The Importance of Saying No

 


CHAPTER 8


The Importance of Saying No


In 2009, I gathered up all my sold them or put them into storage, left my apartment, and set off for Latin America. By this time my little dating advice blog was getting some traffic and I was actually making a modest amount of money selling PDFs and courses online. I planned on spending much Of the next few years living abroad, experiencing new cultures, and taking advantage Of the lower cost Of living in a Of developing countries in Asia and Latin America to build my business further. It was the digital nomad dream and as a twenty-five-year-old adventure-seeker, it was exactly what I wanted out of life.

But as sexy and heroic as my plan sounded, not all Of the values driving me to this nomadic lifestyle were healthy ones. Sure, I had some admirable values going on—a thirst to see the world, a curiosity for people and culture, Some old-fashioned adventure-seeking. But there also existed a faint outline of shame underlying everything else. At the time I was hardly aware of it, but if I was completely honest with myself, I knew there was a screwed-up value lurking there, somewhere the surface. I couldn't see it, but in quiet moments when I was completely honest with myself, I could feel it.

Along with the entitlement of my early twenties, the "real traumatic shif' of my teenage years had left me with a nice bundle Of commitment issues. I had spent the past few years overcompensating for the inadequacy and social anxiety of my teenager years, and as a result I felt like I could meet anybody I wanted, be friends with anybody I wanted, love anybody I wanted, have sex with anybody I wanted—so why would I ever commit to a single person, or even a single social group, a single city or country or culture? If I could experience everything equally, then I should them all equally, right?

Armed with this grandiose sense Of connectivity to the world, I tmlnced back and forth across countries and oceans in a game of global hopscotch that lasted Over five years. I visited fifty-five countries, made dozens Of friends, and found myself in the arms Of a number Of lovers—all Of whom were quickly replaced and some of whom were already forgotten by the next flight to the next country.

It was a strange life, replete with fantastic, horizon-breaching experiences as well as superficial highs designed to numb my underlying pain. It seemed IN)th so profound yet so meaningless at the same time, and still does. Some Of my greatest life lessons and character-defining moments came on the road during this period. But some Of the biggest wastes Of my time and energy came during this period as well.

Now I live in New York. I have a house and furniture and an electric bill and a wife. None of it is particularly glamorous Or exciting. And I like it that way. Because after all the years Of excitement, the biggest lesson I took from my adventuring was this: absolute freedom, by itself, means nothing.

Freedom grants the opportunity for greater meaning, but by itself there is nothing necessarily meaningful about it. Ultimately, the only way to achieve meaning and a sense of im1Njrtance in one's life is through a rejection of alternatives, a narrowing of freedom, a choice of commitment to one place, one belief, or (gulp) one person.

This realization came to me slowly over the course of my years traveling. As with most excesses in life, you have to drown yourself in them to realize that they don't make you happy. Such was traveling with me. As I drowned in my fifty-third, fifty-fourth, fifty-fifth country, I began to understand that while all Of my experiences were exciting and great, few Of them would have any lasting significance. Whereas my friends back home were settling down into marriages, buying houses, and giving their time to interesting companies or political causes, I was floundering from one high to the next.

In 2011, I traveled to Saint Petersburg, Russia. The food sucked. The weather sucked. (Snow in May? Are you fucking kidding me?) My apartment sucked. Nothing worked. Everything was overpriced. The people were rude and smelled funny. Nobody smiled and everyone drank too much. Yet, I loved it. It was one of my favorite trips.

