Monday, January 4, 2010

Really Thinking

“There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking” -Thomas Edison
“Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” –Martin Luther King, Jr

It's unfortunate, but just plain old thinking is something that few people really do. Deep thinking about just about everything is essential- and is all too often neglected. Self-awareness is one of the most important qualities to have in order to live the most satisfying life you can- I feel that it's also very underrated. Taking the time to reflect on what your values are, where you want to go, and what kind of life you want to lead are fundamental questions that I believe require a long period of uninterrupted pondering. Too many people take the path of least resistance and are swept along by the waves of social proof, following the examples set by others, regardless of the suitability to their individual situation (I've written about this before).

I believe that a unique and complex combination of a large number of factors and circumstances that change at certain points over time produce the most satisfying life for an individual- things like the people around you, where you live, where you travel, income level, interests, occupation, and countless other factors, some much less concrete. You want to get yourself as close to the optimal combination as possible, even with a large number of unknowns starting out. An appropriate analogy would be to visualize life like a road trip- you want to take the right complicated sequence of twists and turns and exits, but you'll often have to deal with a detour. You want to surround yourself with the right kind of scenery and traveling companions but you can't always have exactly what you want. You want to avoid bad drivers, but sometimes you just can't. You have to be able to put gas in the tank and your trip will be elongated if you keep your car well-maintained, but some people's cars break down without warning. Some people drive recklessly and crash into the ditch. Some people's cars have a problem that can't be fixed, but can keep going and get help from others. There will be storms and bad road conditions, but you'll (hopefully) learn from them and avoid them next time. You'll happen upon amazing things by pure chance. Some people have a clear goal at the end, some don't, but it is bound to change for everyone over the course of the trip. At the end you might get to the destination you set out to get to in the beginning but realize it was really about the trip to get there. You want to have some sort of an idea of what you want, and that will change over the course of the trip- but it's for sure that driving without a sense of direction and some sort of idea of what you want will mean that you'll end up driving somewhere, but you might one day find yourself in a very different place than you want to be. It takes a certain amount of thinking and planning to know where you want to go.

How do you go about finding out what you want in life? Do you schedule 1:00-2:00, find values? That's much too mechanical. I've found that these insights aren't something that you go looking for and then specifically happen upon in a stroke of insight at 1:37- I find that they come to you over time and that you have to be in a position to see them. Different parts of the puzzle can come to you at different times and your ideas on them will evolve over time. Sometimes they can come to you when you're in the thick of things, working at a million things at once, but I've found that they are much more likely to come to you when you're free of commitments and outside influences. The younger that you start the better- remember that these values will change and evolve- that's a given- and that's okay- you just adjust your destination. Continually ask yourself these questions over and over again. I credit a large part of who I am today to introspection during summer vacation (the best thing about school). To be able to give you a plane ticket, the airline needs to know where you want to go first. Knowing where you want to go in life is crucial- it sounds simple, but in my experience it is overlooked much too often.

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