Life is such a mystery. Between brief moments of clarity, it all just seems to flash by. My brother (co-blogger) and I refer to this as “the fog” (which we got from one of our favourite blogs).
But maybe it’s not so strange. In many ways, modern life is engineered to have a clear path from birth to death, with education -> work -> retirement, and diverging from it is often stressful (and even socially frowned upon). But running through life on autopilot makes it way too easy to “wake up” one day feeling kind of awkward. How did I end up here? Did I really make all these decisions? *Cue midlife crises*
For me, this boils down to the questions of how to live a life that to a higher degree feels that I decided for myself, not simply following norms or chasing vanity metrics, to have a bigger chance of ending up doing more of what is really important to me, and in the end; a happier life.
Owning your decisions
One way to approach this is owning our decisions in life, in particular the big ones. Owning as in making them ours, standing for them, even telling people about them. Conversely, it’s pretty easy to detect which decisions we’re not owning, just by listening to ourselves. Saying things like “Yeah, I kind of just ended up here…”, “I should probably quit my job…' are some examples of this.
Another way of detecting this is to look out for what we’re complaining about. I’m not at all arguing that life is fair, and that we should never complain (or am I?), but it’s more often than not counterproductive complaining about things we can actually change (but choose not to). One example of this, which is really common to hear here in Sweden, is people complaining about the weather in the winter but still (obviously) choosing to live here.
I think this is a destructive way of living since it risks making us feel disconnected from our own lives. And that is a really weird state to end up in, I mean, who else is really calling the shots in our lives?
Another reason I want to pursue living a deliberate life is that I think that most (if not all) people throughout history that broke new ground somehow always also broke with the “common path” and made their own decisions. A clear example of this would be quitting your comfortable job to do something else, perhaps start a new business.
What is paradoxical though, is that many of the big decisions in life, at least for me, seems to have “just happened”. I can’t honestly say that I really called the shots on many of them. But the trick here is carefully evaluating these situations and then owning them up in hindsight (or making something about it). I think it’s neither possible nor productive to try to make a plan for life and then sticking to it. Life is way too sporadic and chaotic, and we should probably be very flexible and open-minded, but at least we can make the decision to stay in a certain condition or not.
One example that struck me while writing this post is about where I live. I kind of just ended up in a small town in Sweden when my wife and I were looking for a place to raise our two kids, and since moving here I’ve heard myself tell people things like “yeah, we live here for now, but we’ll see how long we’ll stay”. But upon evaluating the situation, given every circumstance, I found out that I live exactly where I want to live. And just changing my own thinking (and wording) about this, has actually made me happier.
It’s like closing a mental door, that is otherwise constantly scanning for opportunities.
Where to go from here?
So if we’ve now closely examined our situation in life, and owned up past decisions (and possibly changed some), how can we now go about thinking about the future? It doesn’t sound very deliberate to me to always examine things in hindsight.
I think the best way is to know what drives us, our priorities and what our core motives in life are and optimize for them going forward. Or more simply put; knowing what makes us happy and doing that. It sounds trite, but knowing this, one can kind of form a rough framework for decisions to utilize when faced with decisions and opportunities in life.
If it only was that easy!
Knowing what we want, and then committing to it is really hard! It’s way too easy to end up in “analysis paralysis”, a phenomenon accelerated by today’s seemingly infinite possibilities, constantly pounding us with fear of missing out (especially from constantly comparing ourselves on social media). But at least for me, sticking to my own priorities (knowing that it means NOT prioritising everything else) is a good FOMO mitigation strategy.
Apart from FOMO, I also think plain ol’ fear plays a role in owning our decisions in life since it’s downright scary to commit to something, especially if it’s controversial or means leaving your comfortable path.
If knowing what you want in life seems hard (which I think is for most people), my advice is to experiment more. Life is pretty long after all, so we have plenty of time to find out if we keep an open mind. And as it turns out, one of the most common career advice the organization “80.000 hours” gives to young people is to try many things out, since we don’t necessarily have a good intuition about what suits us.
For me, it’s also important to remember that being deliberate says nothing about being unconventional. An equally strong position in this question would be to figure out that none of that rumoured success, fame, or money is for you, but getting an ordinary job, somewhere to live and a family is just the life you want. But then, make sure to own it, and close the door (and mouth) about alternatives.
To sum it up, as naive and simple it might sound, I think living a deliberate life is about owning our decisions, knowing our priorities, and then following them and not everyone else’s.