Are You Living Your Life According To Your Terms?

life according to your terms

I keep coming back to Yuval Noah Harari's quote "Humans believe in a particular order not because it is objectively true, but because believing in it enables us to cooperate effectively and forge a better society," because it was the first time I became aware of the idea of imagined order. Similar to Harari, David Brooks discusses moral order in his book, appropriately called The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life.

Brooks says that it is our responsibility to create a shared moral order. At the same time, he observes, we are not judged by how well we conform to shared moral code. Instead, because we live in a hyper-individualistic society, we are measured by what we have achieved. We are also enormously attached to having freedom: the freedom to do what we want, when we want, and whichever way we want.

While freedom seems to be the "right" thing to have, Brooks argues that "freedom sucks." We are drowning in freedom, and we are lost in it. We can all agree that having political freedom is fantastic, especially when we see what is happening in many parts of the world right now. However, when it comes to social, personal, and emotional freedom, it is a different story.

The first problem with freedom is that you have to choose your own path. How does one know which path is right? We tell people that the world is full of possibilities, their future is limitless, they can achieve anything they set their mind to, and they should dream big. That all makes for a great motivational poster, but it does not answer the question, "Which path is the right path for me?" What those motivational statements do is put pressure on individuals to make the right choice in the context of striving for higher achievement.

People are hungry for direction, guidance, and wisdom to help them figure out, "What cause will inspire me and give meaning and direction to my life?" Without knowing an answer to this question, people lead random and busy lives with no real foundation or a sense of purpose. Individuals typically realize that when they suddenly ask themselves, "Why am I doing this?"

Workaholism is often a response to a directionless life as it is an effective distraction from all those tough questions that people often do not want to ponder. It is easier to keep working and staying busy than to embark on the deep journey inside yourself. Another idea that is very popular in our society is the concept of meritocracy. When I wrote about Ray Dalio, I mentioned that his firm, Bridgewater Associates, has created an environment of idea meritocracy, where the best ideas win.

In a meritocracy, talented individuals compete with one another, and at some point, a group of high achievers reaches higher levels of society. These are the individuals who attend annual meetings in Davos. The implicit message of meritocracy is that high achievers are worth more than everybody else. Meritocracy causes people to obsess over prestigious schools, fancy job titles, and other status markers.

Meritocracy pushes people to a life that society loves, but the individuals living those lives often do not. When we treat our lives as an extension of school, we often become insecure overachievers: people who work hard, seek status and fear failure. Even when the insecure overachievers' status rises, their "heart and soul are never fully engaged."

The constant fight to win success and to be better than everybody else leaves people feeling empty, incomplete, unsatisfied, and meaningless. They no longer know what is their purpose, and they are morally directionless. "Trying to live someone else's life, or to live by an abstract norm, will invariably fail - and even do great damage," said Parker Palmer, founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal.

The solution to the problem created by hyper-individualistic society is knowing your "why," knowing your purpose. Nietzsche said it first, "He who has a why to live can bear almost any how," and then Simon Sinek popularized this idea in his book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. At the end of the day, we get to choose whether we want to live a life based on society's conventional norms or a life according to our inner purpose.

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