Teachings from Steve Pavlina and Jesus, and what it means to be lucky

Teachings from Steve Pavlina and Jesus, and what it means to be lucky

Its been awhile since I last posted about something cool I found on the internet.  (Which is unfortunate, since that’s really why I started this blog.)

This morning I found myself reading Noah Kagan’s blog (which I have just recently found and subscribed to), which then led me back to a popular favorite: Steve Pavlina’s blog.  I don’t even know how many tabs I have open right now.

I just finished an article by Pavlina aptly called The Parable of Talents.  For those who are unfamiliar, The Parable of Talents is a story told by Jesus in Matthew 25  of the Bible (Matthew 25:14-30.)

Its about a master who gives his servants different sums of money (aka talents).  One gets 5, one gets 2, and one gets 1.  The one who gets 5 goes off, invests it, and returns with 5 more, totaling 10.  The one with 2 does the same, doubling his to 4.  But the one who had only 1 chooses instead to keep what he has and bury it, rendering it ultimately useless.  The master is very pleased with his first two servants and shares his joy with them.  But he is disappointed in the third servant and casts him away.

Pavlina gives a commentary on this story in the broader context of personal development.  The first thing that struck me about his article is how he notes that each servant was given a different starting position, and how this parallels our own lives.  Some of us are blessed with more talents than others (whether we’re talking here about money or the more colloquial meaning of talent).  But its what we do with what we’re given that matters.

“Jesus acknowledges the unfairness of life, but he also suggests that our starting conditions are irrelevant.  One person earns five talents, another earns only two, but both are congratulated equally.”

This concept is something that I’ve really been noticing lately, and trying to remember.  Having the understanding and acceptance that everyone has their own story, their own journey – complete with a unique starting point – really helps me keep things in a realistic and appropriate perspective.

Its so easy to look at someone who is more successful, more fit, or more giving, and feel down about oneself.  We see where they are right now, and we compare it to where we are right now.  But we don’t consider that we may be at our starting point while they are nearer completion; or perhaps we have spent equal time travelling, yet our starting point was farther back than theirs.

And really, its those times when we overcome a difficult starting point, and achieve something great, that is noteworthy.  Even if our achievement is only that we’ve come as far as we are now, its still quite impressive when you consider the obstacles we’ve overcome.  Now compare that to that “lucky” person who had everything at the start!

In a few areas of my life, I feel that I have been blessed with a good starting point.  I haven’t had to work as hard as some other people to achieve the same things.  In these areas, I’ve always considered myself “lucky”.  But take note of this point Steve Pavlina makes:

“If you happen to be one of those who receives five talents, don’t pat yourself on the back that you’re already above average.  If you have abundant talents, you should expect even more from yourself.”

For too long now, I have overvalued my starting point.  For example, my family has never really struggled with money, so that’s a reality I’ve been “lucky” enough to avoid.  As such, it was always assumed that I would go to school, make something of myself, and be successful in return.  I didn’t have to work as hard to prove myself, because I was born into a situation where it was already proven.  (In a sense.)

Similarly, I was able to pass my classes without too much effort.  So, naturally, I used that to my advantage, rarely studied or did my homework, and somehow ended up with a high school diploma.

Okay, so now that we know my starting point, let’s take a look at where I am now:

…Kind of nowhere.

I have such a high standard for myself, that I don’t want to do a lot of things most people do.  Like graduate college, get a “real job”, etc.  I’ve been fortunate enough to live with my parents and not have to pay rent (which is especially convenient considering the no degree and no job bit).  Because of this, I still consider myself to be “lucky”.  Hey, I don’t have to work or go to school, and I can live for free!

So why have I put “lucky” in quotes every time I’ve mentioned it?  Because taking a look at me, blessed with the great starting point, coasting through school and life up until this point, and now looking at what I’ve made of myself – and then comparing that to someone who may have had a much worse starting point, who may have had to put in many long hours studying and working and doing things that weren’t enjoyable, and now they have a successful career and a fulfilling life – which one is really “lucky”?

“What matters isn’t what we’re given — it’s what we do with it that matters.”

Reading Steve Pavlina’s post is yet another reminder to prioritize where I am vs. where I should be; to realistically evaluate myself not on where I’ve started but on where I’ve gotten myself and continue to get myself.

So – why have I let myself coast and sit around, and not take advantage of the great start life gave me?

Pavlina brings up another point from the Parable: the reason the third servant chose to hide his money instead of use it, was out of fear.  He only had 1, and didn’t want to risk losing it.  But in so doing, the money really didn’t serve him at all, as if he had none to begin with.  So basically, he was living as though his worst fear was his reality.

That’s pretty much my life to a T.  I worked hard at a minimum wage coffee house job for a year, saving up money so that I could go travel or move somewhere exciting, or do something with my life.  But, I ended up not going, and now those savings have been sitting in the bank, useless, dwindling away slowly over the last 6 months.  I’m not using them for the fun they were meant to buy.  So I might as well not even have them.

But the worst part is, having that money gives me another [false sense of a] good starting point.  I think, “hey, I have these savings – I could go places [if I wanted]!”  Its really just giving me a false sense of security, and a false sense of accomplishment.  Because in all practical terms, I have nothing.  Money just sitting in the bank, is nothing.

So how does one brush off these unrealistic self-perceptions, these lies we tell ourselves to feel better about ourselves when we haven’t done anything?

I think perhaps the key is in the next point Pavlina draws, when he poses the question, “What would have happened if one of the servants who invested the money realized a loss instead of a gain?” – i.e., if your worst-case scenario comes true and you utterly fail, then what?