There's a bluntness to Russian culture that generally rubs Westerners the wrong way. Gone are the fake niceties and verbal webs Of politeness. You don't smile at strangers or pretend to like anything you don't. In Russia, if something is stupid, you say it's stupid. If someone is being an asshole, you tell him he's being an asshole. If you really like someone and are having a great time, you tell her that you like her and are having a great time. It doesn't matter if this person is your friend, a stranger, or someone you met five minutes ago On the Street.
The first week I found all of this really uncomfortable. I went on a coffee date with a Russian girl, and within three minutes Of sitting down she looked at me funny and told me that what I'd just said was stupid. I nearly choked on my drink. There was nothing combative about the way she said it; it was spoken as if it were some mundane fact—like the quality Of the weather that day, or her shoe size—but I was still shocked. After all, in the West such outspokenness is seen as highly offensive, especially from someone you just met. But it went on like this with everyone. Everyone came across as rude all the time, and as a result, my Western-coddled mind felt attacked on all sides. Nagging insecurities began to surface in situations where they hadn't existed in years.
But as the weeks wore on, I got used to the Russian frankness, much as I did the midnight sunsets and the vodka that went down like ice water. And then I started appreciating it for what it really was: unadulterated expression. Honesty in the truest sense of the word. Communication with no conditions, no strings attached, no ulterior motive, no sales job, no desperate attempt to be liked.
Somehow, after years of travel, it was in perhaps the most un-American of places where I first experienced a particular flavor Of freedom: the ability to say whatever I thought or felt, without fear of repercussion. It was a strange form of liberation through accepting rejection. And as someone who had been starved Of this kind Of blunt expression most Of his life—first by an emotionally repressed family life, then later by a meticulously constructed false display of confidence—I got drunk on it like, well, like it was the finest damn vodka I'd ever had. The month I spent in Saint Petersburg went by in a blur, and by the end I didn't want to leave.

Travel is a fantastic self-development tool, because it extricates you from the values Of your culture and shows you that another society can live with entirely different values and still function and not hate themselves. This to different cultural values and metrics then forces you to reexamine what seems obvious in your own life and to consider that perhaps it's not necessarily the way to live. In this case, Russia had me reexamining the bullshitty, fake-nice communication that is so common in Anglo culture, and asking myself if this wasn't somehow making us more insecure around each Other and worse at intimacy.
I remember discussing this dynamic with my Russian teacher one day, and he had an interesting theory. Having lived under communism for so many generations, with little to no economic opportunity and caged by a culture of fear, Russian society found the most valuable currency to be trust. And to build trust you have to be honest. That means when things suck, you say so openly and without apology. People's displays of unpleasant honesty were rewarded for the simple fact that they were necessary for survival—you had to know whom you could rely on and whom you couldn't, and you needed to know quickly.
But, in the "free" West, my Russian teacher continued, there existed an abundance Of economic much economic opportunity that it became far more valuable to present yourself in a certain way, even if it was false, than to actually be that way. Trust lost its value. and salesmanship became more advantageous forms of expression. Knowing a lot of people superficially was more beneficial than knowing a few closely.
This is why it became the norm in Western cultures to smile and say polite things even when you don't feel like it, to tell little white lies and agree with someone whom you don't actually agree with. This is why people learn to pretend to be friends with people they don't actually like, to buy things.

The downside Of this is that you never know, in the West, if you can completely trust the person you're talking to. Sometimes this is the case even among good friends or family members. There is such pressure in the West to be likable that people often reconfigure their entire personality depending on the person they're dealing with.


Rejection Makes Your Life Better
As an extension Of our positivity/consumer culture, many Of us have been "indoctrinated" with the belief that we should try to be as inherently accepting and affirmative as possible. This is a cornerstone of many of the so-called positive thinking books: yourself up to opportunities, accepting, say yes to everything and everyone, and so on.
But we need to reject something. Otherwise, we stand for nothing. If nothing is better or more desirable than anything else, then we are empty and Our life is meaningless. We are without values and therefore live our life without any purpose.
The avoidance Of rejection (both giving and receiving it) is Often sold to us as a way to make ourselves feel better. But avoiding rejection gives us short-term pleasure by making us rudderless and directionless in the long term.
To truly appreciate something, you must confine yourself to it. There's a certain level of joy and meaning that you reach in life only when you've spent decades investing in a single relationship, a single craft, a single career. And you cannot achieve those decades of investment without rejecting the alternatives.
The act of choosing a value for yourself requires rejecting alternative values. If I choose to make my marriage the most important part Of my life, that means I'm (probably) choosing not to make cocaine-fueled hooker orgies an important part of my life. If I'm choosing to judge myself based on my ability to have open and accepting friendships, that means I'm rejecting trashing my friends behind their backs. These are all healthy decisions, yet they require rejection at every turn.

