Fun vs Meaningful

You’ve probably heard the saying “time you enjoy wasting is not time wasted.”

Like most sayings, there’s some truth to it. But if you really believe this you’re probably doing yourself a disservice by having a ready-made excuse to wasting time.

And if you’re like me and try to (somewhat) optimize how you spend time, is there a way to determine how to best spend it, and on what activities to spend it on?

The way I’ve begun to think about it is thinking of activities in terms of fun vs meaningful.

Fun

Fun can mean a lot of things, but to me the gist is that you feel good doing whatever you’re doing in the moment and not necessarily after the fact. It’s a short-term, fleeting feeling without many, if at all, future benefits.

An example is drinking alcohol. Drinking is fun; you feel good while you’re drunk and generally the more you drink the more fun you have. But that fun is fleeting, because the day after you’re groggy, hungover, and regretful (How many times have you said “I’m never drinking so much again”?). And how beneficial is drinking? Not very to your body or health. Sure, you might make a friend or two while doing so, but will those be deep relationships you care about?

Meaningful 

Meaningful, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily have that same instantaneous short-term enjoyment that fun can have. Meaningful activities can be fun, but they can also be hard, painstaking work in the moment. The payoff for meaningful activities can also be delayed, but also much more enduring.

An example of a meaningful activity is working out. It’s tough in the moment, and few people enjoy the first few times they start a new workout program. But the after effects of a workout – dopamine, testosterone, improved circulation, confidence – are universal: no one has ever regretted exercising more.

Thinking of activities this way helps you avoid the temptation for instant gratification. Think of “fun” activities like playing video games, partying, going out drinking, vacationing, etc. as the dessert, not the main course. The main course is filled with activities like learning new skills, taking interesting classes, playing on a sports league, contributing to a start-up, etc.

Of course, people are going to read this and still think it’s arrogant to label activities as meaningful or not, or a waste of time or not. They’re missing the point. Of course you’re free to spend your time doing whatever you want. But if you’re trying to convince yourself that watching TV or playing video games in all your free time is not a waste of time you’re likely deluding yourself.

I had to learn this the hard way. As a kid, I used to play a ton of video games – hours and hours every day, sometimes even waking up in the middle of the night to put in more hours. I had a ton of fun playing them in the moment, but when I stopped I’d inevitably have this empty hollow-ness inside me. Did I really just spend 3, 4, 5 hours playing this game? What did I really achieve as a result? What could I have done instead with all that time? 

I didn’t understand the concept of fun vs meaningful back then, but I’m sure that had I known I likely would have spent my time wiser.

Your Past is an Indicator of Your Future

Time for some harsh truths today.

I’m a big believer in embracing reality. Part of that entails cutting through the noise – propaganda, invisible scripts, motivational nonsense – accepting discomfort, and then focusing on what you can control to better your situation.

A lot of people will have you believe that you can do anything you want if you just believe hard enough or want it badly enough. “Your potential is limitless – all you need to do is untap it!” We further this by deluding ourselves with thoughts like, “Yeah, if I really wanted to do XYZ I could.”

And while it’s true that it’s never too late to start something, if you believe that your past has no effect on your future you’re doing yourself a disservice by avoiding reality.

Past performance – while not a perfect indicator – is a pretty good predictor of future performance. I have a hard time thinking of a field where this rule doesn’t apply.

Who you are today is a reflection of who you were in the past; your decisions, your actions, your thoughts, your beliefs. All of the seemingly inconsequential choices and micro-decisions we make on a day-to-day basis – our habits – compound.

There’s a saying that goes “How you do anything is how you do everything.” Like most phrases or stereotypes, this is generally true. If you approach certain things with a 50% mentality you’ll likely approach most other things with the same lackadaisical effort.

This is one reason why some people seemingly have it all. Success has a spillover effect – what you do builds momentum. Success leads to more opportunities available to you and more “luck”.

If this post is depressing, it should serve as a wake up call that you’re unhappy with your current situation and are probably worried that the future holds much of the same.

