choosing your problems, and why travelling is like having children
When we feel that we’re choosing our problems, we feel empowered. When we feel that our problems are being forced upon us against our will, we feel victimized and miserable.
– Mark Manson
Travelling is a pain in the ass.
There. I said it.
A friend once shared that she loves travelling when her life feels out of control, because travelling presents her with an endless number of solvable problems. By solving one problem after another, you can get both a sense of satisfaction and regain a bit of control.
Do I know what I am doing with my life? No. Omg, omg, OMG!
Cue Expedia. Search flights – check. Buy tickets – check. Book hotels – check. Open my credit card bill – … ok, let’s skip that one.
Phewwwww. That’s better.
In Deep Work, the author suggests travelling less as a way to save time. I was baffled at first. What? Travel less? Yet… it makes sense.
Any travel – short-term or long-term – comes with an assortment of random tasks, from buying tickets to checking oil to booking hotels to arranging stays with friends to standing in lines to applying for visas. And on, and on.
Yet I would never dream saving time in this fashion. Why? Because travel comes with the problems I consciously chose.
This is the premise of Mark Manson’s new book – “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck”:
The goal is not to avoid problems (that’s an impossible goal any way). The goal is to choose the problems that you are going to have.
Note, that the word “problem” can be defined twofold:
- a situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome
- a set of given conditions that requires certain action steps before you can proceed (this is how it is used in physics or mathematics)
In this blog post, I am using the latter definition of the word, not the former. I believe Mark Manson does the same in his book.
Take having children.
Having children comes with a shitload of problems. And a load of shit. Literally. The new parents wipe up spit, clean up vomit, and feed their precious creature, so it can immediately create more spit. And vomit.
Yet, this is a set of problems that the new parents intentionally choose (yes, there ARE exceptions… how is that black-or-white approach working for you?).
Of course, there are other problems that you can choose instead (or in addition to) – whether that’s working eighty hours a week at a law firm, breeding ponies or volunteering at a local church. I know a couple who consciously chose NOT to have children, so they could travel extensively.
Elsewhere, Mark Manson writes:
“I am living my dream job (which happened by accident, by the way. I never in a million years planned on this happening; like a kid on a playground I just went and tried it), and I still hate about 30% of it.”
Travelling is picking yet another set of problems.
If you really wanted to make sure NOT to be bothered by a crowd of beggars on your way to Taj Mahal, and NOT come down with food poisoning in Varanasi after brushing your teeth with tap water, and that annoying beggars would not bother you on the way to the Taj Mahal, you would have stayed home with a margarita. Yet, here you go, schlopping through the streets of India, and sipping on a mango lassi. And probably smiling.
Working from the road is even more strife with problems, as you are now shuffling more things that need to get done, along with all the potential issues that come with being on the road. Your car can (and will) break down, the electricity can (and will) be shut off in the coffee shop. The drive takes longer than it should have, and now it’s 1am, and you are still answering emails. And when I say “you”, I really mean “I”…
Travelling is like having children.
The quality of sleep goes down.
It’s harder to fit your workouts in.
You don’t eat nearly as many vegetables.
Shower becomes a luxury.
Yet… bleary eyed and tired, you are content.
Are you a parent who prickled at my comparison? Ask yourself why. Do you believe that one set of problems is superior to another set of problems? 😉 Perhaps, you do. In which case, I will leave you to your #blessed hashtags.
While I am not trying to take away from the one-of-a-kind, mind-blowing, identity-changing nature of parenting problems, unique and superior are not the same thing.
[And if I have a child one day, and thus, choose that particular set of problems, you are more than welcome to inquire whether my position on this changes. I doubt that it will.]
Leaving you with few highlights from Mark Manson:
Don’t hope for a life without problems. Hope for a life with good problems.
Problems never stop. They merely get exchanged or upgraded.
Happiness is found in solving problems, not avoiding them.
True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving. Happiness is wanting the problems you have and wanting to solve them.
[Thanks to James Clear for a great summary of this book].
Here’s to picking our problems.
What will you pick today?