Why You Make Terrible Life Choices
Age 0 to 16 you make (almost) zero important life choices.
Except for what TV show you watch after school, it’s your parents or teachers telling you what to do.
Then you hit 16 and suddenly all you do is make important life choices…
What A Levels do I pick? Which universities do I apply to? Job or masters? Which job? Which masters? Which partner? Etc.
It’s a disaster 😵
You can’t expect kids who’ve never learned how to make important life choices to make good ones…
And asking adults doesn’t help either.
“So what should I do?” is a terrible question.
It’s like asking your maths teacher “What’s the answer?” instead of “How do I find the answer?”
But worse than maths, where you can at least trust your teacher has the right answer, real-world decision-making is widely subjective and temporally misinformed.
In other words: an adult’s answer to “What should I study?” or “What should I do?” will be painfully biased by:
a) their own preferences
and b) when they were born
Ask a 40-year-old guidance counsellor if you can have a career on TikTok or YouTube and they’ll tell you:
“It’s not a real career. Try journalism.”
Meanwhile, Ali Abdaal’s making over £1m/year on Youtube, and bloggers are eating up journalism jobs like it’s the end of Ramadan.
Technology is moving way too fast to rely on “random adults” for solid career advice.
When I quit my life-draining £230k/year startup job to “go travel” and “be happy”, my private-equity-type financial advisors told me:
“No! Wait till you can buy a house; London house prices are expensive.”
But even in just the ~10 years between us, the world looks totally different…
Remote work means I can live in Mexico (not dreary, asset-bubble London).
Shipping container homes mean I can build my own mansion for <£150k (including land purchase).
And Airbnb + cheap travel mean I can easily fly back to London to see friends whenever I want.
Like all the “random adults” you’ll speak to for advice, the private equity suits were advising me down their own preferences, along their own outdated understanding of how the world works.
And if I’d followed their advice, I’d be just another cliché workaholic in a big house with no soul.
But the problem of biased/outdated advice persists regardless of who you speak to.
Ask a millionaire startup founder what to do and she’ll shout at you to quit your degree, follow your dreams and keep pushing even if it means stealing Chicago town pizzas.
Ask Miguel the Mexican fisherman and he’ll recommend you buy a boat, focus on friends & family, and let God take care of the rest.
All good advice for the right person at the right time…but probably not for you, probably not right now.
So instead of furiously copy-and-pasting what everyone else is doing, here’s a 3-step framework to make the best life decisions for you.
Step 1: Find Your Values
Making life choices without knowing your values is like ordering at a restaurant without knowing your tastes.
You’ll get lucky once in a while but expect more “yuk” 🤢 than “yum” 😋
So it all starts with working out what you value:
Stability? Creativity? Leisure time? Status? Purpose? Sex? Health? Family?
And then (approximately) prioritising these values into an ordered value list you can use to orient your life choices.
Practically, the value-finding process looks like this:
Open up James Clear’s list of values. (You can add your own values, too — his list is just a starting point.)
Don’t just randomly pick values that sound cool like “wisdom” or “curiosity”.
Instead, reflect on the fulfilling and unfulfilling periods in your life. (Scroll back through your photos to relive these times — that worked best for me.)
Now, what values were present when you were fulfilled? And what values were missing when unfulfilled?
Empirically, based on your “life data” so far, those are the values that make you happy.
Again, don’t fool yourself. Everyone wants to say they love “autonomy” and “adventure”, but stick to the data!
At least anecdotally, most people can’t survive without heteronomous routine/direction; and when push comes to shove, stability typically beats adventure.
Here are my values:
So the one thing I can’t live without is continuous learning & exploration.
Freedom is important but not like oxygen-mask-important.
Having kids also makes a feature, but it’s not so high priority while I’m in my twenties.
These values aren’t final. They’ll get more accurate as I do more living, and collect more “life data” 🤓 but they’re a good compass for making hard choices.
Note: if your “life data” is very limited, perhaps too limited to reliably deduce your values, have you considered experimenting more..? (Check out my last article on exploring!)
Step 2: Calculate
Now that you’ve got your values, the next time you’re stumped with an important life decision, you can use your value list to evaluate life’s crossroads.
For instance, the classic graduate dilemma: do I take this boring finance job that pays quite well?
Use your values to “score” your options:
The finance job does quite well on status, social life and learning…but it strikes out low on this person’s most important value: independence!
An obviously bad choice…but for someone else with different values, this could be the dream job!
(Your analysis doesn’t need to be as formal as a table; even just journalling on your values can increase clarity around difficult decisions.)
And if you’re unhappy with your current life situation, check which values have been missing recently.
For instance, I randomly fell into a mild depression for a couple months the end of last year.
No idea why. And I’d been so fulfilled up till then.
But when I finally created my value list, I realised I’d given up “continuous learning and exploration” and “creation” to focus on more £-driven work.
So I course-corrected by redesigning my life 👇
Step 3: Lifestyle Design
The exciting bit…
F*ck crossroads. Make your own road!
Once you know your values, you can start trailing off the beaten path by reverse-engineering your own custom-built ideal lifestyle.
Knowing I needed to reprioritise creation, I immediately cut my work-week to 4 days so I could spend the 5th writing again (hello 👋) and drawing the stupid cartoons I use as thumbnails.
Knowing I needed more continuous exploration, I took a trip to Egypt, committed to one monthly adventure and started cooking a new recipe every day:
And knowing I needed to top up on continuous learning, I committed to an intensive 30-day challenge to learn the piano…and started a company all around accelerated learning!
These lifestyle changes brought me back to life instantly.
And the next time I’m feeling down, my first step will be checking in with my values to see what’s missing!
Stop living someone else’s life.
The world will try to tell you who you are. But you have to find out for yourself ✌️
- Find your values!
- Use those values to “score” your various crossroads or work out why you’re not feeling fulfilled
- Finally, use your values to reverse engineer your ideal lifestyle (and start working towards it!)
The status quo uni > job > mortgage > die works a charm for a significant % of the population.
But you’re you — a freakishly unique combination of 30,000 genes and years of bizarre life experiences.
So make the life choices that best match your own personal values!
PS: thanks to Georgie Nightingall for sharing her value-finding process.