Life Is a Single Player Game, Measure Accordingly

“I wish I only cared about the things that everyone else seems to.” I’ve had this conversation with my closest friends dozens of times. It was especially common in the less triumphant moments of our early 20s. But every now and then, when paths are at their most ambiguous, this thought resurfaces.

In a more rational state, we recognize there’s no validity to wishing we cared less. Once we crack this surface level and realize how inconsequential many things are that people chase, there’s no way to hit reset.

Besides, most of us are already comfortable in our identities and understand it’s okay if we don’t want the same things as everyone else. We wouldn’t wish away the effort it has taken to better ourselves and develop individual goals. As such, we shouldn’t need reassurance.

The real problem–what gives voice to our initial doubt–is not that we want the wrong things or that the pressure to conform to a generic set of values is too great. It’s that we’re measuring our individual progress the wrong way. If we’ve deprioritized the value system that most people hold dear, it’s impossible to compare favorably against a standardized metric of success.

If you don’t want what everyone else wants, quit measuring yourself against everyone else. You’re using the wrong metric. Instead, measure you against you.

We must retrain ourselves to better define personal progress. This means sustaining a ruthless level of prioritization and focus. And this is where most come up short. Unfortunately, we can’t have it all. We can’t be original in our ideas and values, and expect to measure up to the same trivial indicators of success that most fixate on. Without this discipline, both meaningful progress and peace of mind are impossible.

I value authenticity, discomfort, experiences, and moderation, above all else. Through trial and error, I’ve found this to be the approach that works best for me. But it’s also in direct contradiction to the way that most people choose to live their lives–convenience, comfort, routine, and excess, being the gold standards. It should come as no surprise that attempting to measure one against the other results in significant variance.

At this point in my life, I have no desire to own a house, indulge in a luxury car, or have children. I would rather allocate my resources to experiences and retain the flexibility to take advantage of opportunities at a moment’s notice. I’ve deprioritized what’s seen as the norm–house, car, and kids–and thus, won’t be able to measure up when it comes to home equity, horsepower, or starting a family. Just as someone who holds those values sacrifices flexibility–personally, professionally, and financially–and measures up poorly to my indicators of personal progress.

This is not a question of right and wrong. It’s a question of priorities. When there is a fundamental difference in ideologies, attempting to measure one against the other serves no purpose.

If you’ve given your goals and priorities careful consideration, there’s no need to feel regret for wanting something different than those around you. My friend Matt recently quit his job in broadcast journalism after six months because it was such a toxic culture. He felt guilty and wondered why he couldn’t just put his head down and suffer through like everyone else at his station. He faced the same dilemma outlined above.

But it proved impossible for Matt to measure himself against his colleagues who were able to stick it out. Their end goal and priorities were built around the security and predictability promised by their current paychecks. Most people choose the status quo, however miserable it might, if it eliminates even a hint of ambiguity. Matt’s mindset is incompatible with this. He was never going to survive in that position or measure up to those around him because he has a fundamentally different outlook.

The significance of this realization is just as important as the lifelong process of discovering what’s important to you and developing your own identity. Without acknowledging the correlation between what you aspire to and how to measure progress, you won’t make it very far.

Part one–you need to know what you’re aiming for. Only you can determine what it means to live a good life. Part two–you must also have a sense of the checkpoints along the way so you’re able to better measure progress and hold yourself accountable. Otherwise, you run the risk becoming distracted and wandering in a completely different direction on impulse.

I understand that ‘measuring you against you’ might sound like a feel-good tactic. You might be wondering if I’m also a champion of participation trophies and free Dilly Bars to reward effort. Quite the opposite. I believe you should demand more of yourself and challenge yourself where it counts. This is about tuning out what everyone else is doing. Focus on you and what’s within your immediate control, then work your ass off.

Life is a single player game, as Naval Ravikant, investor and co-founder of AngelList, suggests. You must create distance from the distraction that is comparing yourself to everyone else, and what they consider to be “success.” If you’re able to embody this lesson, the surrounding noise begins to subside. The more focused you are, the more what everyone else is doing becomes irrelevant.

If you’re distracted by attempts to measure up to everyone else, you will drive yourself to exhaustion and end up with nothing to show for it. The reality is that you cannot be everything. Most directions in life are mutually exclusive. You cannot expect to accomplish a set of unrelated goals that you haven’t prioritized.

Instead, you must measure you against you. Only then will you stop doubting what’s important to you. Only then will you be able to hold yourself accountable for the things that matter and make meaningful progress.


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This article was originally published on The Mission: