Life’s a Bitch, Here’s How to Tame It

30 Sep, 2020

When transcending from being a child to an adult, it’s almost certain that life turns out a disappointment. All the magic uncle Disney showed us, and the ‘you can be anything you want’ crap we were bombarded with don’t translate very well into maturity.

I still remember vividly how I used to play basketball all day with my bros for life and came home to the mesmerizing scent of freshly baked apple pie. I jumped on the couch with half a pie and watched Aladdin for the millionth time, fantasizing how I one day would play in the NBA, fly my carpet to my castle, and eat apple pie for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Man, those were the days.

Fast forward to my mid-thirties, and just the smell of apple pie gives me diabetes. My knees hurt from running up the stairs, and I couldn’t dunk a ball if my life depended on it. Hell, sometimes I don’t even have the energy to get my almost obese ass off the couch to grab the last snack out the fridge. 

Half my bros for life stabbed me in the back one time too many, and the other half I wholly disconnected with. The only carpet I have doesn’t even fly. It just lays there and gets puked on every once in a while by an arrogant cat that gives me the “aren’t you gonna clean that, slave?” look after she’s done donating her hairballs. 

Surely you have a sob story from your own life as well. 

Maybe you still remember the electrifying magic of being in love in your late teens and early twenties. If you’re still together, you’re now just stuck with someone you’re used to. Or maybe you’re still desperately scouting cheap bars in search of prince charming, and it slowly starts to dawn upon you; there’s no prince charming, only people that are just as desperate as you for some love and attention.

You might have fulfilled your childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut. Still, statistically, it’s far more likely that you’ve traded traveling to outer space for sitting behind a desk, creating a hernia while writing reports no one cares to read.

Even if you’ve hit the jackpot, have a great family, a job you actually enjoy, a loving spouse, and still have a few friends left that genuinely have your back, you can’t help but sometimes think to yourself: is this all there is?

Shit, writing this makes me realize life indeed sucks balls.

A dark night of the soul

There are a million and one things to be disappointed about, and your life kinda sucks balls, but it’s probably not that bad either. On a Maslow-ian level (you know, the hierarchy of needs dude), you’re doing fine. It’s not like you have to wonder if there still will be water coming from the tap in the morning.

So, while some people still have to walk ten miles a day to get a bucket of water, or face the constant threat of a bomb dropping on their house any minute, you sit there disappointed and bored. You’ve pretty much finished the game of life and have some time on your hands to do what people with too much time on their hands do: you create an existential crisis. 

An existential crisis is a bit of a luxurious problem to have, but nevertheless, a problem indeed. A problem where you enter a state of panic or a feeling of intense psychological unease about life questions. A state where the soul shines through the cracks of your ego and challenges you to put some things in perspective. No wonder they call it the dark night of the soul.

While you stroll through the dark night of the soul, you start to realize the uselessness of your life: you’re just a soul carrying around a corpse, life in itself doesn’t have a purpose or meaning. 25 years ago, you figured out Santa doesn’t exist, and now you realize that it’s highly likely the end is just the end, and everyone will forget you a mere two weeks after you’re six feet under.

Let’s face it, you have every right to be disappointed by reality. 

But it doesn’t really help.

Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything

With all the existential bummers and life being an endless string of failures – with a few successes here and there – we still have to ride this thing out. And doing so in a disappointed state of mind is a bad proposition for everyone. It’s not helpful, it’s not pleasant, and it doesn’t create the right environment to make life less sucky. 

In a disappointed state of mind, you’re robbing yourself of every opportunity to make life meaningful and even enjoyable every now and then. Without going down the wooh-wooh path, the law of attraction – just say what you want and it will magically appear – there is a component in place that has a massive impact on your life, but it’s a bit more nuanced. 

It’s how the placebo effect works (I can get the positive benefits of the pill just by expecting it works) and just as real, it’s how the nocebo effect works as well (I can think my life to utter shit, just because I expect it to be).

Whether you opt for the law of attraction, the nocebo, or the placebo effect, they all work the same: if you expect something to be true and you really believe in it, it starts to change your behavior towards that truth and your mind, body, and soul adapt. Other people pick up on your new vibe, you respond to that, so you’re manifesting a new reality. The key here is changing your behavior; if you merely think about it, but don’t take action, nothing happens. Action is hard, but more on that later on.

The paragraph up here illustrates that the mind is a powerful tool, but its potential depends on how you use it. Keep the mind closed (a fixed mindset), and everything stays the same. Open the mind (a growth mindset), and your behavior keeps shifting more towards your ultimate goal. 

The difference between a growth mindset and a fixed one is one simple thing. Fixed minded people think they are who they are, and they can’t change. They don’t like something to challenge them to be more than they can be. Hence the reason failure is a negative thing they don’t want to take ownership of. And so they blame everyone but themselves. 

On the other hand, growth-minded people are always pushed by the idea that they can be better and actively look for opportunities to be just that. They take full ownership of anything that happens to them and make the best out of it. Failure is just a door to become better. The beauty of this is you live your life instead of life living you. 