Pavlina conjectures that the master would have praised the servant for trying and failing, because any action is better than inaction.  The third servant was reprimanded for inaction.  The first two servants were praised – but for their action, or “faithfulness”, not their results.

“However, given that Jesus doesn’t directly address this condition in the parable, he may also be suggesting that faith itself is the path to success — a common theme in his other teachings.  So perhaps if you use your talents faithfully, you aren’t really going to lose.”

And finally, Pavlina points out that the servants’ ultimate reward isn’t the money itself (as it was their master’s money and investments, not theirs).  What they receive is to share in the happiness.  The happiness of helping their master, of taking action, of doing well.

I hope you’ve taken something away from this post.  What I took away from Pavlina’s was a reminder that action is always better than inaction – and that even failure is a better result than inaction.  And that all the things I consider myself “lucky” to have, are really not giving me any real benefit at all.  Sure, they give me some baseline happiness and temporary life-support; but if anything, they are inhibiting my development.  And its really high time I stop being so dependent on them.

Do you consider yourself to be lucky?  Have you had a good start or a more challenging one?  What action have you taken since?

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Tim Ferriss and my depleted ego

My friend Heath shared this Tim Ferris blog post with me the other day, called Understanding the Dangers of “Ego-Depletion”.  Its actually a guest post written by Dan Ariely, who is a professor of psychology and behavioral economics.

Ariely presents the idea that, basically, we can only make good decisions so many times, before we are too mentally exhausted to continue.  These “good decisions” are things that require will power, like skipping dessert or working on a less-than-exciting project.  Each decision requires a certain amount of effort, and when our lives are such that we are constantly making these often challenging or personally limiting decisions, after awhile our ego just gets depleted, and we fall flat on our face.

“Here’s the reason we make bad decisions: we use our self-control every time we force ourselves to make the good, reasonable decision, and that self-control, like other human capacities, is limited.”

Consider the typical dieter: He might make some rules for himself (or maybe his doctor made them) such as no sugar, no carbs, etc.  So for each meal of the day, he has to consciously try and make a good decision about what to eat.  Depending on how stressful his day was, he might be running on empty by dinner time and end up making a bad decision.  Or, maybe he’s done well for a week but is starting to lose momentum.  Consider Ariely’s question:

“From your own experience, are you more likely to finish half a pizza by yourself on a) Friday night after a long work week or b) Sunday evening after a restful weekend? The answer that most people will give, of course, is “a”. And in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s on stressful days that many of us give in to temptation and choose unhealthy options. The connection between exhaustion and the consumption of junk food is not just a figment of your imagination.”

Ariely then gives 6 easy rules to avoid caving under pressure (as well as a pretty realistic mock internal debate about food that I’m sure we’ve all had!)  He also sites some interesting studies that demonstrate participants’ wilting ability to focus, remember, and succeed at given tasks as their stress or distraction escalates.

Reading this article made me consider the things I do, and whether or not they are due to ego depletion.  I make a number of “bad decisions” on a daily basis (eating junk food, staying up late, procrastinating, etc), but I do these things so often that I have to wonder if they’re due the ego depletion or just a lack of motivation.  But then, what’s causing my lack of motivation?  Chances are, its ego depletion.  My day-to-day life isn’t particularly stressful – in fact, its pretty cushy – but I have underlying stresses that are with me at all times (student loans, getting a job, deciding if I want to move) which definitely put a tinted shade on the rest of my life.  Perhaps if I didn’t have those stresses, I would choose to eat salads more often, or get back into a routine of working out every day?  Ariely acknowledges that one can’t completely avoid stress and potential ego depletion, but calls upon the common saying “knowing is half the battle”.  And I for one am glad to have this new perspective on what might be causing the lack of motivation I’ve settled quite [un]comfortably into for the last few years.

Do you suffer from ego depletion?  Have you found ways to overcome it?

Don’t Settle for the Guru Effect / Motivation Tips from Peter Shallard

Came across a new blog today.  Peter Shallard writes some very interesting posts.

Take for example this article on what Peter calls The Guru Effect.

I love the line “The tiny percentage of ultra achievers – the Oprahs, Bransons, Hsieh and Jobs of the world don’t publish how-to guides. They publish autobiographies.”

I myself am no overachiever and have no credibility.  Yet.  But I do plan to achieve both personal and business success.  And then I plan to write about it; make videos about it; make money from it because I’ve already made money from it.

But this post made me question why that’s my plan.  It seems like easy money.  And it could get my name out, which in turn would drive even more business to my hypothetically-already-successful company.  Its a win-win.  But then what?  Then I can relax knowing that I’ve built a little empire for myself that at this point will just bring in more and more cash passively?  At this point I can just stop working?  Stop creating?  Stop thinking?

No.  I thought that my business plans (vague as they may be) were ambitious and would bring me great things.  I still think they can bring me a bunch of money, sure.  But after reading this article, I don’t know if I consider cash to be “great things”.  As Peter says in the post, “When you take the easy, comfortable road and rest on your laurels, everyone loses.”  You lose because you’re no longer challenging yourself.  The world loses because it misses out on all the greatness you could have offered it.

—–

I should probably try this.  (How to force yourself to succeed without using willpower)

I most definitely ask myself all the ways I can fail or all the ways the task at hand will be no fun.  And it totally prevents me from doing the task.  Ridiculous.  I need to take control of my thoughts and stop sabotaging myself!  It’s actually really good timing that I read this today, as I’m starting a new workout regimen today that I plan to maintain for 30 days.  I’ll try reshaping my thoughts and see if it helps motivate me. 🙂