The point is this: we all must give a fuck about something, in order to value something. And to value something, we must reject what is not that something. To value X, we must reject non-X.
That rejection is an inherent and necessary part Of maintaining Our values, and therefore Our identity. We are defined by what we choose to reject. And if we reject nothing (perhaps in fear of being rejected by something ourselves), we essentially have no identity at all.
The desire to avoid rejection at all costs, to avoid confrontation and conflict, the desire to attempt to accept everything equally and to make everything cohere and harmonize, is a deep and subtle form of entitlement. Entitled people, because they feel as though they deserve to feel great all the time, avoid rejecting anything because doing so might make them or someone else feel bad. And because they refuse to reject anything, they live a valueless, pleasure-driven, and self-absorbed life. All they give a fuck about is sustaining the high a little bit longer, to avoid the inevitable failures Of their life, to pretend the suffering away.
Rejection is an important and crucial life skill. Nobody wants to be stuck in a relationship that isn't making them happy. Nobody wants to be stuck in a business doing work they hate and don't believe in. Nobody wants to feel that they can't say what they really mean.
Yet people choose these things. All the time.
Honesty is a natural human craving. But part Of having honesty in our lives is becoming comfortable with saying and hearing the word "no." In this way, rejection actually makes Our relationships better and our emotional lives healthier.


Boundaries
Once upon a time, there were two youngsters, a boy and a girl. Their families hated each Other. But the snuck into a party hosted by the girl's family he was kind of a dick. The girl sees the and angels sing so sweetly to her lady-parts that she instantly falls in love with him. Just like that. And So he sneaks into her garden and they decide to get married the next freaking day, you know, that's totally practical, when your parents want to murder each Other. Jump ahead a few days. Their families find out about the marriage and throw a shit-fit. Mercutio dies. The girl is so upset that she drinks a potion that will put her to sleep for two days. But, unfortunately, the young couple hasn't learned the ins and outs of good marital communication yet, and the young girl totally forgets to mention something about it to her new husband. The young man therefore mistakes his new wife's self-induced coma for suicide. He then totally loses his marbles and he commits suicide, thinking he's going to be with her in the afterlife or some shit. But then she wakes up from her two-day coma, only to learn that her new husband has committed suicide, so she has the exact same idea and kills herself too. The end.
Romeo and Juliet is Synonymous with "romance" in Our culture today. It is seen as the love Story in English-speaking culture, an emotional ideal to live up to. Yet when you really get down to what happens in the Story, these kids are absolutely Out Of their fucking minds. And they just killed themselves to prove it!
It's suspected by many scholars that Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet not to celebrate romance, but rather to satirize it, to show how absolutely nutty it was. He didn't mean for the play to a glorification Of love. In fact, he meant it to be the opposite: a big flashing neon sign blinking KEEP OUT, with police tape around it saying DO NOT CROSS.
For most Of human history, romantic love was not celebrated as it is now. In fact, up until the mid-nineteenth century or so, love was seen as an unnecessary and potentially dangerous psychological impediment to the more important things in life—you know, like farming well and/or marrying a guy with a lot of sheep. Young people were often forcibly steered clear of their romantic passions in favor Of practical economic marriages that would yield stability for both them and their families.

