I got a great email from a reader asking my thoughts on where he's at in life. He studied and worked in the USA, and went back to his home country to try to improve it... but he's having problems achieving all his goals with the culture there, and is thinking this through a lot. I like my response and I'm sharing it here - I edited out his personal details before posting this.
Good email. Tough questions.
First, I massively respect your point of view. It's interesting, isn't it? Whether you should focus on success -> change stuff, or try to do both at the same time... maybe both? Funny, I just wrote a blog post about this yesterday, but haven't posted it yet. I'm attaching it - "BLOG Ambitious Conundrum.txt" - some questions about how much to train, and how much to produce right away. Maybe it's relevant.
I guess the biggest question is, what's your main goal in life? What do you live and breathe for? Professionally, I'm working to be the greatest strategist of this generation. (It'll take me another 20+ years, but I think I've got a realistic shot at it) On a family level, I'm looking to build an international dynasty, a family like the Medici, Rockefellers, Rothschilds, Tokugawa, something like that.
Those goals come first and second, then I have other goals related to service, making change in the world, being a guardian of society, doing science, doing things professionally, etc. For me, I try to make my actions serve my larger roles.
So, what are your larger roles?
It's not easy to pick. It's not like a 10 minute exercise. It's something you go to a cafe with a notebook and pen and sit there staring at the page with a coffee, thinking for an hour. Even one hour isn't enough. You do the think-with-coffee thing dozens of times, hundreds of times if you need to, trying to discover what matters to you, what you can dedicate yourself to, what's important, what works...
Most people never do this, and their lives are useless mediocrity. I don't mean that in an elitist way - no, just the opposite actually. I think anyone could do meaningful things, and most people don't. It seems like you're doing meaningful things, trying to do meaningful things. I know it gets frustrating, I get frustrated a lot of the time too.
So, should you stay in [your home country] or go? I guess it depends on what your highest goals are. There's no "right answer" to that - it's not like doing math, where there's a right answer. It's something you've got to choose. I'd say head to a cafe with a pen and paper, order a coffee (or tea, or juice, or whatever) and really think about what matters to you, what you want to accomplish, who you want to be. Again, one hour you might not get anything worthwhile. Or you might. It's something I try to do fairly a lot, at least once a week. I think it's time really well spent.
Personally, I want to change some things in the USA, but right now I'm not strong enough, not wise enough, don't have much in the way of resources, am not educated and learned enough... so I'm outside of the USA, traveling and learning, becoming a better strategist, learning and setting out to start building my family. I do try to make some change at the same time as doing personal stuff though - I try to reach out and connect with good people, serve them, help them. I don't think making change and building yourself up are mutually exclusive.
What matters to you the most? That's probably the first thing. I think there's no shame in saying "this place doesn't suit me, I will go to somewhere with more prosperity to build my family" - if you choose to make your family come first, that's totally honorable and a fair decision. On the other hand, if you try to reform and build your nation, that's honorable too. There's many ways to live a good and meaningful life, but I think one of the most important steps is to think on what a good and meaningful life would be to you.
Be honest when you do it. Don't write down stuff that's sound nice, or be like what you think you "should" want. Write what actually comes down to you. Put the time into this, and the questions you've got will eventually become more clear. Not necessarily right away - of course not, this is about finding what you're going to make the main cause of your life, what you live and breathe for. It doesn't necessarily happen fast. But it's time well spent, even if you don't get fast results. If you spend time thinking with pen and paper, you'll come to some conclusions. Be honest with yourself when you do it, do it for just yourself and nobody else when you're writing about what really matters to you, and that helps a lot.
If/when you do know what matters most to you, then the rest of the points are just cost/benefit, expected value, planning, forecasting, things like that. Which is much more concrete and easy to navigate. So, first figure out what's most important to you. Then it becomes a lot easier to figure out how to get there from here.
Much respect from me, and best wishes,
Question from a reader -
One thing that I'm wondering, and figured that I should send before I go to sleep and forget it... For certain kinds of tasks (having discussions about more abstract goal things, writing emails to friends, commenting on LW, etc.) I'm really motivated, and need to be restrained from doing them.
With other tasks, I'm nowhere near as motivated, and have trouble starting them. Since I'm still a student, not doing this kind of work just isn't an option.
In the long term, I'm hoping to just do more of the things I'm motivated for, and fewer of the ones I'm not. I'm willing to buckle down and do work in subjects that I'm less motivated for if I see how it clearly relates to my goals (last year I spent a few hours trying to work out the geometry kinks for a robot part -- it was a mess).
Right now, I'm just reminding myself that its really not hard once I start it, and that it goes quickly if I just do it.
Almost everyone I know is busy as hell. Running companies, contracting, doing creative work, and keeping a huge mix of projects going on.
Keeping busy is good, but sometimes it turns into a tragedy where you've got your head down doing work and duties, but you never get some of that real juice out of your life that you're wanting.
And many of the busy people I know -- myself included -- periodically have a day where they snap back to reality and really feel it for the first time in a while. "Oh god, I'm out of shape, my energy is low, I feel like crap, I'm not doing some of the key projects I love, I'm passing up a lot of really big opportunities stuck in the grind, I'm neglecting my hobbies and what I want to train... and for what?"
This applies just as much to entrepreneurs as people on salary, maybe even moreso. It's very easy as an entrepreneur or executive to get caught up in running around, getting stuck in the "errands" of business, dealing with what's on fire, and really neglecting the really expansionary projects that aren't urgent, your health, and maybe worst of all -- forgetting to have fun.
Is there an answer? Read on...