The Invaluable Pursuits of Life

We’re driven by the value that can be placed on things. Value, after all, enables you to have a measurable metric. If something is valuable it suggests that there’s something of less value comparable to it.

This type of thinking is zero-sum thinking. Sure, a Lamborghini might be more valuable than a Toyota Corolla. But that’s only measuring it in dollars. The person that has been taking the bus to and from work everyday would still see the Corolla as valuable (and probably life changing to own).

Too many people crave value.

The problem is that all this type of value is based on random choices of other people all putting the same amount of value into one thing. You don’t want to chase this. It’s the fastest way to get distracted from the invaluable parts of life.

Invaluable things cannot be bought. They are not given. Anything that’s invaluable cannot be compared. The invaluable must be earned.

Most people lose the priceless things in life because they put value on things that can be measured easily. The invaluable parts of life take intention and effort to get. It’s hard to build. And even harder to maintain over long periods of time.

What’s invaluable pursuits worth striving for?

Too many people crave value.

There’s very little that is really worth the sacrifice to strive for. Most things will cause you to forever move the goal post – unsatisfied and burnt out with your work.

The 5 things worth going after are:

  • Happiness
  • A strong reputation
  • Freedom and independence
  • Respect for people you admire
  • Deep connection with family and friends

These all require a significant investment into your pain portfolio to earn them. None of them are easily replicated by others. The only comparison that can be made is between your current and past self. They’re easily lost. Once you lose one of them it’s almost impossible to get back.

Earning all 5 signals to others that you’re serious about leveling up in life.

Happiness

I think about a quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne that goes, “happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

If you cannot learn to be happy in your current situation, you’ll never be happy once you get whatever you desire.

Do you know what’s sad about the reality of happiness?

People are quick to sacrifice their “short-term” happiness for something more valuable. They justify it by saying things like “I’m only doing this for 2 years” or “it sucks but it pays nice”. The reality is if what you’re doing is making you unhappy you’ll have to work twice as hard after you stop just to earn it back.

Reputation

Your reputation will always proceed you. Built a reputation for one quality.

Reputation will work for you. 

Erwin Rommel, a German WW2 general, had a reputation for witty and deceptive maneuvering with his troops. When the British heard he was coming through the desert they evacuated. Even though they outnumbered his troops 5:1.1 His reputation was a form of leverage.

Reputation can also work against you. 

Denis Papin invented a simple piston that used steam to lift weights on a pulley (later turning into the combustion engine). Papin had a vision to turn this technology into boats. It easily surpassed the man-power of oars, but getting support was difficult. In 1708, he went to London to get support from the Royal Society. Headed by Sir Isaac Newton.2

All of the requests for support were ignored for one reason. Denis Papin worked with Gottfried Leibniz in the past. Leibniz had a feud with Newton over who invented Calculus. This association poisoned his reputation at the Royal Society. His reputation killed his dreams and left him with no money to show for his work when he passed away.

Freedom and Independence

Freedom is the ultimate goal because it opens you up to do creative work. Instead of being reactive you gain the benefit of being proactive. There’s no point to working towards something if it ends up turning you into a slave in the process.

Without independence you’re limited in your capabilities. Your potential is capped.

Leonardo Da Vinci worked on the Mona Lisa for 16 years. Sagrada Família has been in development for 142 years. Think and Grow rich took Napoleon Hill 20 years of research to finally be able to write.

The point I’m trying to make here is that timeless work takes time and space to work on. That’s why authors like Ryan Holiday advocate hard for pre-work in the creative process. But unfortunately you need some freedom to create the space for it.

Respect

I can’t imagine anything worse than working hard to achieve a certain level and having all of the people you admire lack respect for the way you operate, the qualities you have, or the business you’re in. This sounds defeating.

It’s often said to never meet your heroes. I believe it’s because when people often do they don’t gain the respect they’re looking for from them.

Solve hard problems and develop a unique perspective and the respect will come. But like everything else it must be earned.

Family and Friends

Social isolation and loneliness have been associated with a higher risk of premature death from all causes. 

For instance, a study found that social isolation increased a person's risk of premature death by about 50%, which is comparable to the risks associated with obesity and physical inactivity.3 Another study involving more than 580,000 adults found that social isolation increases the risk of premature death from every cause by 29%, and loneliness by 26%.4

These are the people you share memories with. You write your story with them and have things to reminisce on later in life.

You need someone you can turn to for honest advice or the friends and family whose wit, charm, and wisdom will help you keep your feet on the ground as you look to the stars reaching for your vision.

FOOTNOTES
  1. Greene, R. and Elffers, J. (2000) in The 48 laws of power. New York: Penguin Books, p. 41.
  2. Ridley, M. (2021) in How innovation works and why it flourishes in freedom. New York: Harper Perennial, p. 19.
  3. American Psychological Association. (2017, July 5). So lonely I could die [Press release]. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/08/lonely-die
  4. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences; Board on Health Sciences Policy; Committee on the Health and Medical Dimensions of Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults. Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care System. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2020 Feb 27. 3, Health Impacts of Social Isolation and Loneliness on Morbidity and Quality of Life. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557983/

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