You Can Do Anything but Not Everything

10 Feb, 2020

In the pursuit of happiness, we try a lot of things to find our personal pot of gold. You know, that thing that will make us ultimately happy. That place where unicorns shit rainbows and life is one big excitement orgy.  

Trying new things is cool, but when you always stick to trying, and never fully commit to one thing, you’ll eventually look back at a life with a lot of trying, but never any doing. It’s the doing that makes life worth living. It’s the doing that’ll make you realize that the pursuit of happiness is a silly thing. That it’s all about finding meaning and purpose in life, and those two things are inherently intertwined with doing. 

We usually end up trying things for a brief moment, because we fixate on a certain aspect of something that excites us. In many cases it isn’t even the work itself that excites us – it’s the outcome. We’re not excited about going to the gym, we are excited about having six-pack abs. We’re not excited about the tedious and soul-wrecking process of writing a book, we’re excited about having a bestselling book and giving out autographs to middle-aged fanboys that love our work of art. 

We isolate a certain aspect of something and put all our focus there. But when we get our hands dirty, we experience that the one aspect we isolate is just a tiny fraction of the whole. When we bring our overweight and stiff body to the gym, we soon realize that the fancy gym outfit and sweatband do very little for the actual work. We realize that doing just a single push up is damn near impossible, the sore body afterwords is killing us, and the six-pack abs stay well hidden behind our love handles. And there’s not a damn motivational video that can change that.

Alas, excitement only gets us so far. 

Even when your motivation is so high that you’re making bold moves to pursue your dream venture, you’ll most likely get knocked on your ass.

You quit your job to finally follow your dream of building the next social app that will change the world. You’ll have a #1 ranking app in no-time. All you have to do is build it. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. But when you finally sit down behind your brand new MacBook Pro, facing the morning sun, with your Moleskin on the left and your matcha tea on the right, you realize you have no idea what the fuck you’re doing. 

You hide from the actual work, read some articles, and the statistics hit you hard in your face: 9,999 in 10,000 mobile apps fail. It’s safe to say the odds are not in your favor. A tough spot to be in when you believe you can do anything

But before the hard reality sinks in, your mind comes up with excuses that tell you that it’s okay to quit. That it’s not just okay to quit, but that it’s the right thing to do and that app, gym goal, book, whatever,  are superficial things that you need not spend your valuable time on. You’re on this earth for a higher purpose. And so on you go, on to try the next thing. All in the pursuit of happiness.

The paradox of choice

Trying new things is a good thing. You open your mind to new possibilities and experiences. You get a nice pallet of what the world has to offer. You can do anything and become whatever you want with minimal investment. Especially in today’s day and age, the sky is the limit. The world as it is today has so many options that give many people a menu to assemble their perfect dish for a life that creates meaning and fulfillment. 

This is a blessing and a curse at the same time.

Our lives have become a Netflix subscription: there’s so much to choose from, we just end up scrolling and watching just a couple episodes of every new show that pops up. We want to see it all. Better yet, we don’t want to miss a single beat. Every time we pick one thing, we instantly fear we’re missing out on something else.

We scroll through the endless possibilities of life just the same as we do on Netflix. We spread ourselves out thin and try to be good at everything. As a result, we’ll never be great at anything. Or even worse. We get paralysis by analysis and just stop moving altogether. We live completely in our minds and stay trapped in a universe where everything is possible, but nothing ever happens. 

When we go for width instead of depth, we know a little of a lot. We know just the basic, superficial stuff. We know a bit of this, and a bit of that, take a shortcut here and the easy road there, but never really commit to getting great at something. We bail out before doing the work. On to the next thing, and right at the time that we realize getting the fancy outcome is way harder than anticipated, our minds soothe us with the thought that we should do something else.

But, while our mind wanders off to the next thing, and we enjoy the unlimited possibilities of life, we fail to see the fundamental truth of all existence: time is limited.

