7 min read

Doing Things: For Their Own Sake

Doing Things: For Their Own Sake

I’ve spent a large portion of my life trying to keep up with the Joneses. While dissatisfying, it always felt comfortable. I thought that if I simply reached that point in my life, I would be done. I could kick back, relax, and celebrate my hard work.

It’s not surprising news that reaching this point never actually feels good. It just means you have somewhere more distant to chase after. So, I kept setting goals.

At the beginning of this calendar year, I set some pretty big goals. Among them included gaining 500 true fans and making $500 a month from my writing. Yeah, I still have 8 months to go, but I’m not optimistic about achieving these feats.

I’m not even sure if I want to.

If I look at the processes I planned out to get me there, though — I still want them to be part of my life: meditating for 10 minutes a day, writing every day, doing yoga, recording a problem every day. These are habits that bring my life incredible value. And to tell the truth — I do them because they make me feel in flow with my life, not because they yield external results.

When I was younger, I would run to stay in shape. Now, I do it because it makes me feel great. It’s possible that both mindsets have their place, but I much prefer the second one.

In all likelihood, stating your goal will get you there quicker. But at the same time, a goal seems to indicate that you aren’t currently content with where you’re at. That you need something to get you there. When I look at my habits, though, I realize that feeling content and at my best doesn’t happen when I reach external milestones but when I make time for the things I do for their own sake — because I love them — and because they make me feel my best.

For someone who fears they’ll never be enough, I don’t think that it’s goal-setting that will get me to the place at which I can finally say: this is it. This is enough. This is all I need.

Don’t get me wrong: I want to make an impact. But I think there’s far more to life than my work goals — I think all of life is found beyond goals.

This line of thinking has brought me back to an idea that Naval shared in his almanack:

I only really want to do things for their own sake. That is one definition of art. Whether it’s business, exercise, romance, friendship, whatever, I think the meaning of life is to do things for their own sake. Ironically, when you do things for their own sake, you create your best work.

This doesn’t mean I want to stagnate. I am very much interested in progressing. As I run for longer, I want to be able to run farther.

What this means is that I’m going to do the things I love and work to get really good at them — not for some external result but for their own sake.

I watched Whiplash with my partner this past weekend. In essence, the film argued that to become one of the greats, you can’t do something simply because you love it. You have to do it because you feel like your life depends on it. As the film constantly refrains: Charlie Parker wasn’t great until someone threw a cymbal at his head. He had to almost die for playing poorly in order to become amazing.

I had two thoughts:

  1. I don’t think this is actually how one becomes great. While I think working hard in order to improve is essential, I also think this idea overlooks the importance of developing a growth mindset in your work.
  2. If this is how you become great, I don’t want to be great.

I take my work seriously. I want to push my limits. I want to improve. But if I have to dedicate all my living energy to my work to be great, I don’t want to be great. There’s a lot of other things that matter just as much (and more) than that: my relationships, flourishing, and developing an understanding of myself to name just a few.

I want to live an intrinsically-motivated life. A life in which I find my inspiration and motivation within. And so, this necessitates a reflection on the games I am playing.

There’s been a question itching at me for a while now: the question of should I do what feels natural (e.g., where my curiosity brings me) or do I need to override these natural drives with discipline?

While talking to my mom last week, I told her that I hadn’t been writing as much as I used to. She told me that she noticed a pattern in me: I do something for a while, I get obsessive, and then I realize it’s not what I want to do and move on.

I’ve been scared that this is the truth for a while. I struggle to stick with things. My curiosity seems to drag me in a thousand directions. I like to experiment, see what I like, and move on. And I’m worried. I’m worried that this isn’t a way I can help people.

I wrote about the long-tail distributions of the connected world a few months ago. The idea is that the most impact in any field comes a from a very small percentage of people in that field. A few businesses dominate the market. A few scientists dominate the scientific discussion. A few ice cream flavors make up the vast majority of ice cream sales.

When we talk about how we can be successful, it’s largely a question of how we can get into those few that have an outsized impact. Here’s my hope: by changing what I spend time doing, I pick up some new skills from each domain that make me an individual whose skills find a perfect fit in another domain or who creates a whole new domain on his own.

Become the best in the world at what you do. Keep redefining what you do until this is true.

But maybe I shouldn’t be thinking about this so much. Maybe I should just be myself and the rest will follow.

I think this question of being natural and how it relates to academics has been particularly interesting. Look: I’m a curious guy and knowing that intrinsic motivation can often result in more sustainable, more fun ways of getting results, what if I simply relied on intrinsic motivation to help me learn?

I’m leaning more and more into this idea as I go through college.

Who should I be?

Most of my interactions in life have been calculated to get people to like me. I’ve rarely been the one who speaks out when they think something’s wrong (though, the few times I have, I was proud of myself). And I’ve often adapted the way I think in the moment in order to get someone to like who I was.

The question of who I should be is one I’ve answered but have rarely put into practice. I can clearly delineate what an ideal life would like for me: what my days look like, what my values reflect, and how I navigate the world. When it comes to putting that into practice? It’s hard. There’s no way around that.

I’ve been examining some of my core fears and working to find where they came from. As much as I’ve bantered about Freud and how all of our problems are from our childhoods, I think it’s a useful exercise to look deeply at what you’re scared of and figure out why you’re scared of it.

I want to be myself. And I think it’s pretty clear what that means to me: to act the way around others the way I would like myself to act when I’m alone.


I picked up Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection again. My social anxiety had crept back (although in a subdued form), so I thought I would return to the book that left me crying in my bed realizing how much I could love myself.

One of Brown’s key ideas is that we can only love others as much as we love ourselves. If we can’t truly look at ourselves and know that we love that person, there’s no way we can love someone else.

This idea is actually kind of terrifying.

No More Pandering

I’ll admit it: coming face to face with the idea that I don’t have to and shouldn’t try to win others’ approval left me feeling kind of scared.

For someone who has spent so much of their life in this system of trying to be liked, it’s difficult to imagine what life is like without that.

In one sense, it’s freeing. But in another? I’m asking what’s left?

Is This… Selfish?

What’s left is what I want to make of my life. All those dreams that I wrote down on my 19th birthday — all the things I wanted to do. That’s what’s left.

The radical idea: I can do what I believe in and not fear what others think of me.

But wait! I want to be loved. I want to feel that I’m accepted. How will I be loved and accepted if I don’t try to make others like me?

Do I deserve to be loved? Yeah, this one’s a tough one for me.

I can look at anyone around and see thousands of people and believe that they all deserve to be loved and accepted. But when I look at myself? It kind of breaks down. It feels like I need to prove myself. Like I need to do something great to be loved.

When I slow down and examine the relationships around me, though — it becomes kind of clear. I am loved and I think I deserve it, too. I deserve to feel a sense of belonging.

It takes removing myself from my ego and viewing myself objectively (legitimately closing my eyes and picturing my body from a third-person POV) to believe this.

The Best in the World

So, I want to be the best in the world. At what? At being myself. It feels cringe to say, but I think we’ve repeated these platitudes without taking the time to appreciate why they are platitudes — they represent a truth concluded by generation after generation of humans.

It’s hard for me to write these days without thinking about my audience. Will they like it? Will it provide them value? But I didn’t write this one for an audience. I wrote it for myself. And I think that’s sufficient.