The Question to Ask

July 30, 2013 — 7 Comments

Let’s stop and ask ourselves a question: What are we doing right now?

Does it fall under “doing what you love” or “being a good person?”

To categorize real quick: the first category is our passions, it’s the people we care about and whatever our life’s task happens to be. The second is our duties–moral, personal, civic. It’s our obligations to ourselves and others as talented and unique individuals who have something to offer the world.

Then of course there is the third category. The “I have no idea why I am actually doing this.” You don’t want to, you don’t actually need to (though someone may have told you “have to”) you’re just doing it. Maybe because everyone else is doing it. Or because it’s easier than saying no or doing nothing.

But then you wonder why you sometimes feel that your life is not your own. You wonder why other people have accomplished what you dream of, while it remains elusive to you. You complain about not having enough time or that you struggle with difficult decisions.

These things are not unrelated. They are no difficult to resolve either.

It begins with a question and standard from which to measure things. And then following it. That’s it.

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

7 responses to The Question to Ask

  1. The timing and the content of the article hits home for me. I’m about to hand a resignation letter over the job I’ve had for 2 years, which coincidentally had been my field of study.
    Worst case, I would be freelancing-learning and doing odd jobs while making ends meet.
    Best case, the energy and passion I could bring out in my new pursuit is possibly high but definitely higher than spending hours on a “I have no idea why I’m here” job.

  2. It really boils down to cognitive dissonance. The third camp have conflicting ideas about what they’re doing. The first two camps have less contradictory ideas and they’re doing what the love or what they want. Third camp=source of all anxiety (chemical imbalance not withstanding).

    • I’m not sure I agree. Cognitive Dissonance is not the issue.

      The problem is people want to have a certain life in the abstract. But they do not apply it at the specific level. They want to live their own life and then individually make decisions to do things they do not want to do.

      • I agree with how people don’t apply their life at the specific level they want, but wouldn’t you agree that this is in large part because of cognitive dissonance?

        “I want to improve my life but why should I? I have the talents to get by.”
        “Why should I improve my body? My mental traits will get me by.”
        “Should I improve my mind? Why do so when my past successes will apply to my future?”

        I feel that these statements that are what many people think. Living one’s own life is captive to contradictory ideas unless they acknowledge those ideas and address them.

  3. Well-written as usual Ryan. Reading the Napoleon biography you recommended this month as a refresher and drawing parallels here:

    Not being omniscient, our calculations are so often foiled or proved inaccurate that what we think would be amazing or for a greater good often turns out, whether it’s halfway or 3/4 or 90% near completion, to no longer be something worth doing (Like Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign) but we’re invested, and it’d be wrong to ditch. Cato stuck through his cause to the extreme end. Seneca too. Who’s better off?

    For those of us with qualms about leaving the people who depend on us behind, what do we do? See something you’re no longer proud of through in the hopes that things might get better? Do a serious reassessment and weigh whether it’s worth the gamble to continue? Slog on because what’s right isn’t always what you love?

    Thanks, as always.

  4. Complaining about lack of time is probably one of the most destructive habits people have.

    While we are not all born equal or with the same resources and opportunities, the one thing we all have the same of is time – we all have 24 hours every day, and it’s up to us to choose what to make of them.

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