You can only do so much

In an era where abundance is becoming the new norm, it’s easy to take time for granted. After all, who has the time to worry about the transience of life when you can do anything? Even if time is limited, why should you pick just a couple of things from the ever-increasing wonders of the world?

Because to get some meaning and fulfillment out of life, you have to commit to something beyond the superficial. Chasing happiness and excitement is a sure way to become unhappy. If you really want to do something worthwhile in your short stay on this giant rock, you have to put in the work. 

Sure you can dabble along and stick your toe in thousands of different waters, but to fully own something, you have to immerse yourself completely, and that means you have to pick. Accept the fact that to be excellent at something you need to invest serious time. No matter what shortcut, life hack, or talent you have. You have to put in the work. Yes, you can do anything, but not everything. 

Even if you’re blessed with many talents, you have to pick.

Every day has only 24 hours. And you spend almost half of those on the mundane things like sleep, eating, cleaning, traveling, and such. If you have the responsibilities of having a family, your free hours (and sleep) drastically decrease as well. 

What this comes down to is the fact that you have just a few hours a day to make the magic happen. And this is without taking into account that roughly every decade or so, your interests shift and so does the abilities of your body and mind. Meaning that if you want to become a professional MMA fighter, you have to start early in your life and put all your eggs in one basket. You won’t get there by training an hour a week, next to a million other things you do casually as well. Also meaning that you can do anything, but if you start training for your MMA career at 40, your 30 years too late.

Find what you love and let it kill you

Even with all the information and best mentors at our fingertips, it takes a lot of dedication to really get good at something. True dedication is hard in a world where you can be anything you want. To become anything you want, you have to know exactly what that is and drop the rest. Maybe you don’t have to drop it forever, but at least drop it for now. 

At the end of the day, there’s only room for a couple of things. What are those things? Do you know? Make the list of what you really want to do as short as possible and forget about the rest. Now focus on that shortlist and start with one thing. Everything can be achieved with a list of things to do, in a certain order. Set a goal, make a plan, stick to the plan, reach the goal. Simple.

What that means is, if you pick something, stick with it. Stick with it when it doesn’t work, when it gets hard, when your mind is playing tricks on you. Commit for a few years and show up every single time.  

Accept the fact that if you start a podcast, it’s highly likely that you won’t get any listeners on the first 100 episodes, no matter how good they are. Realize that if you start a business, you might not make enough money to make ends meet. Go for the process, not the outcome.

Make it simple. Start small and get the ball rolling. Maybe you want to do a ton of things that tie in well with each other. Even then, start small and get the ball rolling. Focus on executing step one and forget about all the other steps. It’s like driving in the dark. You know the destination, but you can only see 100 meters in front of you. Once the ball is rolling and has some momentum behind it, you can incorporate a new thing. One thing leads to another and things organically grow, but you have to give it time to actually grow.

Life is simple, keep it like that

When you boil life down, it’s pretty simple: You can only do so much. You can be a parent, have a job, maybe two hobbies and a side hustle, some friends, a couple of travels a year, and that’s about it. It doesn’t sound too exciting, but if you’re able to apply the principle of focusing on what you truly want and erasing the rest, you’ll have a damn good life. You’ll have:

  • A career that’s in line with your purpose;
  • A loving family that grows together;
  • Hobbies in which you find meaning and people that vibe on the same level as you;
  • Friends that are your true friends to the core.

Know what you want in life, and focus on that. Accept the fact that life is transient, that time flies by fast, and that there’s only so much you can do. Focus on process over outcome. Get rid of all the things you kinda want and don’t want (you’d be amazed about how many people spend their lives doing things they don’t want to do with people they don’t want to be with).

Leave your job that sucks balls, get rid of friends that drain your energy, do things that make your soul do a happy dance. And if you’re not sure about something, ask yourself: “Does this bring me closer or further away from my goal?” and act accordingly.

Life is simple, keep it like that.

Photo credit: Splitshire