Can you get trapped in a treadmill while you try to chase your dreams? My answer is yes. You can sleepwalk through life, with your eyes wide open, and not even notice you are doing it.
You can convince yourself that you are building a career, while you are simply being used as, often cheap, labour. You can slave away for a project, despite having no real interest in it. You can fake enthusiasm for certain activities to such an extent that you even believe it yourself. You can think that you are following your own strategy while you are working for someone else’s plans and goals. You can end up in a job you hate, to pay for things you don’t need, to impress people you don’t like. Yes you can be trapped despite knowing better.
When I found myself in that situation, working more than I should, earning less than I could, to make someone else more successful, I felt angry and betrayed. Not by others or society, but simply by myself. I assumed I was better than this. I was not like other people; other people were like other people.
But I am not, I am like everyone else and that is just primarily human. We humans are receptive to little routines and outside influences. We get distracted easily, especially nowadays when our focus and attention are so avidly contested.
Thus, I dropped my self-hatred, quit my job and took some time to think about what exactly went wrong and how I got there. Surprisingly, the things that got me off course were not major life changing events, but little habits and misconceptions that snuck into my daily routine almost unnoticed.
1. Confusing means with goals.
I had dreams and ideas, big ones actually almost Napoleonic, as my mother used to say. Yet, they got lost when I started hearing the “post university mantra” over and over again. You can’t do anything, because you don’t have the experience. First, I got frustrated but then started “serving time” with some job that would just communicate experience onto my CV. I thought that somehow everything else would figure itself out, but it didn’t, because I was too busy. Slowly, experience became my justification for taking on another job I did not want. I even considered further academic qualifications to exceed in a field I did not intend to enter. Experience slowly became my main goal.
The truth is: Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted. Surely it is a very valuable and important factor in our professional lives, but it is still a by-product of us doing what we do. Direction should have been the primary concern while experience comes with time and patience.
2. Unlearning how to prioritize
I knew that the only way to get things done is by prioritising ruthlessly and focusing on the essentials. Nevertheless somehow I gave in to the daily buzz. Company cultures tend to promote busyness and excess work as a sign of trust, success and importance. The more emails I had, the more wanted I felt. In reality, extreme business is usually a sign of the inability to prioritize.
I tried to cut down but I struggled, I just kept analysing the things I had on my list and simply couldn’t decide what to take off it. What I should have been thinking about were not the tasks themselves but how I define my priorities.
Priorities are nothing else but a set of criteria by which we distinguish the important from the unimportant. When life goes by quickly and increasingly adds more factors to the game, what we should do is pay more attention to our criteria in order to keep focused. What most of us do instead is subconsciously widen the criteria so that more things fall into the category of “important”. Instead of reviewing the list again and again, I should have redefined my definition of important.
3. Taking pride in working hard
I knew it was more important to work smart not hard; I was even doing presentations about that at university. However, time and again I noticed that, if I would spend a lot of time and effort on something, people tended to admire it more than quick results. I am a human being, I follow positive reinforcement and therefore it would not take long for me to fall into the almost puritan thinking of pursuing hard work for its own sake.
I started believing that adding more effort would also add more value. What it actually did was adding complexity to my problems and wasting time. Truth is, efficiency is defined by achieving the maximum result with investing the minimum amount of effort, not the other way around. A simple fact, yet in our stressed and fast paced routines we rarely pay attention to the most efficient way to get thins done, we just get on in ASAP.
As a convinced minimalist I knew that riches and material possessions would not lead to happiness. Therefore I live in a modest apartment and have no car. I prefer to invest in life experiences rather than material possessions to cling on to.
Yet somehow my account was empty at the end of each month, I felt like I needed more money to spend on great memories. I was haunted by the feeling of not earning enough and thus shifted my attention to earning more and more money, which was the opposite of a good experience and brought me a couple of not so good memories.
Again, I turned a mean into an end. Instead of thinking what I want from life and how much I would need to get there, I focused on just earning as much as I could. Money is only worth as much as you can get for it. Money in itself does not have a value, which is a very mundane fact, but gets lost very easily when people compete for money and use it as a metric for personal success.
5. Stop questioning
– Why am I doing what I am doing and what is the next step?
– How do I define what is important and what I can neglect?
– What are the results I want to achieve and the most efficient way to get them?
– How much does my ideal lifestyle cost per month or year?
Those are the questions I should have asked myself but didn’t. To keep up with the fast pace of the information society we live in, we are so worried about doing as much as possible that we forget why we do it. In our day-to-day routines we try so hard to race as fast as possible that we forget where we wanted to go. If I had stopped every once in a while, I would have noticed that I was paying attention to life in the wrong way.
– Instead of focusing on my goals, I based all my plans on the means to get there, which diverted professional life in the wrong direction.
– Instead of improving my way of prioritizing, I just kept staring at all the tasks still on the list and got less done.
– Instead of defining the results I wanted to achieve, I jumped into the work and slaved away as long as possible.
– Instead of picturing what I wanted, I just spent the money in my account and got frustrated.
Reflect, regroup and refocus!
Experience more, do more, earn more and more. It is hard to escape the excess mantra of our times. Even when equipped with a conscious mindset, we are still exposed to outside influences, expectations, opinions and demands. Most of us are bombarded with them on a daily basis.
Sooner or later we too start to run, run, run and do, do, do so fast and so much that our attention shifts away from life’s essentials. Despite all warnings we run into a trap without noticing. Therefore, it is vital to question even the most basic motives behind your actions. Not in continuous self-doubt but in well-proportioned time frames. For example, annually or quarterly when you are reviewing what happened in the past period and are plan for the next.
Our conscious perception and filter is the most important skill to navigate the fast paced excess environment of information in our times. Our judgement of life matters more than our actions, because it precedes it. We think, then react, then act. Having control over that process is what defines us self-determined and free human beings.
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Author: Marina Popzov
Helping others helps me. Giving advice guides me. If you are curious for more ideas on how to handle choices and simplify your life, visit me here: marinapopzov.wordpress.com