Ten years ago, I wrote in my journal that I wanted to read more, write more, and exercise more. Now, one month down in 2015, I think I've figured it out.
In the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, there is a massive supercomputer called Deep Thought charged with the task of crunching all the known data and answering the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. The computer reports it will take seven and a half million years of calculation, so, naturally, everyone waits.
And seven and a half million years of calculation later, the computer spits out the answer: 42. The meaning of life is 42.
What could have saved humanity seven and a half million years was asking a better question. Deep Thought claims it can't develop a better question but it could build a larger model to do the trick. Deep Thought calls this new supercomputer Earth.
And although Earth hasn't quite yet answered the ultimate question of life, there are endless answers to other questions at our fingertips that were never there before. Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine, recently told John Brockman of Edge that the future of technology on Earth might rely more on asking the correct question than finding an answer. With the ubiquity of smartphones with search engines, answers are not in rare supply. What we need to determine is exactly what we're looking for.
Economist and author Stephen Dubner bags this idea up in Think Like a Freak when he writes, "But if you ask the wrong, you are almost guaranteed to get the wrong answer." Much like how Dubner writes about the record-breaking performance and career of professional eater Takeru Kobayashi. Instead of asking himself "How do I eat more hot dogs?" at the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Championship as the competition seemed to do, Kobayashi shifted perspective by answering "How do I make hot dogs easier to eat?". And he blew away the competition. Crowned the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Champion for the first time in 2001, doubling the then-current record of 25 1/8 hot dogs in 12 minutes by eating 50, Kobayashi went on to win for the next five years.
Life is a matter of trajectory. Hot dogs might not be your style but discovering something specific offers an answer you can take action on. If you're lazy and general in your goals, you'll find nothing more than inaction and disappointment. Motivational speaker Tony Robbins jokes that if your goal is to "make more money" (which for tons of people it is), someone could just give you a dollar to go away.
The meaning of life is not specific and it might never be. As Tim Ferriss breaks it down in The 4-Hour Work Week: "Until the question is clear - each term in it defined - there is no point in answering it. The "meaning" of "life" question is unanswerable without further elaboration." There are endless answers to the "meaning" of "life" not just for society as a whole, but throughout your life too. Do you think the meaning of life you nail down in your teenage years would make any sense now? And you've had to have heard the stories of hospice patients on their deathbeds regretting the time they wasted on work in place of more time with loved ones. It is a constant questioning process. You don't want a dollar and you don't want a single, crappy meaning.
And so with the rest of our lives ahead of us, I beg you to ask better questions. If you're overwhelmed by the possibilities of the meaning of life, find the meaning of your life today. There is no guarantee you'll be around to answer it tomorrow and you can take action now. What are you waiting for?
Motion City Soundtrack sang best into my high-school ears with their song "The Future Freaks Me Out".
There is a compelling train of thought that every second we crawl closer toward it, the future is in our decisions. The advice of any personal development coach would be to believe it and you can become it. Hell, the idea of visualizing the future is the reason we have all this amazing stuff around us. But there is a sliver of this belief that becomes a bit too controlling, too convenient and too freaky. There is no guarantee that any single human can predict the future. Not one psychic, not one dreamer.
It can be a bit hard to swallow. We conveniently forget that no matter our goals or whenever or not they're achieved, the future will arrive in its own style. British writer Stephen Fry challenged me with a video entitled What I Wish I'd Known When I Was 18 when he said, "The worst thing you can ever do in life is set yourself goals." The idea behind this is either you melt into failure for an untold number of reasons or you achieve goals without satisfaction or reflection, marching onto the next.
The danger is looking to the future for an end. Even if you conquered the world, you would still need to keep it. And then conquer breakfast.
I'm currently halfway through Tony Robbins' 30-Day Personal Power II CD set (whew, what a title!). Goal-setting has become a much more potential reality if only because it is transforming who I am daily. While I'm currently all about the Brooklyn apartment with a balcony, Honda cruiser motorcycle, and a debt-free blogging career, it is much more about the personal transformation I need to acquire these goals. How do I know I want all that in the future? I don't. And you don't know either. For all we can guess, we may not want the trophy at the end of the race, but we can always say we ran it.
It's the kind of present thought that had me smiling and without regret after getting a knee planted on my neck during my last jiu-jitsu tournament. (After the tournament, I was smiling, not during the chokehold. I'm not that masochistic.) If anything, it sculpted my ambition, my body, and my identity even better to throw caution to the wind and fight.
If the future can't be predicted and we're moving toward it, whether we like it or not, the most logical thing I think we can do is build today for tomorrow. Dreaming too wild can be like fishing with grenades. There is an acknowledgement that we are not in a place we want to be and often our deepest flaws are revealed as holding us back. Hurting yourself to be someone else is the most masochistic. There is some pleasure in there but mostly you're left with scars at square one.
Ira Glass, host of NPR's This American Life, exhibits this clearly in an old interview he did for CurrentTV when he defines taste as the barometer for creative people. Your taste is the reason you want to create something of your own and it is the reason you know your own stuff is not that good when you begin. It is nothing like the pros, the experts, the famous. The success comes with the goal and fulfillment of bridging that gap and realizing your taste is on the same level with your work. This, Glass said, is what he wished someone would have told him when he was starting in broadcasting.
The simple truth is the present is all we have. You can argue the past makes us better today, you can argue that humans are uniquely capable of striving to their futures. What remains is that two very successful storytellers and thinkers, Stephen Fry and Ira Glass, used the present to throwback lessons to their teenage years. Whether you have goals or not, young or old, we're here to do stuff and sometimes it hurts to know we don't know everything. In the end, Steven Johnson may have exhibited best with this idea: "The adjacent possible is a shadow future, a map of all the ways the present can re-invent itself".
The future is now. Make it happen, as best you can.