capital “L”, then we are able to see our our lives fit into the picture, and when we’re able to do that the little bumps along the way seem to matter much less.
No matter what you see, no matter what the bigger picture looks like for you, no matter what piece of the big puzzle you believe you ought to play, live it. Run towards it. Constantly refine it. Nurture it. Engage with what you see upwards so that you can know what you value and believe and can therefore apply those things all around you.
Having a sharper view on what we’re about is but a starting point. We need to apply that understanding to our present reality.
From a young age we’re taught to think about the future. Even before children enter a hyper-competitive school system young parents are constantly trying to give their children a leg up by signing them up for enhanced learning classes, math camps, language lessons, and everything under the sun that they can manage to afford and cram into an already-too-busy schedule.
Kids are then ushered through a grueling 12 year program designed with one single purpose in mind: college acceptance into the best school that you can both afford and qualify for. The next four years after that are designed to mold you into the perfect cog to fit into the American economic machine so that you can make good money and have a wonderful life.
Well what is that wonderful life? Having a family and kids of your own of course. And once you’re past parenting your own kids through to college, you’re saving for retirement to make sure you can end life well.
Surely somewhere along the way life itself must actually be lived, right?
While none of these things themselves are bad (I’m not at all advocating for us to abandon education) they are incomplete. They are not the only important thing in life. They are not even the most important thing in life.
It is good to think about the future, to plan for it, to be prepared. However, that needs to be balanced with living in the moment and being present.
Focus on each moment
To be present, to fully enjoy that joie de vivre, we need to learn to focus on each moment and to be present in it.
It’s worth explicitly pointing out that we should only begin focusing on the moments after we’ve taken the big picture context in mind. This is because the big picture context acts as a lens through which we filter each moment and allows us to view them with the right perspective.
It is in our nature to see the worst in each moment, to see fear and danger everywhere. This is an evolutionary imperative and has worked well for millions of years in keeping the human species alive. As such, it is a trait that we automatically apply to every situation, regardless of the fact that there are no longer bears, tigers, and other natural predators out to get us.
Filtering our experiences through the big picture context allows us to strip out that initial reaction and see each moment through the lens of our values. It is through this lens that we should focus on each moment, allowing ourselves to fully feel, fully embrace, fully love, fully cry.
La joie de vivre doesn’t only mean happiness; rather, it means a richer experience of each moment, happy or otherwise. By focusing on each of these moments, by being present through them instead of thinking about the next ones, and by releasing ourselves and allowing ourselves to fully be in them, we are more able to experience a richer, more vivid, and more sublime world.
My sons, my hope for you is that you’ll be able to experience life fully, that you will have no regrets about how you responded to the situations and circumstances that life threw your way. I love you boys!
Tags: #Time #Joy #Context #Focus #Perspective
Today, you turn four. What a joy you are! You are such a beautiful, wonderful, kind, adventurous, and mischievous little guy - I love you so much! Your mom calls you my little buddy cause we do all sorts of things together. I couldn’t be happier. Much of what I’ve been learning these days I’m learning from you and with you, and I love the thought that I get to share those learnings with you here with the hopes that someday when you’re older, you’ll read them and they’ll be learnings for you as well.
When I was growing up, I read many different articles and perspectives around what love is. Love is a feeling. Love is a commitment. Love is a choice. Love is easy. Love is hard. Love is patient. Love is a million different things, depending on who you ask and what perspective you’re coming from.
While I don’t pretend to be any expert on the matter, and while I won’t attempt to give a full definition of what love is, I believe that one of the things that defines people who love strongly is that they choose to love. Regardless of your definition of love, regardless of how you experience it and what it means to you, I firmly believe that very often, love is a choice.
It’s easy to love someone when everything is going very well. It’s easy to love someone that’s very lovely, loves you back, is in sync with you and your thoughts and perspectives. It’s hard to love someone that is doing things to make themselves less lovable to you. It’s hard to love someone when they’re at odds with you, when they’re attacking you, when they’re in violent opposition to things that are at the core of your being and values.
And yet I urge you to choose love.
Whether we’re talking about an unlovable neighbor, a combative classmate, a family member currently at odds with you, or even a spouse that you’ve got a strong disagreement with; choose love. It’s hard. It takes self sacrifice and patience. It requires you to grit your teeth and not fight back. It means you have to take punches without throwing up your guard and without counter attacking.
But it will be worth it.
My prayer for you is that you are able to choose love more often than the alternatives, and that you grow to become a man that is characterized by his heart for people. We have always prayed that you be a kind person; I would urge you to go one step further and be someone that chooses to love when everyone else disagrees. Because love conquers all things. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Tags: #Character #Love #Connection #Joy #Purposeful Living
As your second birthday approaches, I've been thinking about what a wonderful little guy you've become and about all the fun that we've had together, and one thing that has definitely stood out is just how happy you are.
From the moment you wake up, you're a happy, smiley, mischievous little guy. You love to play, and spend much of your life running away from me while laughing hysterically, only to run too fast, fall over, roll around on the ground, and keep laughing. Your infectious laugh can be heard all through the house at all hours of day, whether we're eating, playing basketball, banging the drums, or trying to get you to bed.
It's been a fantastic reminder to me of what it means to have child-like joy, and how incredibly easy it is to become jaded by the world, to lose the ability and desire to laugh and to have fun in many circumstances.
Why is this important? All sorts of reasons. But a few of them stand out to me as extremely important.
- Laughter helps diffuse even the tensest situations. Jesus says that "in this life, you will have trouble". It's not a matter of if we run into emotionally charged situations, but a question of when we encounter them. Laughter helps alleviate these situations and lets us be at our best to handle them.
- Joy is contagious. Not only does it lighten up your own life, but it catches others with it as well. It is a part of the equation of leadership - people are drawn to joyous people, to charismatic people, to people who have something that they want to emulate in their own lives. And everyone wants to be joyful and happy.
- Laughter helps us be in a mental and emotional state where we can be our best. The paragon of man is not realized when he is angry, stressed, or upset; rather, it is realized when he is of good spirit, of good cheer, and of a happy and joyful countenance.
As you know by now, I'm someone who loves to think of the world not as it is, but as it ought to be, and I'm positively convinced that the world was designed to be a place that's happy, joyful, and full of great adventures and experiences.
As life gets busier (and it always will), let's try to remember to find a little laughter in what we're going through. My hope for you is that you won't lose that sense of wonder, that ability to find fun and levity in the most grave of situations, and that you'll always continue to be our happy little guy.
Tags: #Character #Joy #Purposeful Living #Laughter