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I was browsing Reddit the other day when I came across a thread that caught my eye. The title was simple: “What frustrates you most about life?”
The frustrations people submitted ranged from economic to familial, psychological to political. They were all universal human concerns — problems men and women from all walks of life struggle with every single day. Many of them focus on the same themes we explore in our live residential programs and on the podcast. Several were questions I’ve wrestled with in my own life.
As I read, I found myself wanting to respond to each and every person with all the things I’ve learned over the past 20 years. So I thought I’d pull the top five frustrations from the thread, and offer some thoughts and resources to work through them. Starting with…
We all crave meaning and purpose in our lives. When asked what frustrates him most, one Reddit user talked about:
How boring it is. I want to go on a big adventure that matters, but most of life is just boring task after boring task.
I suppose it’s just a standard fantasy of the hero’s journey. Go out with some difficult, important task where failure means disaster for people that matter to me. I have to use my wits and strength to overcome the evil or the threat. Along the way, I develop new friendships with the people I meet. At the end, the world is an obviously better place where I can see that all the work and danger was worth it.
I totally relate to this. Growing up in the burbs, I always felt there was something more — something grander and more exciting — waiting for me in my life. That’s the spark that drove me to finish high school in East Germany, and would later draw me to places like North Korea, Mexico, and Serbia, where I ended up getting more adventure than I bargained for.
But curing boredom doesn’t necessarily require an adventure, and not all adventures will cure boredom. In fact, many of them will make you crave boredom: there’s a limit to how much drama we humans can really take!
So the first step to addressing this frustration is separating out the feeling of boredom from the desire for adventure.
When I’m feeling bored, I use that sensation as a signal that something is off. In almost every case, my boredom creeps in when I’ve lost my curiosity about the world or my connection to other people. Which already gives me some immediate steps to pursue.
The moment I start feeling restless, I can read up on a topic I don’t understand (as I’ve started doing recently with cryptocurrency, which I’m now obsessed with), study a subject or region I’m not familiar with, or shoot a quick note to the people in my life — near or far — and see what they’re working on and how I can help. Almost immediately, the boredom begins to subside, and my passion and engagement regenerates.
Given the wealth of resources at our fingertips, we don’t need to skydive in Cambodia or hike the Pacific Crest Trail to stave off boredom. A Wikipedia article, a Reddit thread, and three conversations with friends or colleagues can do the trick. It really is that simple.
But if you’re still feeling that call to adventure, then maybe a good story is what you need. Here, too, you don’t necessarily have to look very far: there are adventures waiting for you right under your nose. A few journeys available to you at any moment, no matter who or where you are, include:
I guarantee that if you throw yourself into any of those three projects in earnest — and I really mean in earnest — and stick with it consistently, then you’ll find yourself on a very cool journey in no time.
It’s also important to remember that life is rarely like the movies — and it shouldn’t be. We don’t need a monumental task with epic stakes to make our lives meaningful. Sometimes, wishing for that kind of high drama can actually prevent us from embracing the really meaningful journeys that are readily available to us. Oftentimes, what we end up chasing is just a good story rather than a significant personal narrative.
When we crave adventure, what we really crave is meaning — a sense that what we’re doing in life matters. And meaning comes when we apply ourselves to something we truly care about. I’d focus on finding that, and allow the story of how it all unfolds to take care of itself.
The next frustration that caught my eye focused on relationship-building. As one Reddit user explained:
90% of life is about relationships and the type of network you build around yourself…
…and I’m terrible at socializing. It’s weird because I don’t come off as awkward or anything. I’m just well-adjusted enough to keep up appearances, but on the inside I’m a socially outcast hermit that just happens to be a neurotic mess. I know that to a degree this describes everyone, but it really is the perfect Hell.
I think we can all relate to this one. Even the greatest networkers struggle at times to connect with other people. Many had to overcome serious anxiety in order to socialize, and still identify as self-conscious, introverted, or straight-up awkward. Some have even incorporated those inauspicious qualities into their social persona, turning their weaknesses into an asset.
