“I Paid My Life For This” Seal Of Approval

Last time, I promised some flash fiction. Don’t worry, that’s been written and I’m getting feedback from my writing group before posting. This week’s post is my hand at nonfiction: a value system focused on minimizing regrets.

Often, motivational advice and value systems tend to give instruction around seeking happiness. While the intentions are agreeable, the objective is questionable at best. Happiness is often outside one’s control, and a few motivational words or lengthy seminar lectures rarely change that. I believe it is a mistake to hold happiness as the goal. In this post, I want to make a case for fulfillment.

Fulfillment is: When you don’t regret it

Happiness is temporary and fleeting, and everyone experiences it differently. This will make it very difficult to measure success. Fulfillment, on the other hand, is that feeling you get when you look back on your life and don’t regret it. By focusing on fulfillments, we can measure success and failure using regrets. One technique I use is what I call the “I Paid Part Of My Life For This” Seal Of Approval.

The Official “I Paid Part Of My Life For This” Seal Of Approval

This concept can be most easily explained by employment and paychecks, although this can also apply to the time investment and fulfillment from hobbies (or really any choices you make).

Salary and wages are a direct conversion from a company’s value of your life into tangible currency. Working is paying a company, and money and benefits are what you are buying. It is not a direct time comparison, though.

  • Work too slowly and you waste time keeping up. It’s not just bad for the company, but it also costs you more time out of your life. Don’t waste time with nonsense, and especially don’t wait for “the right moment” to motivate you.
    • In the words of Stephen King, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
  • Working efficiently is not just doing what the company wants, but it also frees up more of your life to spend on whatever else you want.

Even if your name is not on it, your life is. So: make sure everything you do deserves the official “I Paid Part Of My Life For This” seal of approval. It’s not just because an employer might want it, but because your life is going into everything you do and half-assing won’t bring back the life you paid for it. And if you can’t say you approve of what you’ve done, try finding out why, and then improve on that.

Fulfillment Is Not Happiness

Happiness is an emotion. Fulfillment is a state, and it pertains mostly to regrets or the lack thereof. The goal of this post is to express, with the help of a few of my role models, that you should be aiming to make the right choices instead of seeking happiness.

  • Exercise can be difficult, and often this can be painful and far from enjoyable. But when you’re finished, you feel anything but regrets.
  • A sad story can have a powerful and moving message. It isn’t a happy experience, but it can still be rewarding.
  • Mindless chores aren’t enjoyable, but you’ll rarely regret doing them, even if you have more important things to do. John Perry discusses this in Structured Procrastination, but the TL;DR is this:

    However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.

  • The same applies to helping others, whether it’s some tedious task or a life-changing moments. You are actually working to improve someone else’s life, potentially at the cost of your own happiness and time. Despite these things standing in the way of your happiness, you’ll almost never regret it.

You are not in control of being happy. But you are in control of your choices. Focus on making ones you won’t regret later. Don’t confuse this as “don’t make mistakes”, though. Some decisions simply won’t work out. Whether or not you regret the mistake depends on how you went about that choice.

Life is too important to be taken seriously – Oscar Wilde

Life’s short, and taking things seriously often comes at the cost of fulfillment. Obviously, it’s unrealistic to just take nothing seriously. A common interpretation of this phrase is “pick your battles”. Here’s a graphical representation of what I mean.

Success

Failure

Value

A

C

Cost

B

D

Most advice will have you comparing A to D, which is trivial. What really matters are B and C. Your life is better spent failing if the cost of succeeding exceeds the advantages of failing. Put another way, would you try to win an argument if you will lose a friend? Will making this deadline put your physical or mental health at risk? It’s possible to complete every task flawlessly and yet ultimately fail if you regret those successes. Life’s too important to be taken seriously. Learn to succeed by giving up.

That was my own take on Wilde’s words, but consider alternative explanations:

Actually invest time and money into something you love.

Writing, drawing, sports, whatever your gig is. Pay for good equipment. Form daily habits. It can be easy to say you don’t “need” to spend time or money on things that aren’t an investment or a service to others. Don’t be fooled. With that mindset, your enjoyment will never be a priority. Your fulfillment is important, more important than all those serious things.

  • You need to budget enjoyment into your spending as a priority.
    • But you don’t need the highest quality equipment. Just whatever it takes that the equipment is no longer in your way. Digital artists know that a pen tablet is about the cost of a dinner out or two, while a tablet display is closer to one to three months’ worth of rent, yet they are both capable of producing the same results.
  • You need to reserve enjoyment in your schedule as a priority.
    • That said, you can move the blocks around in your schedule.

Measure value by “life” as well as time and literal money.

  • Exercising costs “time” out of your day, but the health benefits from the increased blood flow and overall fitness contribute to wellness (and probably better moods too) far outweigh the price in time spent.
    • The same applies to sleeping. Fight for a good night’s sleep because otherwise you might lose a half day to a full day of your life just for that extra few hours.
  • $3-$5 dollars for the express lane isn’t about saving ~5-30 minutes (that’s just a bonus). The real value is the reduced risk of being involved in traffic incidents.
    • Traffic incidents are immensely underrated by anyone who has never been involved in one, but nobody is immune. One point I like to make: It doesn’t matter if you’re already speeding 25 over; if someone wants to go faster than you, they will find a way. It’s not about the law anymore; letting some jerk have their way is better than dying.

Actively avoid what isn’t enjoyable even if it’s cheap or free.

Hobbies are paid for by life and time, not just money. “Free” or “cheap” does not justify poorly designed games, poorly directed film, or poorly written stories. If you aren’t actually enjoying these things, stop wasting your time. Close that stream. Forget that TV show. Drop that book. It isn’t worthy of the price on your life if you aren’t enjoying it.

Time Management by Randy Pausch

This Time Management lecture by Randy Pausch is a must-watch, but here’s the short-short version:

Take your To-Do list and put the items in this table:

Important

Not Important

Due Soon

1

3

Due Later

2

4

Do the tasks in the order 1, 2, 3, 4. “But what about that ‘due soon’ group?” you ask. Just because something is due soon doesn’t mean it should be done next. If it’s not important, it should be okay to just cross it off the list when the deadline creeps up. Otherwise, “later” might become “soon” and that important task becomes much more stressful than it needs to be.

TL;DR

Don’t bother pursuing happiness. It’s temporary, comes at a cost, and isn’t always in your control. Pursue fulfillment instead.

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