My 1 Shortcut to Thriving That Feels Like Cheating
And feel superhuman in the process
Among the chirping crickets, filibustering frogs, and whistling winds, a sound, equal parts cacophony and harmony. Beautiful. Perfect, even. Why then, was I uneased? I took off my headphones, returning to absolute silence, save for the electric whirring of my computer and my analog breath.
At 23, I’m deeply afraid of my future. Daunted, by the lack of (academic) authority telling me how to live, but also excited in knowing the rest of my life is a blank canvas, ready for the painting.
And somewhere in between, a psychic dissonance — existential stress about not knowing what to do, or make of myself. A feeling that has loomed for long enough that I’ve started researching solutions.
People have run the gauntlet of life before, right? What did they do?
Among all I’ve read, the profound, life-changing advice to living well is simply that we should strive to live to our fullest potential.
Thanks, the self-help genre. That’s vague as fuck.
The school of thought around living well is centered on an individual who:
- Has identified their passions, and
- Has developed processes for striving within that passion, producing work from those processes
So, Zulie Rane knows she enjoys writing, so she writes. Blog posts, freelance content writing, produces YouTube content about writing, etc.
While this model works:
KNOWING WHAT + KNOWING HOW = LIVING WELL,
it overlooks the most crucial aspect of thriving, which is in knowing how we ought to strive for what we are passionate about, so that we might produce good work in the process.
The only difference between knowing and not knowing how to strive with passion lies in who we model ourselves against.
Not having a mentor, or someone to fulfill that role is conducive to endless wandering. So often when left to our own devices are we prone to misdirection by the gaps in our knowledge. We need to be driven by a clear direction.
Here’s the easiest way to give your life direction: find a master (or masters) and follow their lead.
1 — Choosing your masters
There are a plethora of great thinkers that have come before us, all we have to do is choose who we want to learn from. In Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon contextualizes the act of choosing your masters as building your own family tree, however, relations are only tied by a love of your shared interest.
Kleon makes a case for choosing one role model, learning about them, then finding three of their influences to learn from. Rinse and repeat. What you’re left with is a “family tree” with infinitely deep roots.
I think this exercise is a bit over the top.
Instead, I believe it’s best to reflect and determine the number of influences you’d benefit from. To each their own.
Choose too many, and you’ll be overburdened with endless tenets, contradicting philosophies, and too many options for your own decision-making. Choose too few and you‘ll be prone to an underdeveloped mental toolkit.
“Whether you’re in school or not, it’s always your job to get yourself an education.” — Austin Kleon
No matter how we choose to educate ourselves, it is only our responsibility that we do so with the mindset of someone willing to learn and grow to become better.
Where Kleon’s case is for the maximalist approach when finding masters to study, the Stoics held the opposite camp — a minimalist approach to choosing a single master to compare yourself against.
Seneca was my introduction to Stoicism and gave me the framework to develop my thinking about how to find someone to embody the role of “north star” and learn from them.
The personality should be provided with someone it can revere, someone whose influence can make even its private, inner life more pure. Happy the man who improves other people not merely when he is in their presence but even when he is in their thoughts! And happy, too, is the person who can so revere another as to adjust and shape his own personality in the light of recollections, even, of that other. A person able to revere another thus will soon deserve to be revered himself. So choose yourself a Cato — or, if Cato seems too severe for you, a Laelius, a man whose character is not quite so strict. Choose someone whose way of life as well as words, and whose very face as mirroring the character that lies behind it, have won your approval. Be always pointing him out to yourself either as your guardian or as your model.
So, find yourself a Cato, a master from whom you can learn the lessons that lie in their work, and use their knowledge to guide your life toward a positive direction.
Ryan Holiday’s (the leader of mainstream Stoicism) office is full of quotes from great thinkers that came before him, authors, philosophers, and creatives. He also has several busts of the Stoics — a physical reminder of the tenets he wishes to live by.
In my experience, having an ever-changing handful of influences that guide my creative decisions has given me a level of clarity and decisiveness that I might never have achieved on my own.
Finding and following the ideas of a curated constellation of north stars feels like a cheat code — a life hack that presents frameworks, templates, and different means to choose to live by as needed.
And the best part is that this is a fluid system. You can choose new teachers to learn from when you notice a gap in your knowledge.
Other times, the ideas of someone you enjoyed thinking with might just fall out of vogue. There’s nothing wrong with change. Change is progress.
It’s from the people whose values you enjoy engaging with — that also affirm and challenge your own notions of the world — that allows us to find more meaning in the path we wish to walk. Ready for anything life throws our way.
Knowing that so many others have already lived their lives having solved the problems of misdirection and wandering has given me a great sense of ease and satisfaction in the pursuit of my own work so that I might contribute to the richness and fulfillment of the present and of the future.
I stepped outside and found a similar silence. At least tonight I could see the distant waving and twinkling of stars. I waved back, neighborly.
Disclaimer: This article was originally published on Medium.
Here's a link to the original: https://medium.com/illumination/my-1-shortcut-to-thriving-that-feels-like-cheating-2480ab67bb5
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