Life is hard.
Life will give you a thousand rejections before you get a callback (and get rejected from that). Life will take the love of your life through cancer or a fight or the demands of your career. Just when you think you’re well on your way to your goal, life will show you you’ve only been running in circles for years. Life will hit you with isolation, apathy, anxiety, meaninglessness, terror, utter despair, and everything in-between.
Life will test you, and the more you want the harder it hits. Life is ruthless. If you don’t have a passion, life demands nothing from you: you can do your Groundhog Day grind and life won’t charge you anything. But the higher your hopes and dreams and the more passionately dedicated you are to them – the more you value – the more life will push you down and try to take everything you’ve got.
Because here’s the thing: life is like a wave. The higher your peaks, the deeper your troughs. You can’t have one without the other.
The greater and more glorious your achievement, the harder the climb. You’ll need more effort, skill, risk and failure along the way to get there. And the higher the climb, the harder the fall.
A marriage brings more pleasure and fulfillment than a one-night stand. It takes more work and skill to build and maintain. It hurts a lot more to lose.
You can’t have peaks without the troughs.
Given this, your approach to life can fit between one of two ends on a spectrum: minimize your troughs or maximize your peaks.
Minimizing your troughs. Your goal is to avoid fear and discomfort. You’ll stay with the same worn-out job and the same boring activities in the same boring town, not approaching girls to avoid rejection, sticking strictly within your comfort zone. You won’t take risks, so you won’t achieve many values, but you won’t fail.
Your downs will look like the power being out during your favorite TV show, or the supermarket being out of your favorite beer. Your ups will look like the moment you plop down on the couch for the night, the moment the alcohol hits and you start to forget yourself, the feeling right before you lose awareness when you fall asleep.
Maximizing your peaks. Your goal is to achieve values. You’ll build an amazing relationship with a partner you’re absolutely mad about, or become a rockstar or an astronaut or an actress, maybe build the house you’ve always dreamed of. You’ll always be pursuing a life you love – and taking the deep troughs along with it.
Your ups will look like your debut piano performance in Carnegie Hall, or kissing your gorgeous spouse on your wedding day, or carrying her across the threshold of your dream home for the first time. Your downs will look like losing decades of practice and an immaculate talent to arthritis, your spouse to cancer and your home to wildfire.
Maximizing peaks hurts. A lot. Life will hit you over and over trying to milk you for everything you’ve got. The life of zero troughs is definitely smoother on the surface.
But a life of zero troughs is a life of zero peaks. It’s a constant stasis, a complete lack of anything. We have a name for that:
Death. You can still be walking and talking, but you’ll be dead on the inside. You can’t live by minimizing the troughs.
Living is done by maximizing the peaks.
You live when you pursue as many of your wildest dreams as you can, no matter what the cost.
Most people have a mongrel mixture of these two. They’ll aim for peaks, but won’t amplify them too much to avoid deep troughs.
They’ll aim for an ambitious career in the company they’re too afraid to leave. They’ll build a long-term relationship with someone they can tolerate. They’ll be who they truly are only when nobody else can see them.
A mixture of maximizing peaks and minimizing troughs – dreaming, but undercutting the dreams so they’re not too demanding or scary – is a mixture of life and death. Dampening your dreams is choosing a bit of death so you don’t have to pay as much to life. It’s prematurely killing a small piece of your self.
You’re going to die either way. Are you going to live?
The reason I’ve gone from being so terrified of judgment that I could hardly speak as a kid, to confidently adopting one of the most judged philosophies in existence, dropping out of college and moving across the country is this: I aim to maximize my peaks, the troughs be damned.
I don’t want my life to be a compromise. I want it fully about value-pursuit. I want to live.
Following that premise is the reason I’ve already helped found an organization and am advising for Praxis at 22, the reason I’ve traveled all over the country, the reason I’ve had romantic experiences that mirror the movies, the reason I’m as open as I am. It’s the reason I’m not still sitting back in Collinsville, terrified to leave my house or express myself, pining for a life I can only dream of.
Following this premise has made me who I am.
Sure, there are troughs. I’ve felt alone, directionless, and inferior as hell more than a few times (and still do). The romances have fallen apart, along with quite a few friendships. I’ve felt pain. But I’m living.
I don’t know where I’m going, but I know the life I love will feel like dropping out of college, like moving to California, like asking out my first girlfriend in 8th grade (after weeks of waiting in terror) and every girl since. I know if I can stay true to that feeling, even if I don’t reach the concrete goal I’ll set, I’ll end up with a life I love, a character I admire, and a story worth having.
If you can stay true to the peaks in your life, you will too.