We were in a ski lodge in the mountains in Kitzbuhel, Austria. I was one of the younger people in the group, brought along by a mentor of mine.
One of the guys there was a big, fat, incredibly decadent guy. He liked skiing, helicopters, fast cars, women, and lots of food and drink. LOTS of food and drink.
Over breakfast one day, it's just him and me. I'd been a little ill the day before, so I'd turned in early and slept around 16 hours, and I was looking forward to trying to get on the slopes around noon. He'd been out at a strip club drinking heavily, and so the two of us were the last up and the last at breakfast.
The Austrian host and cook had been nice enough to keep the dining room open a little longer so we didn't have to hurry through breakfast, and we were attacking black coffee, eggs, meat, cheese, and bread. He might have been having Irish whisky too, I don't recall exactly.
He frowns for a second, and then laughs, and asks me:
"Sebastian... live to work, or work to live?"
First time I'd been asked it. It took me a second to get what he was asking. I think: "Do I... live in order to work, or work in order to live?"
Easy answer: "Live to work," I say.
He bursts out laughing.
"Hahaha! No! Work to live! Work to live, Sebastian!"
And that was precisely what he did. He had a particularly rare skill that, with appropriate scouting and fixing on the right opportunity/project, made him six-figures in USD in a month or two span whenever he employed it. Yet, he only worked on about one project per year, and spent the rest of his time skiing, eating, and hanging out with his friends.
When I don't get to work for more than a day and a half, I start going crazy.
I say, "I'm not working. This is a problem."
I've been packing mass on at the gym lately, with a pretty intense regular program and a high calorie clean diet. My weight broke 90 kg (200 lbs) for the first time in years recently, and I was really pleased.
It comes with a cost -- putting on lean muscle quickly also puts on bodyfat. But I don't care, I'm just picking up strength and mass, and that other consequence doesn't bother me.
Yet, a person trying to break into fashion modeling, playing a sport that you needed to be incredibly lean and lightweight, or trying to stay in a certain weight class for boxing or martial arts would see this as a huge problem. A moment that makes me smile -- cracking 90 kg on the scale -- would be panic-inducing for someone who needed their weight lower.
None of this is encoded in the universe. There's no atomic symbol for "problem" or "boon" or "setback" or "triumph."
We set our own goals and priorities, and then decide we have problems when something gets in the way of those self-set goals and priorities.
And you really do set your own goals and priorities. You're wholly in control of raising, lowering, and modifying your standards. Who else would be in control of that, if not you?
You get to choose what your problems are, and then they walk alongside you as a constant companion. You converse with them, you travel with them, you watch them and they seem to watch over you. Sometimes they ride on your back and shoulders, sometimes they push you to move faster, and sometimes they slow you down.
For most people, problems become their most stalwart and constant companions.
But you alone choose what your problems are.
So, choose carefully.
Your title reminds me of John Lennon's Mind Games based on a book by the same name. Look at Life and all our problems this way: they're all Mind Games, meaning the Mind projecting itself for its own sustenance. I find that with this realization, it is easy not to allow any problem big or small to rock my world. I become more aware of what makes me upset, the current of anxiety that runs underneath the surface, etc. All problems are, in the end, small stuff.
Loving your gym inspiration lately. I'm curious, at 200lb, how tall are you (in ft and in please :) )? I have also been gaining weight the last 3 months or so. In the past I have had a mental aversion to putting on fat and it has kept me from efficiently adding muscle mass to my frame, so I'm stoked now. How many days per week do you lift?
Ha totally. Funny, also, how the difference of opinion can be internal - different parts of your personality can have entirely different standards, depending on which part of you is "active".
Random example from my life: English teaching. Part of me is really drawn to it - I love language, love teaching, would love the opportunity to live abroad and save a bit of cash - and another part is absolutely averse to it, because that part of me sees it as low-status, only for drop-outs and outcasts, and would be mortified having to explain what I'm doing to friends and family back home who (it feels like) have higher expectations of me.
How I feel about it depends which part is "running the show" when the thought comes up.
We dont like to admit it, because of the associations with "multiple personality disorder", but every human has "parts" that run the show at different times (and it's being verified by neurosci / psych findings). And they all have different standards! lol
One of the things I've gotten tremendous amounts of mileage out of it is tracking my time, habits, and life each day.
To put it simply - I now realize it's impossible to understand how your life is going without some careful observation. There's a lot of time each day, and knowing where that time goes, what you ate, what you did and didn't do... it's almost impossible to get a good picture of your life without some kind of measuring.
I'm going to you my newest tracking template, and then I'll give some analysis. Before I start though, I'd like to share a quote -
“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.” -John Gall
Thus, if you want to track your time, please do not attempt to track 20 things at once, because it's unlikely to work. I started very simply, as I described in "The Evolution of My Time/Habit/Life Tracking" - I'd recommend you read that post if you want to do something like this.
It's always better to look at actions than words. If someone says that they're committed to being healthy, but then they order a fat stack of pancakes... well, maybe they're not so committed after all. Recently I've been thinking about this truism in terms of goals and priorities. Your priorities are what they look like.
When you ask someone what his goals are, especially a young person, you'll probably end up hearing a bunch of talk about making money, traveling the world, getting healthy, learning some big skill, or contributing to the world in some way. Great goals. But if we examine people's actions, do they line up with these goals? Sometimes, but very often they're directly contrary to their goals.
The average person eats unhealthy food, spends a lot of time at a job he doesn't like, engages in junk entertainment like TV or video games, maybe drinks some alcohol, and then goes to sleep. Is he getting closer to his goals? Is he getting farther away from them? What can we conclude about the intent behind his goals?
Maybe the most interesting question would be: what goals is he moving towards? I'd say that he's moving towards comfort. Not decadent comfort like a hammock on a pristine beach, but the comfort of not having to think or exert himself. The comfort of mediocrity. And to be clear-- if someone says that comfort is his only goal, I'd have no criticism of these actions. I have different goals, but even I'm not arrogant enough to judge someone by my own goals rather than his own.