Happiness comes from working hard, and well, on something you care about.
Why do I continue being an entrepreneur when it's such a daily struggle for me? I've repeatedly referred to it as the hardest thing I've ever done, so why don't I stop and do something easier?
Because it turns out, entrepeneurship is also the most sustainably fun, and happy-making, way I've found to spend my time.
Success in business - not only because it means I have the ability to take care of myself, but also for the positivity it brings to others - makes me happier, longer, and more often, than any other non-Lilly related activity.
My happiness comes from...
being able to choose my challenges and working to overcome them. I feel that is the realistic "best life". Not a life of ease with no problems at all, but a life where you get to choose the problems you spend your time on. I wasn't born with the ability to choose all my challenges. I had to learn a lot and work to earn the privelege, but the process itself was encouraging.
When I was 22, I didn't know this. I thought my goal should be to work as LITTLE as possible! I had a bad attitude about wealth and jobs and my place in the workforce and sadly, I didn't even realize it. My limiting beliefs were also a lens that affected my perspective, and lenses are transparent to the wearer. Someone else has to point them out to you and no one else knew how I thought about these things because no one asked and I didn't think to tell any one.
I was also so distracted by my incompatible relationship that it didn't occur to me to find another meaningful challenge to make me feel better. Trying to fix my relationship was all I could handle at the time.
But later in my 20s, two things happened...
The first thing was finally making a true committment to martial arts. As a kid I had always wanted to be a martial artist but we couldn't afford the classes. I did one or two 6-week trials but that was it.
In middle school I started wrestling and my dad was even my coach for a season. But there was a lot about wrestling that I hated and in high school I quit the year after my best season. My heart wasn't in it anymore and that's a dangerous thing for a combat sport. Any sport really!
But I was always a little disappointed in myself for not achieving the goal of becoming a confident martial artist.
10 years later I was introduced to BJJ and I become addicted to it almost instantly. This time I could afford all the training I wanted and I went to class as often as I possibly could.
I was still distracted by my relationship, but now I had a healthy way to escape my troubles and sublimate (remember sublimation? we just talked about it on the call) my negative emotions into something I thought was meaningful and constructive.
I had found the first thing since high school that I cared this passionately about - and working hard on it made me immensely happy! That was part of why I trained so much too. It became a positive cycle.
The self-esteem and pride of accomplishment that I got from BJJ felt great and kept me sane in the face of whatever other troubles I was dealing with at the time. But the sense of community I got from it gave me the feeling that I had support and wasn't alone.
I became really good friends with a bunch of my training partners on and off the mat. I would always stick around after class to chat with whoever was around. I'd ask people what they were up to on the weekend and show interest in their passions. Sometimes I'd get an invitation to join them.
Very often I would invite them to join me at a concert I was going to... but my taste in music prevented them from accepting most of the time :wink: It wasn't a problem though, because it showed them that I wanted to spend more time with them and the compatible people would make other plans with me.
Now that I had a good group of supportive friends I found the strength to end my marriage. Ending that relationship is what led me to the next phase of my life.
After that point, I found MANY challenges to work hard on that made me feel happier. Most of them were related to what I considered to be LIFE SKILLS that I'd be able to use to improve myself.
I was already working on self-defense through the martial arts, now I wanted emotional stability. I learned how to meet women and date properly and make smart choices about who to let into my life.
Then I wanted financial stability so I changed careers and learned sales. When corporate life turned sour I wanted to be able to do it all on my own so I became an entrepeneur.
Each time there was more to learn and more work to be done, but for the most part it was work I loved doing. The day that I realized that moving up in life was about taking on more responsibilities - first for yourself, then for others - was the day my outlook on how to spend my time changed.
Previously, I thought life should be about working as little as possible. Instead, a person should spend all their time enjoying themselves in whatever way they prefer. Working = bad. Not working = good!
What I didn't realize was that you could actually make working something you enjoy MORE than not working. Doing something you love feels great! Getting PAID to do something you love feels even better! Getting paid to do something you love that provides meaning, purpose, and structure to your life feels like you've really got this "success" thing figured out!
I thought having all my time to myself - 100% "free" time - was going to make me happy. If I'm being honest, that's my true motivation for becoming an entrepeneur. I wanted to reach a point where I never had to do anything that I didn't want to do. Total control of how I spend my time.
But I learned through experience that's not enough. It's not having free time that makes you happy. It's spending your time putting effort - sometimes hard effort - into projects and goals and processes that you care about.
I learned that for me, being in business makes life like a video game where you get to choose exactly how you want to play it. Like an MMORPG, except for real. You choose your craft, trade, skillset, job, career, and your approach to achievement and success.
Do you want to be on a team? You can find or make one. Do you want to fly solo? That's fine too. How do you want to measure success? That's up to you.
You are both the game designer, and the player, of your own personal game of life. The lesson I learned about happiness is that you get more of it when you're working on a meaningful quest.
Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means "reason for being." It's the intersection of what you love, what you're good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for.