Interestingly, this guy’s frustration comes not just from his “terrible” social skills, but also from how important he believes networking to be. In his mind, 90% of life is about relationships, which adds an insane amount of pressure to his already crippling anxiety. For him, the stakes of overcoming this challenge could not be higher, which in turn fuels his fear — a pretty vicious cycle.
Although the people we know do play a crucial role in our success, they don’t do all that much on their own. In fact, Adam Grant, a friend of the show, recently wrote a terrific article about this topic in the New York Times called “Good News for Young Strivers: Networking Is Overrated.” In the piece, he talks about how:
My students often believe that if they simply meet more important people, their work will improve. But it’s remarkably hard to engage with those people unless you’ve already put something valuable out into the world. That’s what piques the curiosity of advisers and sponsors. Achievements show you have something to give, not just something to take.
While most people obsess over how to connect with influential people, Grant focuses on building things that attract influential people — whether it’s a company, a blog, a newsletter or a dinner party. That, more than any other variable, is how you bring the right people into your life.
So if you find yourself stressing about subpar networking skills, then remember that what you create will always be more important than whom you know. And the people you know will be attracted by the things you build, which in turn will make those relationships more fruitful. Even the most socially awkward person can focus on creating value and being generous. Oftentimes, the more socially awkward among us are even better at that!
I like to think of relationships as fuel on the fire of your accomplishments. They will never be a substitute for hard work and good decisions; they’ll only help accelerate the things you do. That’s why we emphasize building things over rubbing elbows. Or, as we often say here at AoC, if you want to build a network, build yourself.
That said, we can (and should!) always up our social game. If you need some help in the networking department, then I recommend exploring our unparalleled relationship-building curriculum.
Start by learning to say yes to networking by understanding the cold truths about networking and success. Then explore our nontraditional secrets of killer networking, which will help you reframe some common misbeliefs about meeting people. As you develop your relationships, learn how to systemize your networking in a smart and scalable way, while avoiding the kind of networking that just doesn’t work. You can then brush up on a number of concrete skills, including how to talk about yourself, how to tell a great story, and how to approach people openly and authentically. Most important, practice, practice, practice. The best relationship-building is a habit and a mindset.
If we over-prioritize the people we meet while underappreciating the things we build, then social anxiety and imposter syndrome creep in. That’s the key to overcoming networking anxiety: focus on building things first, and continue to up your social game using the tools at your disposal.
The next post that caught my eye is something we can all relate to: the challenge of committing to the plans we have for ourselves. One Redditor describes his frustration with:
How difficult it is to find and recognize the steps that you need to take to achieve reasonable, achievable goals. We know that it’s possible to achieve success. Many of us are willing and capable of applying ourselves, but the path to those goals, and the people, assets, and resources available to help us are obfuscated.
Everyone — guy or gal, old or young, successful or just starting out — knows how difficult this can be. Let’s break down the challenge, because there are actually two distinct pieces here.
The first piece is identifying what you have to do specifically to achieve your abstract goals. I suspect that this Redditor has a decent grasp on what he wants to achieve — to have a stable career, to own a home, to find a partner, etc. — but can’t seem to translate those goals into the right actionable steps. So here are a few resources to start.
First, I’d listen to our interview with Chalene Johnson, who breaks down the real way to set and achieve goals. Couple that with John Lee Dumas’ take on SMART goals, which we recently recapped on a bite-sized Minisode Monday, then check out Alastair Macartney’s interview, which taught us how to make the impossible possible. All of these resources will help you translate big, amorphous dreams into practical realities.
At the same time, we here at AoC believe that there’s a limit to goal-setting. Goals are terrific — we absolutely need them to make plans, shape our futures, and nurture our purpose — but goals alone do not generate results. In fact, Oliver Burkeman, author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, recently explained how the relentless pursuit of goals can actually end up killing us.
