You are only born with so many options.
Your DNA, family members, upbringing, friend groups and geography are going to provide you with a certain set of choices and you’ll end up within a few degrees different than someone else born into a similar situation.
These things are hard to control when you’re young.
You might be naturally good at math and bad at reading. You might live in a sparsely populated area and only have 1 or 2 friends. You might be named Kevin and have narcissistic tendencies and frivolous spending habits. These things are going to constrain you… for awhile.
But you can work to increase your options over time. And the best part about exploring options is each option you choose that you dislike, you can cross off your list. Each option you find that you like, you can explore further.
Using this approach, you will always be getting closer and closer to peak fulfillment in your life, and learning something about yourself each step of the way up the mountain of life.
For example, thanks to meditation and therapy, I have options with how I respond to something I dislike. I used to be very reactive, neurotic, and anxious. I still am all of those things, but instead of them being cranked up to 10, they are now all at a manageable 9.
This gives me the option to sleep better at night, apologize sooner once I realize I’ve made a mistake, and not take it personally when someone cuts me off in traffic. Having response options are great.
Thanks to my saving and investing habits, I have options with what job I do or don’t take. I used to feel like I needed to take every job that came along with a higher salary. I was like a sapling bending whichever way the wind was blowing.
Now I ask myself, “what would this new job offer me in exchange for the life, time, and peace it would demand of me?” If there is steep asymmetry to the downside, I can pass on the job. If on the other hand, the job will teach me, help me grow, and afford me enough money to buy more time, I can apply.
Options over obligations.
When you stop moving life’s goalposts, you increase the options available to you. This is because wealth is the difference between your expectations and current circumstances. You don’t feel compelled to do anything that would compromise your values because you have enough cash in the bank to weather any storm.
From Morgan Housel:
“Whether it’s savings or investing, getting the goalpost to stop moving – or at least move slower than your income grows – is the only way to both be happy with what you have and ensure you don’t push beyond the limits of what you can handle.
It requires two skills.
One is the constant reminder that wealth is a two-part equation: what you have and what you expect/need. When you realize that each part is equally important, you realize that the overwhelming attention we pay to getting more and the negligible attention we put on managing expectations makes little sense, especially because the expectations side can be so much more in your control.
The second is realizing that managing expectations doesn’t have to mean being conservative or unambitious. It’s just realizing that an insatiable appetite for more will always push you to the point of disappointment and regret – always, every single time. So having some ability to deny an extra dollar of work, or a potential opportunity, a bigger house or a nicer car, is essential if you want to use money to make a better life.”
Thanks to the things I own and how I manage my calendar, I have options with what I do with my time. I used to spend a lot of time playing video games or maintaining things I had purchased. That’s not actual freedom.
I always hated that feeling on Sunday afternoon when you know the work week is about to start again. As if my entire life was built into fractions of 5/7 suck and 2/7 fun.
Now that I’ve added more structure into my life and discipline with when and what I write or read, I don’t feel so pressed for time in the evenings or that I’ve wasted as much of the day on the weekends. If kids are in my future, I may need to come back and edit this section to eat my words…
But one area I could use more options in is movement. That sounds kind of strange because from all outward appearances I am a healthy 30-year-old. But I am a shell of my hunter-gatherer ancestors in the areas of balance, agility, flexibility, and stamina.
The 21st century office worker lifestyle of 8 hours a day at a keyboard and even more screen-time in the evenings will take its toll on anyone.
I don’t stretch regularly and I haven’t worked out seriously since the pandemic started. While I don’t see the negative changes overnight, I do feel them over the months and years.
I never want to lose the option to move. Lift something without groaning under the weight. Even tie my fucking shoes. So I’m working on that. I’ve returned to doing yoga on the weekends and am looking into a gym membership here in my new city.
All this to say I’ve noticed the more doors I open, the more open doors I find. Behind those doors? More options, less obligations.
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