But today, we all get brain boners for this kind of batshit crazy love. It dominates our culture. And the more dramatic, the better. Whether it's Ben Affleck working to destroy an asteroid to save the earth for the girl he loves, or Mel Gibson murdering hundreds of Englishmen and fantasizing about his raped and murdered wife while tortured to death, or that Elven chick giving up her immortality to be with Aragorn in Lord of the Rings, or stupid romantic comedies where Jimmy Fallon forgoes his Red Sox playoff tickets Drew Barrymore has, like, needs or something.
If this sort of romantic love were cocaine, then as a culture we'd all like Tony Montana in Scarface: burying our faces in a fucking mountain Of it, screaming, "Say hello to my lee-de friend!"
The problem is that we're finding Out that romantic love is kind Of like cocaine. Like, frighteningly similar to cocaine. Like, stimulates the exact same parts Of your brain as cocaine. Like, gets you high and makes you feel good for a while but also creates as many problems as it solves, as does cocaine.
Most elements of romantic love that we pursue—the dramatic and dizzyingly emotional displays Of affection, the topsy-turvy ups and downs—aren't healthy, genuine displays Of love. In fact, they're Often just another form Of entitlement playing Out through people's relationships.
I know. that makes me sound like such a downer. Seriously, what kind Of guy shits on romantic love? But hear me Out.
The truth is, there are healthy forms of love and unhealthy forms of love. Unhealthy love is based on two people trying to escape their problems through their emotions for each other—in other words, they' re using each other as an Healthy love is based on two people acknowledging and addressing their own problems with each other 's support. The difference between a healthy and an unhealthy relationship comes down to two things: 1) how well each in the relationship accepts responsibility, and 2) the willingness Of each to both reject and rejected by their partner.
Anywhere there is an unhealthy or toxic relationship, there will a and IXjrous sense Of responsibility on both sides, and there will be an inability to give and/or receive rejection. Wherever there is a -heålthy an&loving relationship, there will be clear bo aries between the two people their values, and there will be an open avenue of giving and receiving rejection when necessary.
By "boundaries" I mean the delineation between two people's responsibilities for their own problems. People in a healthy relationship with strong boundaries will take responsibility for their own values and problems and not take responsibility for their partner 's values and problems. People in a toxic relationship with poor or no boundaries will regularly avoid responsibility for their own problems and/or take responsibility for their partner 's problems. What do poor boundaries look like? Here are some examples:
"You cant go Out with your friends without me. You know how jealous I get. You have to Stay home with me. " "My coworkers are idiots; they always make me late to meetings because I have to tell them how to do their jobs. " "I can't believe you made me feel so stupid in front Of my Own sister. Never disagree with me in front of her again! " "I'd love to take that job in Milwaukee, but my mother would never forgive me for moving So far
"I can date you, but can you not tell my friend Cindy? She gets really insecure when I have a boyfriend and she doesn 't. "
In each scenario, the person is either taking responsibility for problems/emotions that are not theirs, or demanding that someone else take responsibility for their problems/emotions.
In general, entitled people fall into one Of two traps in their relationships. Either they expect Other people to take responsibility for their problems: "l wanted a nice relaxing weekend at home. You should have known that and canceled your plans. " Or they take on too much responsibility for Other people's problems: "She just lost her job again, but its probably my fault because I wasn't as supportive of her as I could have been. I'm going to help her rewrite her résumé tomorrow. "
Entitled people adopt these strategies in their relationships, as with everything, to help avoid accepting responsibility for their own problems. As a result, their relationships are fragile and fake, products Of avoiding inner pain rather than embracing a genuine appreciation and adoration Of their partner.
This goes not just for romantic relationships, by the way, but also for family relationships and friendships. An overbearing mother may take responsibility for every problem in her children's lives. Her Own entitlement then encourages an entitlement in her children, as they grow up to believe Other people should always be responsible for their problems.
(This is why the problems in your romantic relationships always eerily resemble the problems in your parents' relationship.)
When you have murky areas Of responsibility for your emotions and actions—areas where it's unclear who is responsible for what, whose fault is what, why you're doing what you're doing—you never develop strong values for yourself. Your only value becomes making your partner happy. Or your only value becomes your partner making you happy.
This is self-defeating, Of course. And relationships characterized by such murkiness usually go down like the Hindenburg, with all the drama and fireworks.
People can't solve your problems for you. And they shouldn't try, because that won't make you happy. You can't solve other people's problems for them either, because that likewise won't make them happy. The mark Of an unhealthy relationship is two people who try to solve each other's problems in order to feel good about themselves. Rather, a healthy relationship is when two people solve their own problems in order to feel good about each Other.
The setting of proper boundaries doesn't mean you can't help Or support your partner Or be helped and supported yourself. You both should support each Other. But only because you choose to support and be supported. Not because you feel obligated or entitled.

