This article will try to answer the fundamental question: “What should I do with my life?” Usually, this is a question that falls into the domain of self-help books, spirituality writings, and articles that use the word “millennial” a lot. But also a question that is never really answered, and it’s generally perceived as something that cannot be answered, for some reason. (And I guess that if you do answer this question, you come across as naive or presumptuous – I mean, who are YOU to tell me what the world is like or give me instructions on what I should do.) I think that, with this question in particular, people insist on feeling confused. It is almost like a lot of people conditioned themselves to experience the feeling of confusion whenever such a question is raised. Obviously, I do not think that this question is at all that complicated to answer. It’s actually easy, therefore – one article. There is complexity – in action, in solving certain problems, in achieving a certain mindset. But the answer is relatively clear and simple, and follows a certain philosophy that I, with my current state of knowledge, think is better than others.
And yes, you may wonder who I am to tell you what to do with your life. I’m nobody. It doesn’t matter who I am, what matters is what I say. If what you read resonates with you and you deem it reasonable, then what does it matter who wrote it?
In a nutshell: just do whatever is most useful.
This is basically it. I say “basically” because, without additional clarification, this idea isn’t all that useful, but in essence, it boils down to that: find useful things to do, and then prioritize them, and then do the more useful things first.
Why should I do this and not something else?
You can do whatever you like, but if it’s all the same to you, you might as well choose to do the most useful things, instead, say, travel the world or smoke pot all day or whatever. I can’t stop you from going after the things you want, but if you’re missing a feeling of purpose, of actually doing something that matters, adopt this simple philosophy, and the feeling may well come.
What about happiness?
Happiness is a stupid goal to pursue directly. Happiness can come from several sources, and if you work towards a good purpose, you can achieve happiness, without having to travel through South East Asia to “find yourself”. Also, always trying to be happy is dumb. You should generally be relaxed and appreciative and aware, but just being happy all the time… That’s just emotional junk food. You don’t NEED to be happy all the time, the same way you don’t NEED to eat something juicy, sweet, creamy and fat all the time. Sometimes, it’s okay to eat plain oats and vegetables, and sometimes, it’s okay to feel shitty. It’s okay to feel a bit depressed. Be grateful for what you have and be mindful of what happens around you, but don’t worry if you’re not happy enough. It’s really not that important.
How do you find what’s useful?
Generally, people don’t have a problem with this step. We kind of know that US college dropouts begging for travel money on third world country streets – we know that’s not useful. We also may intuitively think that certain arts are not really useful, and working in certain industries is definitively not useful. And certain study programs are not useful, and certain positions in companies are not useful, and so on and so on. So… Basically things that aren’t improving anyone’s life or health in any way, things that aren’t legitimately making the world a better place – these things are not useful. Don’t do these things, do the useful things.
But what does “most” useful mean?
Now we come to the complex part. Depending on how you calculate it, “most” useful generally means “what saves the most number of human and/or animal lives”, “what ensures the largest number of QALYs (quality-adjusted life years)”, “what ensures the survival of the human species” etc.
Generally, the world looks like this: Many die horribly and for no good reason, every minute of every day. You don’t see them, you don’t hear news about them, but easily preventable diseases produce blind babies, unnecessary consumer habits ensure Holocaust-level torture of billions of animals, and irresponsible technological development may risk total extinction of the human species.
Simultaneously, we have the potential to make our planet into a beautiful garden of exploration and sharing, healing the sick and feeding the hungry, visiting other planets, and learning the secrets of the Universe.
So, a lot of bad stuff happening, but a lot of potential to be good. What do you do?
You find where you can make the largest difference and then you DO THAT.
Think about this: you go out and decide to have a couple of drinks with your buddies. On the way to the bar, you see a person dying on the street – maybe a car accident, or something. You simply ignore the person and go have your drinks. It’s been a tough week, you deserve to relax a bit. That person isn’t your fault or responsibility.
It’s obvious that, if you do that, you’re maybe the biggest asshole in the universe. You’re just a very, very terrible person. Now, what difference does it make if this person is in another street nearby? For most of us, none. We would still help. But what if the person is in another city? We know we can’t make there in time or actually do anything ourselves… So we might call emergency medical help, or something. What if the person is in another country? Another culture? We may or may not know what’s happening, we could be unsure of whether it’s true or not, we could be skeptical that any help we send will actually make a difference… So we go to the bar and have our drinks.
We shouldn’t do that. We shouldn’t insist on inaction because we’re unsure. If you do your research and go read the three links I posted above, you will know enough to do something.
That’s it. That’s what you do. You find a way to make the world a better place, you help the dying person on the street, you make yourself more and more useful. Then and ONLY then… You can go have your drinks.
This is the answer – and it’s simple. The execution is what’s complicated and there are many dead ends that lurk. It’s treacherous to become this kind of person because there are a hundred ways to do well, but a million ways to fail miserably. So tread with care, but tread with resolution. That’s what I am trying to do.