You can either whine about it and blame some external factor for your misfortune, trying to convince others in some way to alleviate your situation (hint: getting other people to do what you want that’s not in their best interest never works)…or you can embrace reality and start taking corrective action today. 

All we can do in life is try to take things one day at a time. Improving ourselves 1% a day is a victory.

What this looks like in application:

  • If you’re overweight: Go for a 5-minute run outside today. Tomorrow, 7 minutes. The day after, 10 minutes.
  • If you’re stuck at a job you hate: Update your resume today and apply to one job posting. Tomorrow, two job postings. The day after, three job postings.
  • If you’re trying to improve your confidence: Ask a stranger for the time today. Tomorrow, ask two strangers for the time, or directions to the nearby Starbucks. The day after, strike up a conversation with the cashier.

Start small. Progressively overload yourself. If you do this consistently for two weeks…a month…three months…how much closer to your goals do you think you’ll be?

What I’ve Been Up To

It’s June 2016 and it’s been over six months since I last wrote anything or updated this site. I know, I know, I dropped the ball. A lot has changed since then though, so I’ll go over what’s happened and some of the things I’ve learned.

The biggest change is that I got a new job in NYC. I’m working for a fintech company that’s disrupting a traditional industry and is the leader in its space. I’m excited at the opportunity and it’s been great so far.

This might be surprising because many of my previous articles were tinged with a very pro-entrepreneurship lens of view, and a slight distaste for the corporate world.

But humans change. And one of the great things about writing is that it allows you to go back and revisit your old thoughts and points of view.

One of the ways I’ve changed is I’ve come to be more accepting of working a corporate job. It sounds silly, I know, but 20-year old me associated jobs of any kind with depression, stress, anxiety, you name it. I had this idea that everyone who worked a 9-5 was some corporate zombie who hated their bosses, their colleagues, and everything about it. While true for some people, there are also plenty of people who enjoy their jobs and find a lot of meaning in what they do.

This realization came to me in part because of my previous stint working for a real estate entrepreneur. I enjoyed most of the perks that come with entrepreneurship that everyone glorifies so much: working from anywhere I wanted, largely having control over my time, freedom to pursue other activities, and so on.

But at the same time I was also being paid pennies. And working directly for someone else meant that my future was largely in someone else’s hands. It was certainly a learning opportunity as I had my hands in all sorts of different industries and functions, but it got rough at times. Projects we’d worked on for months or even years sometimes never came to fruition or didn’t close, legal issues arose, personal matters conflicted with business situations, and on and on.

This is the unsexy side of entrepreneurship that hardly anyone ever talks about. Too many people try their hand at pursuing their passions and starting a business without fully understanding the risks involved and just how much it sucks to not know when or who your next check is coming from.

The plus side to the lack of financial security was that it forced me to get creative with other incomes. I learned copywriting and freelanced for a bit (more posts on that in future).

I previously wrote an article titled “How to Make $1M in Four Years After University” where I gave an example of someone who actually made $1m in four years. I highlighted the fact that he held onto his high-paying job all while pursuing side hustles. This is the model I’m going to replicate, and it’s one that I think more than 90% of recent graduates should also take.

Now, I used to think holding a regular job would prevent me from pursuing my own activities on the side. I’d be too tired after work, too grumpy, too stressed, whatever. All of these thoughts were just excuses.

“I don’t have time” is truly one of the biggest BS phrases we all throw around. It’s true that I do have less time now than before; by the time I get home around 7-8pm, go to the gym for an hour, shower, and eat, it’s 9-10pm at least…but, that still leaves me with a couple hours. Even half an hour of dedicated, focused work can produce great results if done consistently. I just need to prioritize my time and attention to actually do so. Or wake up an hour earlier. Or work at my desk during lunch.

The point is if we truly want something bad enough, we’ll set up systems to make it work. I’m looking forward to making it work. One of those ways will be to update this blog more often. The quality might go down sliiiightly, but that’s only because I won’t stupidly be spending a week writing and re-writing the same article trying to perfect it now. Goes to show constraints are beneficial.