Life is a death sentence. We all die eventually. It can be sooner or later, but die we will. With that information, you can either get busy living, or get busy dying.
You are living when you take ownership of your problems. It doesn’t matter if you win or not, but you play every game with a sportsman’s mindset. You are living when you give every challenge, every competition, every problem your best effort. You are living when you take hits but keep moving forward. You are living when you fall on the ground, but make an effort to bounce back, even though it feels impossible.
But you are dying when you run on autopilot. You are dying when you sleepwalk through life. You are dying when you don’t have an overall life strategy. You are dying when you let your circumstances, or your bad luck, or the people around you get the better of you. You are dying when you don’t make the hard choices, and let others make them for you.
You are also dying when you are not working towards your freedom and personal fulfilment. You are dying when you compromise personal fulfilment for material gain. You are dying when you don’t have anything to look forward to. You are dying when you don’t take up challenges because you are too afraid to lose. You are dying when you constantly engage in blaming—both yourself and others. You are dying when you complain about the cards life has dealt you.
A good life depends on your mental wellbeing. And mental wellbeing is never unplanned. It’s not something that just happens. It’s a conscious choice that you make, and it takes considerable effort. It starts off by getting to know yourself; when you ask yourself questions such as: Who am I? What is my purpose? What is personally important to me? What drives me to work on the things I like?
Now you may not want to save humanity like the others. Your primary motivation may not be to do something for your community, the society, or the nation. You may secretly dislike the members of your family, and your personal goal may be to get rich and get the hell outta here. It’s totally okay. Whatever are your answers, the only ultimate question you have to answer is, “Am I living a life, or am I living a lie?”
If you aren’t fulfilled or content, and yet you say that you are living an ideal life, your mind isn’t in the best possible shape. Be honest in your answers. The most honest answer is often the most selfish one.
As mentioned, the first step towards good mental health is knowing who we are. You cannot know who you are without self-reflection. Majority of us aren’t comfortable doing that. Those who do, aren’t very comfortable answering tough questions.
Here’s a personal example. I live with my girlfriend of 5 years. Every few days, I make sure I ask myself questions like: How much do I love her? What do I really mean when I say that I love her? How can I know that it’s not a lie I’m telling myself? What would life be if I lose her?
These are not easy questions, and there are no straightforward answers. Yet I ask them time and again. I do the same for other situations as well. Do I love my job enough? How much do I love to write? What kind of relationship do I want to build with my audience? Why?
The act of asking questions makes sure that you are in touch with your emotions, that you aren’t lying to yourself, and that you know the exact reasons behind why you do what you do. When you know what you are up to, you don’t let life slip away.
We cannot save ourselves from misfortune. Life is wicked, and no matter how hard you prepare, misfortune will find you. We often prepare ourselves either to achieve success or to prevent failure. The problem is, we are all experts at success. What we don’t prepare for is failure. What eventually is going to set you apart is how you deal with failure.
I’ve had consecutive business failures. Every time I gave everything I had, and still couldn’t succeed. But it doesn’t mean that I cannot try again in future. I’m still trying. If we strive to grasp something more than our reach, we are going to meet failure every once in a while. Therefore it only makes sense that we get comfortable with feeling bad and dealing with failure. Let’s learn to leverage these negative emotions to drive ourselves to prepare better next time.
If recent events have shattered us, it’s only because our foundation wasn’t strong enough. Next time it would be better, and we should be stronger. Our past failures don’t define what happens in future. If we have a growth mindset, and we strive to improve with time, then trying to do something later is only better. It increases our chances of success.
Even thought it may feel like that, everything is not a crisis. It’s just your mental exaggeration. You spouse leaving you, you missing out on a promotion, or failing to crack an entrance exam is not the end of the world. It’s an unwelcome event yes, but it’s also an opportunity to develop some tolerance for failure. If it hurts, cry your heart out. Then shake it off and get back in the game. Start afresh with a new day, a new challenge, or a new business venture is a new opportunity—either for success or for personal growth.
Interestingly, throughout my failures what remained constant was my love for what I did. If you have a strong “why” everything else will fall in place. A precursor to having a strong why is to be aware of what you want, and to do that you have to constantly ask questions to yourself, and explore the answers.
The reason why failure, sadness, and misfortune are inevitable is because you don’t control everything. Therefore it makes more sense to focus only on what you can control. In a game of cricket, you cannot control the opponent’s mindset or strategy. In a job interview, you don’t control the interviewer’s opinion or attitude. While making an investment you don’t control the fear and greed of the market, or the schedule of a pandemic. Make a list of the things that you can control, and leave the rest to chance. In this game of skill and luck, only skill is in your control. Make the best use of it. It’s futile to try to control or worry about luck.
Despite that, there will be suffering. There’s no escape. But what you suffer isn’t any different from what countless others have suffered. You cannot control the pain, but you can control how you think about it. Mental pain is a double edged sword. If you can yield it and redirect its energy, it can become a powerful weapon. Otherwise it can consume you.
During my teens I had a very nasty breakup. I spent my days moping and feeling sorry for myself. At some point I realised that this cannot go on forever and I gotta do something about it. The question I asked myself was, “What’s next?” It bypassed the self-pity and mental stagnation, and gave me a framework to redirect all these negative emotions into creative projects. It was around that time that I started working on my first startup idea. It didn’t lead to a lot of success, but it did help me recover from the trauma.
When we don’t feel good, most of us know what will make us feel better. It’s usually some combination of exercise, side projects, time with friends, etc. But we usually avoid these things when we are down and out. We don’t do that because of ignorance, but because we are no longer motivated to do them. Rather, we wait until we feel better without doing anything about it. Frequently, it’s a long wait.
Happiness is the ultimate risk. You strive for something, and when you don’t achieve it, it makes you feel sad. Therefore it’s only better not to take any action, and blame it all on misfortune, bad fate, and other things that aren’t in our control, right?
What if we change that? What if we focus on joy instead of happiness? What if we focus on mental fulfilment rather than material gain? What if we try out a lot of things, and be okay with failure? What if we focus on the effort rather than the outcome? What if we accept ourselves just the way we are—with all our idiosyncrasies and imperfections? What if we strive to become a better version of ourselves? What if we try to go to bed smarter than we woke up? What if we strive to fight for something bigger than us? Once in a while, what if we focus your attention on others—our parents, our friends, our partners, or our pets—and make it a point to bring them joy? How does that sound?
Life is not easy. Life is wicked. Life is not fair. It never was, it isn’t now, it won’t ever be. You can either sit and mope and blame and complain, or you can accept it, take responsibility, and make an effort to do something. You can either get busy living, or get busy dying.