Entitled people who blame others for their own emotions and actions do so because they believe that if they constantly paint themselves as victims, eventually someone will come along and save them, and they will receive the love they've always wanted.
Entitled people who take the blame for Other people's emotions and actions do so because they believe that if they "fix" their partner and save him or her, they will receive the love and appreciation they've always wanted.
These are the yin and yang of any toxic relationship: the victim and the saver, the person who Starts fires because it makes her feel important and the person who puts Out fires because it makes him feel important.
These two types Of people are drawn strongly to one another, and they usually end up together. Their pathologies match one another perfectly. Often they've grown up with parents who each exhibit one Of these traits as well. so their model for a "happy" relationship is one based on entitlement and poor boundaries.
Sadly, they both fail in meeting the other's actual needs. In fact, their pattern of overblaming and overaccepting blame perpetuates the entitlement and shitty self-worth that have been keeping them from getting their emotional needs met in the first place. The victim creates more and more problems to solve—not because additional real problems exist, but because it gets her the attention and affection she craves. The saver solves and solves—not because she actually cares about the problems, but because she believes she must fix others' problems in order to deserve attention and affection for herself. In both cases, the intentions are selfish and conditional and therefore self-sabotaging, and genuine love is rarely experienced.

The victim, if really loved the saver, would say, "Loo , this is my problem; you don't haveto fix it for me. Just support me while I fix it myself." That would actually be a demonstration Of love: taking responsibility for your own problems and not holding your partner responsible for them.
If the saver really wanted to save the victim, the saver would say, "Look, you're blaming others for your own problems; deal with this yourself." And in a sick way, that would actually be a demonstration Of love: helping someone solve their own problems.
Instead, victims and savers both use each Other to achieve emotional highs. It's like an addiction they fulfill in one another. Ironically, when presented with emotionally healthy people to date, they usually feel bored Or lack "chemistry" with them. They pass on emotionally healthy, secure individuals the secure partner 's solid boundaries don't feel "exciting" enough to stimulate the constant highs necessary in the entitled person.
For victims, the hardest thing to do in the world is to hold themselves accountable for their problems. They've spent their whole life believing that others are responsible for their fate. That first step of taking responsibility for themselves is often terrifying.
For savers, the hardest thing to do in the world is to Stop taking responsibility for Other problems. They've spent their whole life feeling valued and loved only when they're saving somebody else—so letting go Of this need is terrifying to them as well.
If you make a sacrifice for someone you care about, it needs to be you want to, not because you feel obligated or you fear the consequences Of not doing so. If your partner is going to make a sacrifice for you, it needs to because he or she genuinely wants to, not because you've manipulated the sacrifice through anger or guilt. Acts Of love are valid only if they're performed without conditions or expectations.
It can be difficult for to recognize the difference between doing something out Of obligation and doing it voluntarily. So here's a litmus test: ask yourself, "If I refused, how would the relationship change?" Similarly, ask, "If my partner refused something I wanted, how would the relationship change?"
If the answer is that a refusal would cause a blowout Of drama and broken china plates, then that's a bad sign for your relationship. It suggests that your relationship is conditional—based on superficial benefits received from one another, rather than on unconditional acceptance of each other (along with each other 's problems).

People with strong boundaries are not afraid of a temper tantrum, an argument, or getting hurt. People with weak boundaries are terrified Of those things and will constantly mold their own behavior to fit the highs and lows of their relational emotional roller coaster.
People with Strong boundaries understand that it's unreasonable to expect two people to accommodate each other 100 and fulfill every need the other has. People with strong boundaries understand that they may hurt someone's feelings sometimes, but ultimately they can't determine how Other people feel. People with strong boundaries understand that a healthy relationship is not about controlling one another 's emotions, but rather about each partner supporting the other in their individual growth and in solving their own problems.
It's not about giving a fuck about everything your partner gives a fuck about; it's about giving a fuck your partner regardless Of the fucks he or she gives. That's unconditional love, baby.

