There are two basic directions you can head with your life. Your direction determines your way of life. And a lot of other stuff.
You’re aiming at one or the other, whether you mean to or not. One doesn’t really take any more work than the other. (It just seems like it does.)
You can aim for comfort OR you can aim for growth.
That doesn’t mean you can only have comfort or only have growth. You just have to pick which one matters more to you, because comfort and growth tend to oppose each other.
When you aim for Growth, your focus is to improve. You want to make progress and learn. You’re here to broaden; to uncover; to explore; to experience; to expand.
People also have a lot of misconceptions about growth, such as…
1. “I have to grow all the time or I’m failing.”
2. “The point of growth is to reach perfection (eventually, somehow).”
3. “If I’m not growing in every area of life, I’m doing it wrong.”
4. “Growing means not failing.”
5. “Seeking growth is harder than seeking comfort.”
6. “Growth is all about being disciplined and having a lot of will-power.”
A growth trajectory in our heads looks like this:
There’s a misperception that growth happens always, an uninterrupted continually upward trajectory.
You’ve got upward trajectory, yes, but it’s not uninterrupted. There are comfort plateaus, there are diminishments and difficult experiences, and there are growth spikes.
A realistic growth trajectory looks more like this:
The other life direction is toward comfort. This is what most of us choose by default. Comfort feels good, duh. Of course we slide toward it.
People who live a comfort-oriented life may be very ambitious. They may be very disciplined.
A comfort-oriented person may take a new job and work very hard. They want to reach a higher level of salary and seniority. Those level-ups mean more stability and/or luxury, which means more comfort.
A growth-oriented person may take on a new job and work at being the best they can be at that new job because they are motivated to improve their job skills, career opportunities, salary, network, and so on.
Outwardly, the actions look the same: two people working hard to be good at their jobs.
Inwardly, however, the motivation is very different.
When growth is the goal, each ‘level up’ in knowledge, skills, network, capability, confidence, understanding, or experience is a win. It’s both the reaching of a goal and the means of reaching more goals. The growth-oriented person gets ongoing gratification. They have a sense of achievement and satisfaction in the process of working hard and gaining skills.
The comfort-oriented person is essentially doing something they don’t want to do in order to achieve a goal they want to achieve. They get little enjoyment out of the process. They do what they have to do to get to the goal.
Their motivation is long-term. Kudos to them for having the willpower to focus on all that delayed gratification. It’s not fun.
They get little ongoing gratification. There are fewer reward points. Their defined goal is tied to comfort, which is tied to a particular achievement, and the process required to get there is not viscerally connected to comfort. The opposite, in fact.
That’s a lot of words. Let’s have a picture.
A trajectory of comfort in our heads looks like this:
The perception is that we will continually achieve ever-increasing levels of comfort.
A realistic comfort trajectory looks more like this:
What actually happens is the spike-and-drop.
You reach a comfort goal (new house, bigger salary, new relationship, whatever).
You get a spike in satisfaction. Yay!
But the satisfaction level quickly decreases. Then it levels out. After a while, the goal achievement provides diminishing returns.
You’ve experienced this, when, say, you get a salary increase: it feels amazing at first, then you get used to it. After a while, it ceases to be enough.
At this point, you find the next goal and get back to work. You have to, in order to reach a comfort spike and experience that level of satisfaction again.
Both comfort and growth oriented people experience spikes and diminishments, as well as plateaus.
Growth-oriented people just tend to enjoy more of the process.
Growth-oriented people don’t experience as many drops in life satisfaction as comfort-oriented people.
They plateau, sure; they have recovery times. They get forgetful and apathetic. When the plateau starts to dip, growth-oriented people start focusing on growth again. As they begin to grow again, life satisfaction increases.
Growth-oriented people learn to see difficulties differently. This is a huge advantage to have in life.
If you can see difficulties as opportunities for growth, you’re already winning. Instead of shying away from new experiences, obstacles, tough situations, or big challenges, you analyze them. You see them as helpful. This doesn’t mean you always enjoy them. But you learn to master them. And you see that you’re in control, even when life is hard and sucks and you don’t have answers.
A difficulty or challenge turns into a growth spike.
For growth-oriented people, more of life is satisfying.
The periods of growth are satisfying. The growth spikes are pleasant. The comfort plateaus are satisfying for a time. Even the difficulties, which can be unpleasant and scary, become means of growth and, thus, satisfying.
The comfort-oriented person may do the exact same amount of work as the growth-oriented person, but they’re going to enjoy it less.
Most of their existence is a chore. They have to trudge through so much work to reach a goal. The goals are satisfying for a very short time.
The big lie we believe is that life can be easy.
It isn’t. It’s huge. It’s confusing. It’s scary as hell.
But we see other people and they seem comfortable. So we think, “If I get what they’ve got, I’ll be comfortable, too. Life will be easy.”
Life is not easy. For the growth-oriented person, that’s okay. The challenges become the reward. Growth becomes a source of comfort and joy. Life doesn’t get easy. But life becomes energizing. Satisfying.
For a comfort-oriented person, life is disappointing. It’s a cycle of hard work and skimpy rewards.
But you can go either direction.