Text: Bas Vink Media: Koen Reerink Graphics: Elena Dagg
What exactly do you want out of life?
It’s a frequently asked question but it’s not so simple to answer. But it is worth trying. It is worth it to make an effort. Because the alternative is to make somebody else decide for you. Which often leads to mediocrity. I don’t have everything figured out and I suspect I never will be. But this is my take on answering this question.
I believe we have never been more in need of intentionality in our lives than right now. There are just more distractions, more bullshit calling for the attention of your monkey brain than ever before. The answer to all this, I think, is design. I use this word as a verb.
Do or plan something with a specific purpose or intention in mind.
Very few things in our 21st century world happen by accident, in reality they happen by design. Architecture requires design. Software requires design. Society requires design. And so too does the way you approach your life.
What matters to you and what does not?
Focusing on what matters is important because you can have anything, but not everything.
In Dutch this is even paradoxical: Je kan alles hebben, maar je kan niet alles hebben. You cannot have it all, nobody can, and the people who try to sell you that idea, usually want your money. The thing is: having it all should not even be the goal in the first place. Again, I think it should be having and doing things that have the most importance to you. And mediocrity should not be defined by having less but rather a playing by somebody else his rules.
Here is my process, my mentality and what I think of lifestyles design. It is really messy. These are difficult questions to answer. And the answers are going to change depending on where you are in life, in their emotional sense, spiritually, rationally, all these things. That is part of being human I guess. The life that I want to life changes over time. And I have to go back to the drawing board and think about changes that I need to make. It is like walking on a completely dark room, searching for the light switch, stubbing my too repeatedly. At best I only have a vague idea where I want to go.
Imagine you are trying to go from point A to point B. Your process is going to be not in a straight line. Or course not. You are learning on the go. Maybe halfway the process you don’t even want to go to point B but decide to go to point C. Now you’re going somewhere you did not even consider when you started. This is one of the most magical and often frustrating things about life. At a certain point your reach a level where your current reality looks nothing like the realities that you knew before. Like the rules have changed. The things I want to achieve might not seem possible right? But if I plant the seeds today they might be possible tomorrow. There’s a popular Chinese proverb that says: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Basically in the context of the conversation here today, this means that if you want success and growth in the future, the best time to act is now.
What is your North Star?
I have found that having a north star can help tremendously. Something that centers me. Something that orients me. Something to fall back on so you’re getting in the right direction. I know that I will die one day. My heart will stop and I will breathe my last breathe, either me being conscious or unconscious. But before that I want to have created something that helps others. Lots of things I wrote down are super vague and nonspecific, but I have realized one thing. I have come to realize that it helps to have something bigger to be working towards. That something needs to be specific to me, of course. But also malleable enough to weather the test of time. Whenever I am lost, knocked off balance, I can close my eyes and BOOM I am right back there again. I may not know what to do but at least I know which direction to be facing. That makes a world of difference. By the way, the wording does not have to be perfect, don’t get caught up on that.
How to find your north star?
There are no real rules here so can’t give you the answer. For me a prerequisite to everything here is having a support-system of some kind. I have been lucky enough to have family and friends that keep me on track. It is not trivial, and I cannot skip over that. Beyond that I think you have to get to know yourself a bit more. I give you two broad terms which are input and reflection. In our studies they give us similar grips. Something I’d like to add: Treating things like experiments or little games that you’re playing can really take the pressure off. I know that this is kind of heavy stuff, but ultimately if it is not enjoyable in some sense then you are just not going to stick with it. You’re running a marathon, not a sprint. This is your life.
Input is about consuming information to expand your worldview. It’s basically opening new doors of possibility. This can look like reading a books, watching a video, listening to a podcast, having a conversation with somebody, whatever. But you cannot learn everything from others, so sometimes that means just experimenting. Throwing yourself into new experiences and seeing how you react. This is something I (as a practical Engineer) try to provoke with some heady fellow students. I cannot stress this enough, go out and just do stuff!
Reflection is not about new information, it is kind of the opposite, it is turning inside. To me the word is overused in education because the emphasis is on activation. I think it’s about getting you mind off stuff. To me this is doing sports like crossfit, cycling, swimming, yoga. It’s getting good sleep, writing and drawing things down and time alone like meditation or walks through the woods with my dog. They give me a feeling of community, of the sublime and of the forces of nature. It is a passive way of processing information by taking time to connect the dots. This gets me have my priorities right, to focus what is important. Once you have a north star, you can start to build them out and expand on these ideas.
If you don’t know what you want, just try stuff. I stumbled on the things that are important to me. No one is born with this information. We are all in dark rooms bumping our toes looking for the light switch! There I place my resources into the things that felt they were bringing me closer to where I wanted to go. There definitely is an unsexy sight of this all that nobody talks about or shares on social media. I would go months and months without spending a cent on things like clothing, alcohol, dating, not going out, not buying a car. It really is working towards something because you believe in it. And not at all because it is working.
Reflection is not about new information, it is kind of the opposite, it is turning inside. To me the word is overused in education because the emphasis is on activation. You can reflect too much and not absorb anything. I think reflection is about getting your mind off stuff. To me this is doing sports like crossfit, cycling, swimming, yoga. It’s getting good sleep. It is writing and drawing things down like this blog. It even and especially are those times alone like meditation or walks through the woods with my dog. They are things that give me a feeling of community, of the sublime and of the forces of nature. It is a passive way of processing information by taking time to connect the dots. This gets me have my priorities right, to focus what is important. Once you have a north star, you can start to build them out and expand on these ideas.
If you don’t know what you want, just try stuff. I stumbled on the things that are important to me. No one is born with this information. We are all in dark rooms bumping our toes looking for the light switch! There, I place my resources into the things that feel they bring me closer to where I want to go. There definitely is an unsexy sight of this all, that nobody talks about or shares on social media: I would go months and months without spending a cent on things like clothing, alcohol, dating, not going out, not buying a car. After fruitful reflection you can say: it really is working towards something because you believe in it. And not at all because it is working.
The reason people teach you to be pro-active?
It’s the only alternative to being re-active.
Because being reactive will get you stuck
It gets you into the ruck.
We want to face that what is in us.
To turn around all the negativity in us, into a plus.
So we can demystify and be
So we can be free?
We’d love to be free, but don’t you see?
You are your own worst enemy!
You are your own perfectly round bubble.
It’s a prison where you can do no trouble.
To live freer lives
We have to be willing to revise.
Be your life’s design
And make your life shine!