One of my life goals is to build a saloon.
I have it all spec’d out: the swinging doors, the antique bar, the old player piano with Scott Joplin ragtime music… you get the idea.
Making this thing is going to be a colossal undertaking. Untold hours of planning, attending antique shows in Mississippi to find suitable furniture, coordinating with random vendors, etc.
It’s not even a business, it’s just a neat thing I want to exist so I can have people over for a party occasionally.
And yet if someone offered to give me exactly what I wanted, built for free and with no effort from me, would I accept it?
Imagine that everything you’ve ever wanted – an impressive house, a beautiful body, a Tesla, whatever – was suddenly given to you for free.
Would that make you happy?
You’d be pretty stoked for a few days. You might show off your new wares to some friends, maybe take a vacation or relax with some pink lemonade on your new front porch.
But what about after that?
Even in this imaginary world where you have everything you’ve ever wanted, when you wake up in the morning you still have to decide what the hell am I going to do today?
This isn’t a trite question, because if you don’t have a good answer you’re going to become miserable, fast.
Somewhere in life we’re taught that happiness is based on consumption: owning, having, buying.
“As soon as I have that car/house/body I’ll be happy.”
Instead of consumption, happiness is found in the quest of production: building, creating, making. Solving problems.
If you skip straight to having everything, to maximum consumption, you miss out on the satisfaction that comes from the path of struggle you’d have to endure to get there.
Looking for something you can do instead of something you can have is a fundamentally better way to live life.
It gives you your agency back.
So much of modern life is merely keeping score on who has the best stuff.
We even have a phrase for this, “the haves and have-nots”.
That so much of one’s personal life pursuits can be determined by what other people own is a true WTF idea.
It’s like some sick prisoner’s dilemma where the whole time you’re in jail there’s a key sitting next to you to get out if you’d only take the time to notice it.
Focusing on do empowers you: you can work on whatever you want.
Instead of worrying about never being able to afford the same size house as your brother-in-law, you can work on what you control.
You can build something today. You can solve problems today. You can invest in your relationships today.
No matter how much someone else has, you can always do.
It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, whether you’re 95 or 18, or what your current job is. There’s always things to build and problems to solve.
Removing what your possess from your identity is liberating.
The satisfaction you feel about some part of your life is often relative to the amount of work that went into it. This is why, for example, being a parent can be so universally meaningful: it’s a lot of freaking work.
Which is also why I don’t want a free Saloon. Any joy it gives me will come from making it, not owning it.
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