Trying to decide what to do next? Follow the light.
Happy New Year! I've been trying to come up with a New Year's resolution, and it got me thinking about setting goals, finding and following your purpose, and how this ties into some books I read this year.
TL;DR: If you're trying to decide what to do next in your life, in which direction you should expand and grow, maybe it helps to think like a tree and go where the sunshine is.
The purpose of life
The most interesting book I read in 2022 was The Romance of Reality, where Bobby Azarian does an amazing job applying Darwinism to the universe.
He says that the universe itself is a self-organizing system, with a bias towards increasing order, complexity and awareness. The idea is that the process of evolution was around before life emerged. Life formed at the bottom of the ocean at thermal vents, where tremendous amounts of extreme heat energy met extreme coldness. Eventually, the first forms of life emerged here to capture that wasted energy and put it to use.
Fast forward to the present, and now we have complex life everywhere we look, actively consuming any and all food and energy available and using it to maintain the structures of our bodies, our systems and our species.
As lifeforms, humans are sentient agents of the universe whose purpose is to use our awareness and intelligence in order to optimise the conversion of available energy into complexity and order.
It's not hard to see how true this is. So much of what we do boils down to consuming energy (food, fuel, heat) so that we can create more order (clean homes, growing families, bigger cities, information, content creation). Pretty much every job is related either directly or tangentially to this process, or optimizing the process.
We've even dug towards the centre of the earth and the centre of the atom in order to unlock and consume more and more available energy and use it to create increasingly complex systems and structures.
So how do you fit into all this? And how can you use this perspective and knowledge to live a good life?
Following your dreams
I just finished reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It's a story about following your dreams. It's about a shepherd boy in Spain who dreams about finding treasure at the pyramids in Egypt. Following the guidance of those he meets along the way, he goes on a quest to literally follow his dream and see where it leads.
I've always liked stories about following your dreams. I've always tried to follow my own dreams. Once upon a time, I was stuck in the proverbial office job, and dreamed of the day I could be working from home, setting my own hours, choosing work I found interesting. I dreamed about buying a house, getting married and having children.
I followed those dreams, and soon started freelancing. Several years later, I bought a house, got married, and now have the family and life I'd always dreamed about.
So now I'm looking to the future, wondering where to go from here. There are so many possibilities that it's hard to focus and hard to decide.
Thinking like a tree
We're all in search of our potential. It's not just about finding happiness, but also finding activities that won't burn us out, that are sustainable in every sense of the word.
A tree will put more energy into the branches that get more sunshine, because opportunity creates a void that must be filled. Nature abhors a vacuum.
Thinking about our careers, interests and opportunities, it's as if we are trees with branches growing out in many directions, and we are trying to decide whether we should grow in this direction or that.
Like a tree, we can feel the energy coming from each branch to decide whether it's getting more sunshine or less. Sometimes this process is described as market research, trying to establish whether there is demand for a particular enterprise. Is it time to hire an employee? Or write a book? Or start a non-profit? Or teach? Or make a video game? Or take time off and travel? Or just hunker down and work harder doing the same things as ever?
Energy can take the form of light, or heat, or money, but also inspiration, joy, excitement and motivation. Which activities will give you a turbo boost and allow you to grow and expand further? Which are a dead end? You can also see which of your branches are already giving you more energy back. And you can expand carefully, incrementally, to get more feedback, to see if these directions are the right directions for you.
They need not expand forever in any given direction. Maybe there's a ton of energy available to move in the direction of, for example, publishing one small video game. But maybe that's also where it stops, and going all-in on video game development would be a terrible mistake. Or, maybe it opens up a new opportunity, one nobody could see or feel from here?
Follow the light
Follow your passions? What does that even mean? Instead, follow the light.
What is shining brightest to you right now? Where are your branches expanding to, and which of those branches are shouting "Go this way!!" Optimize for excitement. Learn how to convert some of that sunshine into food, by bringing joy to others (aka "providing value") such that others will be happy to give you sunshine tokens (aka "money") for the joy you bring.
If something excites you, it'll likely excite others. Because you do not live alone in a desert. If you can capture a bit of that sunshine out of the air, you can make it available to the whole world. And when you do, more energy will flow back from the world to you, as if to say "Yes, keep going!"
Follow the light. Capture excitement out of the air and share it with the world.