Chris Guillebeau’s Secrets to the Happiness of Pursuit
Do you like making lists and checking things off?
Have you always enjoyed setting goals?
Do you feel motivated by making progress toward a goal?
Do you enjoy planning?
Do you have a hobby or passion that not everyone understands?
Do you ever find yourself day-dreaming or imagining a different kind of life?
Do you spend a lot of time thinking about your hobby or passion?
The more answers you say “yes” to, the more likely you are to enjoy pursuing a quest.
DIXIE: HOW DO YOU DEFINE THE "QUEST"? WHAT ELEMENTS SHOULD EVERY QUEST HAVE? CHRIS: Every quest has a few things in common. First, there’s always an end or final destination. Ultimately the process is more about the journey, but you also need something to strive for. It helps to have something specific: in my case, I went to every country in the world, not just “a bunch of countries.” The woman who’s knitting 10,000 knits isn’t just “knitting every day.” Having a clear goal or outcome makes a big difference. Every quest should also have a real element of challenge to it. If your quest is to take a long walk in search of a Frappuccino, that’s not a quest. This doesn’t mean that it needs to be impossible—but somehow it should involve challenge, sacrifice, or at least a real tradeoff as you have to say no to some things in order to say yes to the quest. Finally, we learned something else: most of the time, something else happens along the way. Almost everyone who undertakes a true quest is changed along the way. DIXIE: IN THEIR QUEST TO BE HAPPY AND/OR SUCCESSFUL, WHAT DO PEOPLE GET WRONG? CHRIS: They think that happiness is dependent on external circumstances of some kind. Don’t get me wrong: circumstances matter. It’s a lot better to be rich than poor. But you can also be happy in challenging circumstances, and you can be miserable in comfortable circumstances. In the end, happiness is a decision you make more than a temperature you check. You have to understand what you find meaningful, and you have to take the time to do those things. DIXIE: WHAT ABOUT PEOPLE IN MID-LIFE WITH RESPONSIBILITIES, FAMILIES AND OTHER PERCEIVED OBSTACLES OR ROADBLOCKS TO FULLY PURSUING THEIR QUESTS — WHAT ADVICE (OR ADMONISHMENTS) DO YOU HAVE FOR THEM? CHRIS: I certainly don’t have any admonishments. In some ways I think it’s easier when you have those responsibilities and roadblocks, because you have more limited time and thus you need make that time truly count. One thing I learned from the book was that a lot of creative people are always talking about how we should “think out of the box”—but that’s not always helpful advice. Many times, to get what we really want, or to pursue a big dream, we need to limit ourselves and focus on what matters. Essentially, we need to “get in the box”! I also think the theme of reinvention, which is a big part of my overall work, is very applicable to people in mid-life. After you’ve had a number of career and life experiences, you may be better suited to knowing what you like and dislike. You have the benefit of many successes and probably at least a few failures. Perhaps you’re also more conscious of the matter of urgency—the fact that life is short and the imperative to make our lives count. Lastly, there’s a reason why most people don’t start running marathons until well past young adulthood: the long game becomes more attractive as time goes by. In mid-life, you have emotional and intellectual stamina that perhaps wasn’t as strong as your early days. If you want to focus, if you want to truly invest in something, you know you can give it your all. So I think you’re in a good place, in other words. DIXIE: WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU'D KNOWN AT 20? CHRIS: When I was 20 I was busy learning a variety of skills, some of which ended up being helpful while others ended up being useless. This is fairly normal, I think. But in addition to learning skills, I also felt pretty unconfident and insecure about a lot of things. So if I could have go back and teach myself something, I don't think it would be a specific skill; it would be more of a pep talk. I'd say, "Hey, 20-year-old self, keep working on stuff. Someday you'll make something that matters to people. It's okay if you get frustrated, but don't hate yourself and don't be unkind to others just because you don't always see the path that lies ahead."
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