There is no denying a good overnight success story. It is the simple reminder that being human means we have fewer and fewer limits. Technology only continues to make it possible for anyone to warp their life, business, or movement in an instant. It is Tim Ferriss. It is Kickstarter. It is the human brain.
We want change and we want it fast. Why not? If you start to believe that there is a single answer to your happiness out there, wouldn't you sprint to it if you could? Of course, it's never been that simple. Happiness is not a destination, and there are pitfalls and dangers at every level. We're distracted by our habits - our hobbies, diets, enemies and upbringing.
Charles Duhigg gives some hope with what he calls "keystone habits" in his best-selling book The Power of Habit. Of these powerful, select habits, Duhigg wrote that they "say that success doesn't depend on getting every single thing right but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers".
Paul O'Neill is one of Duhigg's best examples. In 1987, O'Neill, a former successful government official, was asked to lead the transformation of Alcoa, one of the world's largest aluminum manufacturing companies. With unshakeable confidence, O'Neill took the CEO helm and demanded the entire international corporation make worker safety their number one priority. There was no talk of wages, profits, business relationships or parking spaces; O'Neill spoke only of safety and took steps at the most granular levels to make it happen. And he knew what he was doing.
Slowly and surely, O'Neill's Alcoa was invigorated and clear on their mission. The new strategy simplified everything down and employees became more productive, alert and proud. Business flourished and on top of everything else, everyone was safe.
It is the most insulting and inspiring concept to consider that we're all only a millimeter or a habit away from our dreams. It's the new glass half-full or half-empty question.
The undeniable truth is that the glass is never full, there will always be problems. It is at the core of Buddhist spirituality and every entrepreneurial adventure. The challenge itself of our bodies is another: to keep them eating, sleeping, and breathing as long as we can. It is what Ernest Becker was saying in The Denial of Death - "The irony of man's condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive."
It makes it worth it to know it can end. When it comes to the keystone habit that could change it all, to believe in one side means you have to believe in the other. If it's always possible we can die in a car crash coming home from work tonight, shouldn't it be just as possible we can turn a mental corner and simply decide to live a life forever full of blinding passion?
The world can be a cruel place, we can't deny that. And it can offer you an amazing journey. It doesn't always have to be bigger, faster, and stronger when you can find attention, connection and awareness.
And it's not that life happens to you, it's that you are ready for it. Meditate on this simple fact: you're alive and you could be dead. Be prepared for the million dollar book deal and the threat of cancer. Know there can be come-hither glances, broken legs and surprise parties. Make your life better, one decision at a time. Find the small victories that make you come alive and forget death. No rush, no pressure. We can never know what tomorrow will bring. After all, it is as Seneca wrote "not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it."