Whose Life Are You Living?


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to live the ideal life.

This was prompted years ago by David Brooks who talked about résumé virtues vs. eulogy virtues in The Road to Character:

It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?

David Brooks, The Road To Character

A similar line of research finds that people interviewed in later life rarely regret what they did, but rather what they didn’t do.

In my experience the way this happens to most people is they connect with others—through friendship, marriage, family, etc., and they take on the goals of that group.

So they meet a bunch of friends who go into finance, so they go to school for that and get great careers, but in their 30s or 40’s they remember that they’ve always loved to paint, and they wanted to be a painter. But they’re not a painter now, and it’s pretty hard to switch.

Or maybe someone wanted to be a writer, or an artist, or a stand-up comedian. But he meets a girl from a conservative family, and pretty soon he’s got a Masters’s degree in civil engineering and four kids. And one day he wakes up and realizes his wife and his wife’s family would never respect an artist of any kind. So he’s stuck.

This kind of pressure can come from your parents, from your wife, from your friends, and yeah—even from yourself.

But try it. Just ask yourself: what did you want to be when you were growing up? Did you have something you knew you wanted to do, or that you wanted to be?

Was it a scientist? An actor? A chef? A lawyer?

Did you give that up somewhere along the way. Did you convince yourself that it was an unrealistic goal? Did you let other people convince you of this?

I have a name for this. It’s called, “Letting life happen to you.”

If you’re in this situation—which only you can know, and which might take some time in self-reflection—let me be the friend you didn’t have that tells you the truth.

  1. Don’t let life happen to you, and…

  2. It’s never too late to move toward your ideal life

But he meets a girl from a conservative family, and pretty soon he’s got a Masters’s degree in civil engineering and four kids.

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Is your true self packing boxes in a warehouse? Is your true self looking at source code? Is your true self being a parent? Is your true self being a high-paid lawyer who hates her job?

Look at what you wanted to be. Look at what you are. How far apart are they? If there’s a big difference there, look at how to close it.

There have never been so many options for online education. There have never been so many ways to learn about any particular subject.

There’s never been a better time to become who you are.

Don’t live someone else’s life. Don’t surrender. Don’t do it.


Become yourself.

I believe in you.


  1. Keep in mind it’s fine to give up on a goal if you genuinely change, and you just don’t think that was what you wanted after all. In other words, if it was a false goal. Just don’t trick yourself into thinking that was the case when you really just settled.

  2. I’m not talking about reliving your youth in some sort of mid-life crisis mode here. I’m not talking about, “I never slept with enough people.”, or, “I’ve always wanted a BMW.” Those are not likely to bring you fulfillment. I’m talking about if you have always been a Marine Biologist and you simply convinced yourself not to become one. Go fucking do it.

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