What Is a ‘Successful’ Life To You?
You have only 3–8 different lives left before you die, so choose wisely
You want a lot of things. Perhaps better physique, deeper relationships with your family, or just allowing yourself to enjoy life more.
But when can say that your life is “successful”? How will you know that you have achieved the life you want?
The truth is you won’t — unless you first define what success is to you.
Defining success might sound unnecessary, even silly. “Of course, I know what I want” you might say. But do you really? Could you write down your ideal life so clearly that someone else could design it for you? And even if you could, are you sure that that is the life you want to live?
Imagine that you discovered an Aladdin’s lamp. But instead of getting three wishes, your entire current life is wiped clean. Your material possessions, your relationships, even your own personality — everything is erased and you get to start from a fresh slate.
The genie then hands you a blank paper and asks you to write down exactly how you’d like your ideal life to be. Whatever you decide to write on this paper the genie will make true. With a stroke of a pen, you can choose a new personality, new relationships, and how you will spend your 24 hours a day in your new life.
But here’s the catch — your life will become exactly as you write it. If you forget to mention that you wish to travel once a month, then no travel for you. If you don’t mention how much time you spend with your family, it may turn out much less than you’d like. If you don’t mention what kind of person you will be, it may not be the person you want.
What’s more — you can only change this paper two times during your entire life. Instead of three wishes, you get three different lives. You can switch lives whenever you want. But until you switch you will remain in the last life you asked of the genie. And once your three changes are up, you will stay in your third life until your last day at the age of 100.
If you only have three different lives left to live, what would you choose?
Are you still sure you know what a “successful” life means to you?
This three-lives Aladdin’s lamp is as terrifying as it’s exhilarating. Of course, there are countless things you would like to change with our lives if you could. But if you only had three lives to live, you suddenly have to be much more careful in deciding what you wish for.
So what does this thought experiment have to do with how real life works?
Think of it this way — how many different lives do you expect to live during the rest of your lifetime? Perhaps more than three, but most of us don’t live more than eight. You already have a finite number of lives left. Our choices of lives are already limited.
Furthermore, while we can change our lives at any point we want, how often do we actually do it? And I don’t mean a change like graduation, that happened just because you aged. When did you last make a conscious decision to become a better person, switch jobs, or spend more time with family?
We have the freedom to change our lives whenever we want in theory, but in practice, we use it very sparingly. So perhaps our lives are not so different from this three-lives Aladdin’s lamp after all?
I would argue that because we can change lives at any point, we may not think through how we live our lives as much as we should. If you knew you would be stuck with whatever life you choose for 10 years, you would be darn careful in what you wish for. But because we can “always change later”, we risk not thinking through what we truly want before we decide. Then we spend 10 years on that path anyway and don’t bother switching because things are “good enough”, even though we could switch.
A more accurate picture of how real life works is that we all have an Aladdin’s lamp we can rub at any time we wish. But this lamp has two limitations:
- The genie can’t grant any wish — but only change those things that are within our control.
- The genie can only grant our wish if we first offer him proportionate effort in exchange.
This Aladdin’s lamp has a name. It’s called: “reality”.
If you wish your life would be different you can always choose to make it so — as long as it’s within your control and you offer sufficient effort in exchange. But while you can choose to switch lives whenever you want, you can realistically only live around eight uniquely different lives in practice, because each change requires effort. And you only have so much time and effort to offer reality.
If you had only 3–8 different lives left to try before you died, what would you choose?
What would a “successful” life look like to you? Who would you be? What would you do? And most importantly, how would you feel?
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