If the abyss drags you down, dare to climb up.
An essay discussing how young people must be accountable to achieve mental and financial success.
Few families can fund their young adults' world-class education and summer trips to Mykonos without loans or money laundering for a guy named Del from the Mexican Cartel. For those not part of the elite one percent, the number of sacrifices we make dictates our financial success.
Aspiring models give up the comfort of sleeping more than ten feet away from their toilet when they move to New York. Meanwhile, students eat bologna and corn sandwiches to save for their student loans.
Most young adults understand—on an intellectual level—that they'll have to sacrifice time, money, or pleasure to have a better-than-average life. Yet, their actions maximize short-term pleasure instead of long-term gratification.
They'll eat junk food, gain weight, and then blame their ancestors for the health issues that this habit causes. Some will go partying the day before a crucial meeting, wake up with a hangover, miss it, and act surprised that their bosses fired them.
There's a logic in preserving unideal habits. When you believe you must enjoy every second of life, it becomes acceptable not to strive for long-term financial success. The issue is that humans age. So your old self will likely experience the health and economic repercussions of your younger self's hedonistic actions.
You need to sacrifice time, money, and pleasure in the short term to succeed in the long term. Do it to scale the social hierarchy, too, as, according to Jordan Peterson, your brain tracks your position in relation to your peers. When you are at the bottom, your brain produces less serotonin, making you more unhappy, anxious, depressive, and unconfident.
The following are three tips to become accountable and make the necessary changes to live a more fulfilling life. Don't apply the tips to ensure an adult life of pleasure. Instead, apply them because your chances of success (financial and mental) reduce if you don't.
1. Consider how your actions have influenced your current life
The world's chaotic. You can't predict the outcomes of the actions you or others take. When people obsess over how uncertain life is, they create excuses not to improve their situation.
First, they tell themselves small lies, like how their parents or hometown are the reason they are unsuccessful. This belief is true in cases where people are born into unstable households with modest incomes. But it's not true when you or your family can cover your basic needs, you don't have genetic preconditions affecting your mental capacity, and you don't have disabilities.
Small lies are enough to soothe the mind's anxiety over the lack of progress in the short term. But, when they stop quieting the mind, people come up with lies that distort reality. Some will tell themselves small lies like how their birthplace explains their failure, despite not changing their situation. Others will blame events outside of their control to have an eternal excuse, like their zodiac sign.
You are not wrong for lying to yourself. It's coherent to expect our race to conceive fake answers to impossible or too painful to answer questions. Why am I poor? I was born in the third world. Why can't I find a partner? Tinder killed the dating world. Why can't I write more often? I'm not an expert. By fabricating answers, you avoid the shame of not trying to change.
But lying to justify your lack of accountability is unsustainable. The lie you told yourself yesterday will not soothe your anxious mind as well as it did last month. Soon, reality becomes unbearable. It turns into a constant reminder that your arguments on why your life sucks are not real and how life's unpredictable.
A common lie I hear from young adults is that their hometown is to blame for their financial or mental situation. So, to lean into this hypothesis and experiment with it, they move to a different country or continent.
Many change the habits that kept them depressed or unfulfilled after living in the new area. I, for example, became ten times as sociable in my one-month trip to Mexico City than I ever was. I hypothesized that my life at Cartagena was unfulfilling because there wasn't a continuous stream of events filled with like-minded people. By the end of the trip, I confirmed my hypothesis.
In contrast, many return to their hometowns with debt and more theories about why moving to a new area didn't change their lives, like nomads I have met. They traveled the world, became happy for a while, but they never addressed their bad habits or behaviors, causing them to go back to their exact old life once they flew home. When their hypothesis about why the world is unfulfilling turns out wrong, they can create more lies. But, the more their explanation to why life sucks are wrong, the more betrayed they'll feel by life. They'll feel as if life plotted against them, despite having solved the (fake) causes of their despair.
Lies protect you from the stress of an uncertain reality, but they also warp reality and turn it into a movie where every actor is against you.
So what's the solution? Admit that you are to blame for your situation and set a plan to change it. It sounds simple, but it's not.
When you admit you are the culprit of your unsatisfying life, you recognize the actions, behaviors, and habits keeping you from living a more fulfilling life. So, the next time you do them, you'll feel hurt, disappointed, and defeated. You'll blame yourself. But you won't change yet, as knowing a problem exists is not enough to solve it. You need a plan to solve it.
Life feels pointless when you don't have a target. Your actions are meaningless, or perhaps full of meaning, but you won't distinguish the two because you don't know where you are heading.
Plans provide structure to the chaos of life, giving you an aim to focus on and a sense of direction. They create an illusion of certainty, and that's enough to encourage you to change.
A plan starts with a SMART goal: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. For example, if you are a newbie writer ready to start a blog after months of excuses, your plan could be to launch your Substack blog and its first two blog posts before March 7. The goal is specific, time-bound, and measurable because of the precise article target, platform, and date. It's achievable unless it's March 6, and it's relevant because you would improve your writing skills.
Once you have a goal, outline how you'll achieve it. For the newbie writer, the plan could first outline tasks like choosing a name for their blog ad designing the blog's cover image. Then, as the writer sets every task necessary to launch the blog, they could outline writing-related tasks like writing the introduction for the first post, sourcing images, and finishing it.
By outlining how you plan to accomplish your goal, you create a roadmap to follow. A clear path and separating your goal into smaller tasks makes the journey less intimidating, increasing your likelihood of achieving your goal.
