Struggling is Optional

Why do we intentionally struggle? Why do we get likes and praise and sometimes even build profitable businesses around intentionally complicating very simple problems? Let's take a step back and consider what it would look like if struggling wasn't necessary.
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Hustling, struggling, hard work, complexity. These things can make you more popular on social media. But they will not make you more successful in business. And they certainly won't make you happy.

Online entrepreneurs are the most obvious example of this, valuing hard work, hustling, and struggling over profit, health, and happiness.

But perhaps you've noticed this in the productivity community. Bullet journal IG pages, elaborate dashboards, tracking hundreds of metrics. The goal is not to be productive. It's to get clicks, likes, and social capital. Imagine what would happen to your productivity if you stopped posting on social media and sat down to work for 3 hours with no phone and no interruptions.

Or maybe you've noticed it in health and fitness. Keto bros trying to get the highest ketone levels, guzzling olive oil instead of water and vowing to never eat carbs again. Vegan, carnivore, fasting... People will do the most insane things to get more energy. But they won't sleep for 8 hours and eat a simple, balanced diet.

So why do we do these things? Why do we intentionally struggle? Why do we get likes and praise and sometimes even build successful businesses around intentionally complicating very simple problems?

Consider this quote from Shane Parrish in The Great Mental Models, Vol. 2:

"No one wants to rush around, filling up their days with tasks and duties, then look up in twenty years and be in exactly the same place."

This quote comes in a discussion of the difference between velocity and speed. A difference that few know by definition, but that so many feel on a daily basis.

I felt it for nearly 4 years when I first got started in online business. I just wanted to be successful and I would do anything to get there.

So I spent all my free time hustling, trying to learn more, find blue oceans, learn secret tactics, and build a successful business.

This is the nature of the hustle and struggle approach to business that's touted by the gurus. It's all speed and no velocity. All movement with no direction. Which means that when you finally run out of energy and collapse to the floor like I did, you'll be in the same apartment with the same job and the same life as when you started.

Sure, I learned a few things, but in reality, I learned too much. In order to pick a direction, you have to be willing to say no to thousands of other directions.

It's a narrow path to start a knowledge business, take care of your health, and invest in your relationships simultaneously.

It means giving up some friendships. No more going out and partying. Less time spent mindlessly watching TV. Less alarms you can snooze. And the list goes on.

But direction gives you purpose. It allows you to cover ground and see the improvements that you make over time, fueling you and restoring your energy.

And here's the best part: it's easier to follow one system. To move forward in a straight line, step by step. To ignore everything that doesn't match up with your mission.

Getting bombarded with biz op tactics, new opportunities and all the marketing that tries to pull you in a new direction... that's what makes things hard. Most of these programs make you think that you cant do it so that you'll be forced to buy their products.

We all know this to be true. But knowing the truth and acting it out in our lives are two separate things. Humans are compelled to keep up with the latest and greatest "life threatening" information. For most of our existence, these updates have been life threatening. And believe me, spending too much time refreshing your news feed still is.

And so despite knowing the truth, we continue to entertain these beliefs that more is better and there is some secret opportunity that nobody has discovered yet that will make you a millionaire by the end of the week.

It all comes down to your value system and what you believe is true for you.

Kevin Simler breaks down two different types of beliefs in his widely praised article called Crony Beliefs. Those that we hold based on the measured value that they have (merit beliefs) and those that reward us with social value (crony beliefs):

Think of Ray Dalio's Principles and the way he runs Bridgewater - Anybody can have an idea. That idea will be ruthlessly ripped to shreds with no emotions involved. And if it still holds up, then it's considered good. This is a merit based system.

Crony beliefs are entirely based on social impressions. Think virtue-signaling.

We all have crony beliefs, and that's perfectly okay. What's not okay is getting the two mixed up. Or letting your merit beliefs transform into crony beliefs.

Crony beliefs change our metrics for success. Struggling, neglecting your health and relationships, and ultimately failure can increase your status in some circles. "Success" is achieved through failure if you define success as getting more clicks on your post about how hard you work.

This social reward becomes a proxy for the original definition of success. Instead of succeeding, we settle for likes. And most of us forget that we're pursuing false idols. The success gained from struggling isn't the form of success that we originally set out to achieve.

The online business industry has become a breeding ground for this type of thinking. I explain this in my post on Minimalism for Entrepreneurs, but the premise is this:

Business coaches, infomarketers, and software providers are incentivized to make things more difficult. They will earn more money from you by selling you an easy solution to a complex problem than a simple solution to a hard problem.

Consider this quote from the Almanack of Naval Ravikant, by Eric Jorgenson:

Most of the time, the person you have to become to make money is a high-anxiety, high-stress, hard-working, competitive person. When you have done that for twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years, and you suddenly make money, you can’t turn it off. You’ve trained yourself to be a high-anxiety person. Then, you have to learn how to be happy.

Does this sound like you?

It was certainly me for the first 4 years I spent in the online business world.  Before then, I enjoyed my free time. I relaxed on weekends. I laughed. I played. But after spending years working, hustling, and grinding, I found myself unable to sit still. Unable to take a break.

The most uncomfortable moments in life were the quiet, peaceful moments. Anytime not spent working I felt anxious. And I was never happy.

The social media style of entrepreneurship was ruining my life. And so we come full circle. We return to the dilemma of speed versus velocity.

You are programmed to keep consuming, searching for THE answer. The more time you spend on social media, the more you believe that this is the only way. Your merit beliefs degrade into crony beliefs. And the result is stress, anxiety, jealousy, and unhappiness.

When I completely burnt out, I reexamined this approach: the fundamental decision that more is better. We all take it for granted, but it's actually false. So I spent the last year deconstructing this tower of complexity and returning to the basics.

I wanted  to build the simplest possible system that allowed my business to grow consistently over time.

But I found it hard to answer the question, what do I want? I knew the lifestyle I wanted but I didn't know how to get there. This is where I went wrong the first time around. Pursuing the lifestyle led me down the rabbit hole of guru worship and crony beliefs. Instead, I found it easier to answer the question, what makes me happy?

The truth is, I like writing, I like talking with other people in the industry about these problems. I like coaching eager clients. And I like relaxing with my family.

I don't like DMing prospects. I don't like sales calls. I don't like hustling. I don't like social media. I don't like being anxious and nervous all the time. So I don't do any of that. It's that simple.

You see, struggling is a choice. It's completely optional. You can be happy before you're "successful." Or you can be miserable and unsuccessful. You can even be miserable and "successful" by some definitions.

But it would be a shame if you built a business full of things you hate doing all in the interest of earning money so you can retire and do the things you like doing.

It's so much easier if you build the lifestyle you want today. And make your business, your purpose part of that lifestyle.

What is your definition of success? What is it that makes you happy? Let those be the beacons that guide your actions. Ignore everything else.

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