A Tough Question

Piggy backing off of last week’s post

5 years. I spent 5 years giving it all I had. 5 years of sleepless nights. 5 years of hardly any social life. 5 years of toiling over complicated physics, mathematics, and computer programming problems. 5 years to graduate with an Electrical Engineering Degree… Followed by one of the most depressing and tumultuous times of my life. 11 months of a 1 hour commute to work each way. 11 months of hardly any exercise. 11 months of sitting at a desk trying my damnedest to be interested in the Oil and Gas Industry. 11 months of hating Sunday nights as I looked forward to the pain of Monday morning. Then, I finally worked up the courage to quit…

It was tough. I knew there was going to be loads of push back from family and friends. There were many people who were disappointed in my decision and I was disappointed in them for not understanding my choice. The depression was too much. The job wasn’t interesting to me. College hadn’t produced what was promised. In my mind, I had done my part: I worked extremely hard, sacrificed social life, utilized resources as needed, worked part-time, took on debt, did internships, and got the degree. The promise was a ‘good life’ when I acquired the ‘good job’ that results from the ‘good degree’. On my first day of work I can remember walking up to the office building in West Houston and thinking, “I’m going to hate this.” I was right. I tried to be grateful for such a high-paying job. I tried to focus on the fact that I got to travel. It was empty and I couldn’t keep going without damaging myself (As I have said before, I was mildly suicidal).

To date, with all the hard things I’ve done in life, getting my Engineering Degree might be the hardest thing I’ve ever done and, yes, I quit. I gave it my all for the time that I was pursuing it. When I realized it was hurting me, I let go. Seems logical to me.

‘Never quit!’ ‘Never give up!’ – Well, it depends… Does the goal you have been pursuing still mean something to you? Are you still able to put your best effort into the process? Does the pursuit give you life? Does it inspire you? I’ve never given up on exercise. There have been times when I wasn’t following through the way I wanted to, but I’ve never put it down. Why? It means something to me. It challenges me to be better. It gives life to me (when done the right way). It offers problems to solve (handstands and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighting are complex tasks). Engineering had lost meaning before I graduated, my effort all but disappeared before I quit, and I damn sure wasn’t inspired. Take note: inspired (as I’m using it) doesn’t mean happy or having energy for the task. Inspired means a process is connected to such deep purpose/meaning that it causes one to find the will and drive to push through all adversity.

Sometimes we find ourselves on autopilot and we suddenly realize that things have lost meaning. Sometimes we realize that there are other things in life that have far more meaning to us than the things we currently devote our energy to. Recently, I made the decision (after six months of committed focus) that I was going to give up learning how to Day Trade Stocks (for now at least). I have been struggling to get to MMA practice on a consistent basis. I didn’t realize how much of an emotional drain that Day Trading can be. There are high high’s and low low’s. I workout almost every morning and I have been focused on day trading for at least 4 hours every day for the last 6 months. When I started MMA training in early November, I didn’t realize how much energy the Day Trading required. Long story short, both activities carry with them significant meaning to me. Day Trading represents a tangible path to financial freedom that doesn’t require me marketing/branding myself. MMA represents a visceral expression of who I am and my journey as a human being. Both are important to me and both require one to have their head in the game. However, at this point, I only seem to have the bandwidth to do one, not both. MMA has a time-frame for execution. I can come back to Day Trading 10 years from now, but I’m only young once.

With respect to Day Trading: Yes, I invested money that I can’t get back. Yes, I gave time and energy that I can’t get back. No, I don’t regret having tried. Yes, I learned a skill that I still may use in the future. Yes, I am more self aware because I tried Day Trading. Yes, I’m excited to direct that energy back into Mixed Martial Arts.

This decision came about through reflection. In the last couple of years, the entire months of December and January have involved deep reflection about who I am, who I’ve been, and who I want to be. It’s tough to give up things/places/people/processes when they have become so deeply entrenched with our identity (for me, engineering) or they have deep meaning to us (day trading is a real path to financial freedom). The trick is understanding that you don’t have to wait until a particular time of the year to reflect upon your life and where you want it to go. However, to do so means you have to make time. Making time means that you have to sacrifice other things that may be more pleasurable in the short-term but don’t help you find meaning and purpose in the long term.

When I speak to groups of teenagers, I often pose the very simple question of: What do you want to do with your life? It’s a simple question but I always tell the kids that they should get into a regular practice of thinking through the answer to it. This exercise is not about finality. When I was 18 years old I very clearly had a vision of wanting to be an Engineer. The problem was the fact that I hadn’t established a habit of revisiting that vision and assessing whether or not it was still true. A day spent shadowing an Engineer when I was in high school may have changed the course of my decision making. It would have been a small experiment that I could have reflected upon as I pondered the question, “What do I want to do with my life?” The thing to be aware of is the fact that we don’t seem to enjoy questions that don’t have definitive answers. Dealing with the unknown, gracefully, is a practice. Inherently, knowing the specifics of your life 10 years from now is impossible. We have to be willing to do the continuous critical thinking about where we are placing our energy in the present day and be okay with the vast unknown that is the future.

This, in part, is why I write a blog post regularly and ask reflection questions. It’s also why I don’t have a social media presence. I know that there are people putting out good content on social media but I think it’s pretty well established that these platforms play on our desire for immediate gratification and affirmation. Part of my goal with the blog is to get you to slow down and chew on something for a bit. I want to get you to exercise those critical thinking muscles. I want us to choose to tackle the questions that have complex answers. So, I spend time thinking about each post and what I hope to convey with it. I also ask questions to the reader to get those gears turning.

We have seen the results of being on autopilot:

  • 20 years of marriage that leads to a bitter divorce once kids leave the house
  • A sudden diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, chronic back pain, and the realization that we haven’t exercised in years
  • Mid-Life Crisis
  • Debt and/or spending habits that are so out of control people are simply ignoring them hoping they’ll disappear… until the car is repo’d or the wages are garnished or the unexpected medical emergency hits

To be intentional about the future requires an inspection of the past/present and the courage to create a vision for the future, knowing that things could shift in the process. Critical thinking takes time and effort. Critical thinking is not bound buy a time of year, only by our willingness to do it.

What do you want to do with your life? What do you want to change about your current situation? What have past triumphs and failures taught you about yourself? What are the things you need to let go (for now or, perhaps, forever)? (Remember the quote above from Tony Robbins. You can only do so many things exceptionally well.)

Welcome to 2020.

-Travis

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