- Know what you want
- Pursue it relentlessly
[BTW This is really just me thinking out loud, not me trying to pass on some age old wisdom. In my own eyes, I wouldn't call myself successful.]
Reasons I have failed in the past
1) 99% I didn’t know what I want
Success is a condition that can only be defined by oneself. If I wanted to drink an entire can of Diet Coke, upon drinking the entire can of Diet Coke, I would have been successful, right?
So, what do you want?
Knowing what you want faces two difficulties. Its hard because its difficult to be introspective enough to know whether or not I really want it.
Do I really want to do a startup? Do I really want to become a developer? Why?
Knowing what I want is also uncomfortable because it requires me to ask myself really difficult questions and I have to be completely honest with myself. Why do I want to do a startup? Is it because I want the fame? The power? The money?
If you don’t know what you want, then you can never be successful. There’s no win condition.
1.1) Being wrong about what I want
I don’t think I was ever completely wrong about what I wanted, usually its just me being dishonest with myself and I end up with the wrong conclusions. Say, maybe you actually really like money so you want to become a doctor or a lawyer and make a lot of it, but then you feel bad about it due to social stigmas. You conclude to yourself that you actually don’t like money all that much and you actually care more about helping people. Totally cool.
But if you’re wrong about that conclusion, you probably will feel unsatisfied when you don’t make a lot of money. Or vice versa, when you realize that you actually didn’t want all that money and realized you just wanted to help people instead, you might feel unfulfilled as a lawyer. There’s nothing wrong about realizing who you are and wanting something.
1.2) Not being clear about what I want
I used to tell myself, “I want to do a startup”, so once I incorporated and announced I was doing a startup, I should have popped open the champagne and partied well into the night, right?
Well, if you were correct in your conclusion that all you wanted to do was to “do a startup”, then you should rightfully feel amazing. If not, you weren’t detailed enough in what you wanted.
2) I didn’t pursue things relentlessly
I gave up.
2.1) The opportunity closed up
Given infinite time to do something, as long as it is physically possible and one makes gradually progress towards a goal, one will get there eventually.
If I wanted to run a marathon when I was 8 years old, I can’t do that physically because I can’t travel back in time (yet?). Likewise, if I wanted to run a marathon when I was 22, as soon as I turn 23, that becomes impossible.
Maybe my goal is to sell a mobile startup. In 20 years, maybe technology would have moved away from mobile altogether. It’d probably be impossible for me to achieve it at that point.
Most things have finite constraints and unfortunately, you can’t always work forever towards your goal. Eventually you’ll die, eventually the Sun will explode, eventually the universe will face its death.
So really, once you’ve correctly figured out what you want, its just about achieving your goals given finite constraints. Given that the goal is physically possible, there exists a path towards this goal and the problem becomes recursive.
My goal is to drink this entire can of Diet Coke.
My goal is to take a sip of Diet Coke.
My goal is to pick up this can of Diet Coke and bring it to my lips.
My goal is to move my hand.
My goal is to tell my brain to move my hand.
As long as I move my hand towards the Diet Coke, I’m getting closer to my goal.
You just need to move your hand towards your Diet Coke.
So I guess in conclusion, step one is figuring out what you want, but that in itself is hard. It’s like telling yourself, “I want to do a startup”. The goal is vague and immeasurable.
Maybe what you want is the things that make you the happiest. Maybe you can measure the dopamine in your brain released with fulfillment? But if that was the case, why don’t we all just do crack? Perhaps its not about the short term hit, but its to maximize the total dopamine released in our brain in the course of our life? I don’t know much about crack, but I’d imagine it’d be diminishing returns and you’ll probably lower your life expectancy, thus lowering your total happiness. Also, crack is expensive.
As I said in the beginning, success is a condition that can only be defined by oneself. So maybe for me, it really is to maximize the total amount of dopamine output throughout my life. In that case, I’m probably best off inventing crack that isn’t expensive, addictive and damaging, or figuring out how to extend my life indefinitely.
Hm… I still haven’t figured out the answer to problem 1 yet but I’ll skip it and come back to that problem later.
At least I’ve successfully wrote a blog post *pops champagne*.