How to Build Trust
My wife is one Of those women who spend a lot Of time in front Of the mirror. She loves to 100k amazing, and I love for her to look amazing too (obviously).
Nights before we go out, she comes out of the bathroom after an hour-long makeup/hair/clothes/whatever-women-do-in-there session and asks me how she looks. She's usually gorgeous. Every once in a while, though, she looks bad. Maybe she tried to do something new with her hair, or decided to wear a pair of boots that some flamboyant fashion designer from Milan thought were avant-garde. Whatever the reason—it just doesn't work.
When I tell her this, she usually gets pissed off. As she marches back into the closet or the bathroom to redo everything and make us thirty minutes late, she spouts a bunch Of four-letter words and sometimes even slings a few of them in my direction.
Men stereotypically lie in this situation to make their girlfriends/wives happy. But I don't. Why? Because honesty in my relationship is more important to me than feeling good all the time. The last person I should ever have to censor myself with is the woman I love.
Fortunately, I'm married to a woman who agrees and is willing to hear my uncensored thoughts. She calls me out on my bullshit too, Of course, which is one Of the most important traits she offers me as a partner. Sure, my ego gets bruised sometimes, and I bitch and complain and try to argue, but a few hours later I come sulking back and admit that she was right. And holy crap she makes me a better person, even though I hate hearing it at the time.
When our highest priority is to always make ourselves feel good, or to always make our partner feel good, then nobody ends up feeling good. And our relationship falls apart without our even knowing it.
Without conflict, there can be no trust. Conflict exists to show us who is there for us unconditionally and who is just there for the benefits. No one trusts a yes-man. If Disappointment Panda were here, he'd tell you that the pain in our relationship is necessary to cement Our trust in each other and produce greater intimacy.
For a relationship to be healthy, both people must be willing and able to both say no and hear no. Without that negation, without that occasional rejection, boundaries break down and one person's problems and values come to dominate the other 's. Conflict is not only normal, then; it's absolutely necessary for the maintenance of a healthy relationship. If two people who are close are not able to hash Out their differences openly and vocally, then the relationship is based on manipulation and misrepresentation, and it will slowly become toxic.
Trust is the most important ineredient in any relationship, for the simple reason that without trust, the relationship doesn't actually mean anything. A person could tell you that she loves you, wants to with you, would give up everything for you, but if you don't trust her, you get no from those statements. You don't feel loved until you trust that the love being expressed toward you comes without any conditions or baggage attached to it.

This is what's so destructive about cheating. It's not about the sex. It's about the trust that has been destroyed as a result Of the sex. Without trust, the relationship can no longer function. So it's either rebuild the trust or say your goodbyes.
I Often get emails from people who have been cheated on by their significant Other but want to Stay with that partner and are wondering how they can trust him or her again. Without trust, they tell me, the relationship has begun to feel like a burden, like a threat that must be monitored and questioned rather than enjoyed.
The problem here is that most who get caught cheating apologize and give the "It will never happen again" spiel and that's that, as if penises fell into various orifices completely by accident. Many cheatees accept this at face value, and don't question the values and fucks given by their partner (pun totally intended); they don't ask themselves whether those values and fucks make their partner a good person to Stay with. They're so concerned with holding on to their relationship that they fail to recognize that it's become a black hole consuming their self-respect.
If people cheat, it's because something other than the relationship is more important to them. It may be over others. It may be validation through sex. It may be giving in to their own impulses. Whatever it is, it's clear that the cheater 's values are not aligned in a way to support a healthy relationship. And if the cheater doesn't admit this or come to terms with it, if he just gives the Old "I don't know what I was thinking; I was stressed out and drunk and she was there" response, then he lacks the serious self-awareness necessary to solve any relationship problems.

What needs to happen is that cheaters have to start peeling away at their self-awareness onion and figure Out what fucked-up values caused them to break the trust of the relationship (and whether they actually still value the relationship). They need to be able to say, "You know what: I am selfish. I care about myself more than the relationship; to be honest, I don't really respect the relationship much at all." If cheaters can't express their shitty values, and show that those values have been overridden, then there's no reason to believe that they can be trusted. And if they can't be trusted, then the relationship is not going to get better or change.
The other factor in regaining trust after it's been broken is a practical one: a track record. If someone breaks your trust, words are nice; but you then need to see a consistent track record of improved behavior. Only then can you begin trusting that the cheater's values are now aligned properly and the person really will change.
Unfortunately, building a track record for trust takes time—certainly a lot more time than it takes to break trust. And during that trust-building period, things are likely to be pretty shitty. So both people in the relationship must be conscious Of the struggle they're choosing to undertake.
I use the example of cheating in a romantic relationship, but this process applies to a breach in any relationship. When trust is destroyed, it can be rebuilt only if the following two Steps happen: 1) the trust-breaker admits the true values that caused the breach and Owns up to them, and 2) the trust-breaker builds a solid track record Of improved behavior over time. Without the first Step, there should be no attempt at reconciliation in the first place.
Trust is like a china plate. If you break it once, with some care and attention you can put it back together again. But if you break it again, it splits into even more pieces and it takes far longer to piece together again. If you break it more and more times, eventually it shatters to the point where it's impossible to restore. There are too many broken pieces, and too much dust.