But what if your plan doesn't solve the problem? What if you are not emotionally or financially stable after working to be so for months? Then you will know what not to do. You'll also be wiser, more mature, and more likely to experience success in the short term than those blaming others for their disdain.
Admit you are to blame for your situation and create a plan to solve them, even if you doubt it will succeed. It's pointless not to become the better version of yourself when it's available for you. Sacrifice your unideal habits and do what you know you must do.
2. Learn to disagree with yourself
TV shows and movies always signal that the guy talking to himself on the street is mentally ill. Often, the media shows them debating with themselves about a decision they'll take or an event that just happened. The funny part is that these "dumbnuts" are better at thinking than most young adults.
Thinking requires you to be two people with opposite points of view simultaneously. It's a mental debate where one half of you makes a claim, and the other half presents counterarguments. When you consider launching a business, blog, or product, but you don't because you feel inadequate, you are not thinking. You are criticizing yourself, which is what we mostly do when we think we are thinking.
"I'm not ready," "I don't have enough experience," "I can't do it because that other person failed once" are common phrases to criticize ourselves. These phrases protect us from the disappointing reality: your life is not what it could be because you are not accountable.
Many of you reading the actual definition of thinking will not try to do it. I don't blame you. True thinking is mentally demanding and scary, as it puts you in conflict with yourself. But not thinking is worse.
Not thinking about a plan to transform your life won't vanish the problems keeping you from doing so. Instead, not thinking or thinking wrong makes you less likely to change your life and more likely to be miserable. You'll drown in your self-criticism. Your self-worth will go down, and so will your social status as you hide from others doing better than you. As a result, your confidence, motivation, discipline, and capacity to see how beautiful the world is will suffer. Go down the self-criticism abyss long enough, and you might not ever leave it.
Learn to think. Be brave enough to challenge your ideas and plans. While doing so, you'll reach conflict. That's ok. You are a young adult capable of articulating coherent arguments. So it's realistic that the two halves won't accept the other's side claim the first time they hear it.
Listen to the pros and cons, and accept compromises, as perfect decisions don't exist. But come up with a solution because your future depends on your gut to realize life could be better and doing what's necessary to improve it.
3. Realize that there's a world outside of your head
People in their 20s are stubborn. They'll claim to understand the way they act, feel, speak, or think better than anyone else. A lot of the advice I give to friends in their 20s is met with jokes and lies, like how they understand the importance of what I'm saying. But they don't understand. Otherwise, their lives wouldn't be miserable.
I comprehend why they can't see the world as I do. The world is an overwhelming place. It's too complex and unpredictable. So we use our personality traits and values to take stances on the world around us.
A trait, says Psychologist Jordan Peterson, is a distinctive way to perceive and evaluate the world. For example, there are millions of ways to react to a car cutting you on the highway. So, instead of making you study every option, personality traits tell you how to judge the situations. A person with high levels of neuroticism will curse the person and honk until their car's battery runs out. Meanwhile, a person with low levels of neuroticism may not even react to the event and keep driving. The situation is the same, but the perception of the events varies.
Goals also influence how we see the world. A famous study shows how people must count the number of times two teams pass a ball. A gorilla shows up in the middle of the video, but people don't recall seeing it when the scientists ask about it. The reason is that humans can't process or see anything unexpected unless it interferes with their goal-directed behavior.
Subjects did not ignore the Gorilla—their brains didn't process it. It was a task outside of their goal of tracking the number of times that teams passed the balls.
Young adults overworking do not ignore their health. Their brains can't process the health risks of overworking because it's a task outside their goal of building wealth.
Young adults backpacking across South East Asia do not ignore the importance of saving. Their brains don't process its significance because it's a task outside of their goal of short-term pleasure and experiences.
So how do you become more accountable and improve yourself if birth decides more than 50% of the traits we use to judge the world? You make a conscious effort to incorporate other traits into your head because no trait is perfect to evaluate every situation.
A person with high levels of introversion may feel threatened and anxious around strangers. This trait is perfect not to meet corrupt people at work, but it's awful if this person is building a startup and is too afraid to visit networking events. By pushing yourself to see situations differently and act differently, you raise the chances of success.
Acting differently implies knowing how you currently believe and act, which is not obvious. Carolyn Elliott offers a plausible method to discover who you unconsciously are in her book Existential Kink.
"If you want to know who you unconsciously believe you are, just take a look at your life, your surroundings, your relationship. Your life mirrors those deep beliefs. The circumstances and relationships that we create often just don't feel "synchronous" or "magical" because they're repetitions that we're accustomed to; they feel maybe a bit boring and confining, a bit expected. Many of us have unconsciously accepted conditioned identities as "wrong" or "broken" or "deserving of resentment" or "not deserving to be highly valued"—and so we continue to magically generate results that reflect and affirm that."
Is there a situation that always makes you uncomfortable? Or a specific type of person that always gets on your nerves? Ask yourself why that is. Unless everyone reacts as you do, the chances are that you can act in more rewarding ways. And if there's a way to enjoy life more, and the price is a slight change of behavior, why would you not pay it?
Be better than you were yesterday
There's a risk to being accountable: losing life satisfaction. People who feel empowered to change everything will constantly look for situations to fix. They see problems, set goals to solve them, and dare to "fix" them. Then, sometime later, they'll see the new state as insufficient and restart the fixing cycle.
One way to avoid entering a problem-solution loop is to compare yourself to who you were yesterday. Are you more accountable, happier, calmer, wiser, or richer than you were in the past? Then you are succeeding. Don't overthink it or give yourself the chance to fabricate a reality where your new, better state is insufficient. Instead, enjoy the outcomes of your efforts—you deserve to.
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