Far more important than goals are habits — the routines we create around the specific actions and behaviors that serve our goals. If you translate goals into habits, then the goals generally take care of themselves. And if you cultivate hero habits like Hugh Culver while following James Clear’s approach to transforming those habits, then you’ll find yourself building a lifestyle that accomplishes your goals without having to obsess over them.
The second piece to this puzzle is identifying the people, assets, and resources that can help you achieve your ambitions.
As a starting point, have a listen to our toolbox episode on social capital basics, where we cover high-level strategies for taking stock of your relationships.
When it comes to your own skills and resources, I’d also take a deep inventory of the unique skills you’ve developed up until now. Don’t be afraid of unusual skillsets — being a contradiction can actually be the key to a killer talent stack. We can’t use what we don’t know we possess, which is why this exercise is so important.
Finally, use all of the resources above to take an inventory of the people in your life — whom you know, what their skills are, what they need, and how you can help them. Again, the social capital intensive will be a huge asset to you here. Like skills, we need to know who is in our network before we can capitalize on it.
When this Redditor says that his resources are “obfuscated,” he’s unconsciously implying that they are being hidden from him. The truth is, all the information you need is out there, or within yourself. It might feel obfuscated, but that’s just another way of saying you haven’t found it yet. We have to consciously take stock of our assets before we realize how many resources we already have. I’d start there!
Money is one of the most charged concepts in human psychology. No surprise, then, that one Redditor mentioned wealth as a major source of frustration.
I hate that money = security and happiness, and that some people in the world have billions and billions of dollars while most just scrape by…
I’m not saying I wouldn’t do exactly what they’re doing. It’s just frustrating that their quality of life far surpasses mine.
This is one of the most common frustrations. It’s also one of the most debilitating.
I initially thought about leaving this post out of this article, because the first half seemed to be more of a philosophical and political argument — that an unequal distribution of wealth is fundamentally unfair.
But the second half of the post revealed something much more meaningful beneath the surface: a frustration bordering on envy, which is hardening into resentment. And that is something we can absolutely work on. If we learn to use those feelings the right way, they can actually become a powerful fuel for success, and a window into a new way of thinking about the world.
The key is using these “ugly” emotions to your advantage. In our piece on that topic, we distinguished between two types of envy: malignant and benign.
Malignant envy is a frustrating kind of desire, usually perceived to be unfair or unjust, which often makes us feel angry or resentful. It aims to damage the position of the person you envy, effectively pulling them down (if only in your mind) so that both of you are more comparable. This brand of envy is more hostile, and is designed to restore a sense of self at the expense of its object.
Then there’s benign envy, which has an element of admiration and optimism, though it might still bring up feelings of lack and frustration. But instead of pulling someone down, benign envy compels you to move yourself up…
One feeling, two forms: a damaging, hostile brand of envy; and an aspirational, motivating sort. The difference between being consumed by envy and being driven by envy is the ability to convert malicious envy into its benign form.
You can see how this Redditor’s feelings probably fall under malignant envy. Greater wealth isn’t acting as a motivator, but as an unjust feature of a frustrating world. That’s not to say that it can’t be both, of course — only to point out that he seems to only fixate on the latter, which prevents him from noticing the former.
And yet he knows that he would enjoy his quality of life just as much as wealthy people do. Which tells me that this Redditor does have some perspective on his envy, and that most of his frustration comes not from the injustice of his situation, but from the fact that he can’t seem to rise above it. Which, again, is perfectly understandable.
As we’ve talked about several times on the show, I would embrace these unpleasant feelings and use them as a teacher. Some good questions to ask include:
Over the years, I’ve done this exercise with all my unpleasant emotions — from fear to jealousy to resentment — and in almost every case, I’ve realized that the shift I was hoping for had to happen in me. Again, that isn’t to say that this world isn’t bizarre and unfair — it definitely is! — but rather to help you see that your envy and resentment are actually indications of what you want the most, and how you need to change in order to achieve it.