Your life is a seed, and your mind is the soil. A disappointed mind is like a soil completely depleted of nutrients. No matter the potential of the seed, it won’t grow. If you want your seed to grow, you have to adopt a growth mindset. You fix the soil, not the seed. If your tree of life doesn’t give you apples, it’s not the tree’s fault; it’s your fault for not nurturing it.

A seed, some soil, and some water, et voila, apples. Sounds easy, right? 

It’s not.

A long boring story with no point to it

Your soil might be perfect, your seed might be, and your intentions and behavior might be good, but that doesn’t guarantee that your tree will grow some juicy apples. Because, then this thing called life comes around the corner and gives your tree drought, intense heat, non-stop rain, and so much wind, it pulls your roots right out the ground. 

And that’s where disappointment begins: you did everything right, tried, and failed. So, why try again? 

Because it’s not about the apples, it’s about the road towards the apples. You see, we get disappointed because the fruits of our labor aren’t what we expected it to be. But, what we fail to see is that the rewards aren’t where the real joy is. The pleasure is in watching the seed germinate, seeing it grow, getting a beating from the wind, and pushing through. Eating the apple is just a brief moment to recalibrate before you enter the next cycle.

Being on your knees in the mud, protecting your tree from the storm, might not be sexy, but it’s where life happens. Life is mostly suffering, as the Buddhists say. Or, as Jerry Seinfeld once stated: “If I want a long boring story with no point to it, I have my life.” 

We sleep, eat, commute, wait, are at home, and do many other mundane things that fill 90% of our days. It can be boring, it entails suffering, and that in itself can feel disappointing.

But, what would happen if you changed your perspective around those mundane tasks that fill your days? What if instead of seeing them as a nuisance, you see them as an essential part of growing your tree? What if you see:
* Sleeping as the moment you recover and grow;
* Waiting as a moment of preparation and reflection;
* Eating as nurturing your body and fertilizing your soil;
* Being at home as a moment of rebalancing and grounding.

What would your life look like in five years if you approached all of the above with a growth mindset and treat it as such? What if your head was in the game and not in the price? All of a sudden, life doesn’t seem so disappointing.

But what if it still does? Then it just might be that your apple tree is growing in the wrong garden.

Intent and behavior 

The only way to get a tree out of the wrong garden into the right one is through change. Change only happens when you take action. You can have the brightest, most groundbreaking ideas, but nothing will happen if you don’t put it into action. If anything, it will probably make you more disappointed with life: internally, you imagine a life with endless possibilities, but externally the little life you have slipped through your fingers.

We only really change if the pain from not acting exceeds the pain of action. Grandpa only stopped smoking when the doctor told him that if he doesn’t stop now, he’ll be dead in two years and won’t see his grandchildren grow up. He’s known for 40 years that smoking will kill him, but the power of that one puff in the now is worth so much more than the risk of dying in the future.

Here’s another sob story of mine that might sound familiar. I know I need to go to the gym, I know what it takes to create a successful training schedule and get results; I’ve been there. I’m aware of my current condition, and I know very well, I would feel better, mentally, and physically, if I would work out. But I don’t, because I also know it’s not a life or death situation. And so, I push the act of getting in shape forward. Every week I say I’ll start the next one. 

Even though I feel suboptimal, the pain of finding a gym, getting accustomed to a new place, going through the dreadful process of building stamina again is bigger than the slight discomfort of being unfit. And so I sit there eating a donut on the couch, fooling myself with “I can get fit in six months if I really set my mind to it.”

What this shows is that intent and behavior are two very different things. Grandpa intended to stop smoking 40 years ago, and my lazy, almost obese ass intends to go to the gym next week for the last four years, but we both didn’t act on it. Although our intentions are good, we end up disappointed and further from our goal until we completely give up on it. 

Intention and behavior are two closely related yet very different things. If you do the wrong things for the right reason, you’re in for some trouble, but if you do the right things, even for the wrong reason, great things will happen.

Opening the mind

Whether you’re disappointed by reality or not is 100% up to you. We all get disappointed from time to time, and it’s our individual responsibility to move past that. If you want to be disappointed all the time, that’s up to you, but it would be wise to adjust your life expectations accordingly. 

Accept that life is mostly failing, with some success here and there, and adjust your mindset. Adjust it in a way that it embraces failure and sees it as an opportunity for growth. Play the game for the game and not for the price. Sure, enjoy the price when it comes, but it should always come because you played the game.

Get really good in the mundane tasks of everyday life and see them as an opportunity. It’s always in hindsight that you realize that the one mundane moment with your spouse has turned into a cherishable memory. It’s when you look at pictures a couple of years later how happy you get when you see that picture of you and your kid cuddled up on the couch watching Aladdin and his stinking carpet.

Own the fact that you’re sitting behind a desk writing reports no one wants to read. Become the best report writer ever and see what opportunities emerge from that. Growth minded people never stay stuck in one place for very long.

Don’t bitch and moan about the fact that you hardly have any me-time because you have responsibilities. Having responsibilities means you made something out of your life, and you have something to maintain. 

If you really feel the need to be disappointed in something, be disappointed in yourself. And then ask yourself: What do I, as an individual, need to do to stop being disappointed in myself. And go do that.

Photo credit: Matthew Henry