Freedom Through Commitment
Consumer culture is very good at making us want more, more, more. Underneath all the hype and marketing is the implication that more is always better. I bought into this idea for years. Make more money, visit more countries, have more experiences, be with more women.
But more is not always better. In fact, the opposite is true. We are actually Often happier with less. When we're overloaded with opportunities and options, we suffer from what psychologists refer to as the paradox Of choice. Basically, the more options we're given, the less satisfied we become with whatever we choose, because we're aware of all the other options we're potentially forfeiting.
So if you have a choice between two places to live and pick one, you'll likely feel confident and comfortable that you made the right choice. You'll be satisfied with your decision.
But if you have a choice among twenty-eight places to live and pick one, the paradox Of choice says that you'll likely spend years agonizing, doubting, and second-guessing yourself, wondering if you really made the "right" choice, and if you're truly maximizing your own happiness. And this anxiety, this desire for certainty and perfection and success, will make you unhappy.
So what do we do? Well, if you're like I used to be, you avoid choosing anything at all. You aim to keep your options open as long as possible. You avoid commitment.
But while investing deeply in one person, one place, one job, one activity might deny us the breadth Of experience we'd like, pursuing a breadth Of experience denies us the opportunity to experience the rewards of depth Of experience. There are some experiences that you can have only when you've lived in the same place for five years, when you 've been with the same person for over a decade, when you've been working on the same skill or craft for half your lifetime. Now that I'm in my thirties, I can finally recognize that commitment, in its own way, offers a wealth Of opportunity and experiences that would otherwise never be available to me, no matter where I went or what I did.

When you're pursuing a wide breadth of experience, there are diminishing returns to each new adventure, each new person or thing. When you've never left your home country, the first country you visit inspires a massive perspective shift, because you have such a narrow experience base to draw on. But when you've been to twenty countries, the twenty-first adds little. And when you've been to fifty, the fifty-first adds even less.
The same goes for material possessions, money, hobbies, jobs, friends, and romantic/sexual partners—all the lame superficial values people choose for themselves. The Older you get, the more experienced you get, the less significantly each new experience affects you. The first time I drank at a party was exciting. The hundredth time was fun. The five hundredth time felt like a normal weekend. And the thousandth time felt boring and unimportant.

The big story for me personally over the past few years has my ability to open myself up to commitment. I've chosen to reject all but the very best and experiences and values in my life. I shut down all my business projects and decided to focus on writing full-time. Since then, my website has become more popular than I'd ever imagined possible. I've committed to one woman for the long haul and, to my surprise, have found this more rewarding than any Of the flings, trysts, and one-night stands I had in the past. I've committed to a single geographic location and doubled down on the handful of my significant, genuine, healthy friendships.
And what I've discovered is something entirely counterintuitive: that there is a freedom and liberation in commitment. I've found increased opportunity and upside in rejecting alternatives and distractions in favor Of what I've chosen to let truly matter to me.
Commitment gives you freedom because you're no longer distracted by the unimportant and frivolous. Commitment gives you freedom it hones your attention and focus, directing them toward what is most efficient at making you healthy and happy. Commitment makes decision-making easier and removes any fear Of missing Out; knowing that what you already have is good enough, why would you ever stress about chasing more, more, more again? Commitment allows you to focus intently on a few highly important goals and achieve a greater degree of success than you otherwise would.

In this way, the rejection of alternatives liberates us—rejection of what does not align with our most important values, with our chosen metrics, rejection Of the constant pursuit Of breadth without depth.
Yes, breadth Of experience is likely necessary and desirable when you're young—after all, you have to go out there and discover what seems worth investing yourself in. But depth is where the gold is buried. And you have to stay committed to something and go deep to dig it up. That's true in relationships, in a career, in building a great lifestyle—in everything.










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