Finally, we have to recognize that resentment and envy — along with all the other unpleasant feelings we humans are capable of feeling — ultimately don’t serve us. If we investigate them to learn something about ourselves, then they transform into motivation, self-awareness, and humility. If we allow them to fester, and believe that they’re part of who we are, then they keep us stuck in a cycle of frustration, paralysis, and helplessness.
As Carrie Fisher put it, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
So ask yourself whether your resentment is moving you closer to what you want — in this case, wealth — and decide for yourself whether it’s worth hanging on to it. Look for ways to turn those feelings into your teacher. Once you see these emotions for what they are, it becomes much harder to let them hold you back.
The final post caught my eye because it’s something I think about on a daily basis. One Redditor put his frustration succinctly:
That stupid people are so sure of themselves and smart ones seem to second guess everything.
Yup. I think everyone with above-average intelligence, talent, or expertise has felt this at some point. It turns out this phenomenon has a name: the Dunning-Kruger effect.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is basically a cognitive bias where people of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is.
Or, to put it more simply, people of lesser ability tend to think they’re better because they are unable to recognize their own ineptitude — exactly what’s driving this Redditor crazy.
The corollary to the Dunning-Kruger effect is that people of above-average ability tend to doubt themselves more. That might be because they are competent enough to recognize their own ignorance, or because they better appreciate how difficult the task in question is.
So how do we deal with this maddening dynamic? The answer is twofold.
First, we have to learn not to let it bother us any more than is absolutely necessary.
If you work under an ineffective boss, for example, then maybe the Dunning-Kruger effect directly has an impact on your well-being. But in most cases, other people’s incompetence — and their inability to see it — is really more of an abstract annoyance than a direct liability. It’s easy to harp on someone else’s ignorance, but it’s rarely necessary, and it’s never truly helpful. Being conscious and disciplined about our anger is one of the greatest skills we can cultivate.
Second, we have to recognize the Dunning-Kruger effect in ourselves.
In some cases, we underestimate our own ignorance, especially when we’re first starting out in a field. (My own ignorance about hosting when I first began podcasting is staggering. Although I cringe to think back on it now, it also lowered the barriers to entry for me.) When I notice the Dunning-Kruger effect in other people, I force myself to remember when it also applied to me. We’re always more charitable to ourselves than other people, which makes other people’s incompetence more infuriating.
In other cases, we’ll second-guess ourselves more than we should. Here, too, it’s important to be aware of how our minds work. Given the Dunning-Kruger effect, we can remind ourselves that the more intelligent or equipped we are, the more we’ll tend to underestimate our abilities — even though they’re more developed. Being aware of that bias is half the battle. Once you catch yourself discounting your capability, you can then decide whether that judgment is accurate or just a peculiar feature of human psychology.
One final thing.
An interesting implication of the Dunning-Kruger effect is that people of above-average ability erroneously presume that tasks that are easy for them to perform are also easy for other people to perform. Which is a nice reminder that while it’s frustrating to deal with an overconfident incompetent person, being that hypercompetent person who assumes an equal level of ability in other people isn’t always a picnic, either.
A little patience, kindness, and self-awareness go a long way in dealing with this effect in everyday life. It’s harder to get frustrated with other people over the qualities you recognize in yourself, so don’t let it throw you on your way to getting better!
Reading these universal frustrations, I was struck by how fixed they seem in people’s lives, how powerless people felt in trying to overcome them. The truth is, our frustrations aren’t barriers, but crucibles: as our friend Ryan Holiday famously argues, the obstacle is the way.
So rather than sitting with these frustrations, I recommend using them to discover that there are opportunities and solutions waiting for you the moment you decide to take them on.
You can find adventure in everyday life. You can overcome your fear of networking. You can achieve your goals. You can overcome envy and resentment. And you can learn to accept your cognitive biases. It just takes some reframing, self-analysis, and hard work.
As Proust said, “My destination is no longer a place, rather a new way of seeing.”
And our frustrations are some of the best ways to find that new way of seeing.