There is no solution to your life

In economics, there is a concept called opportunity cost. It simply means that if you make a decision to invest your resources into something, you can't do something else with those same resources.

Say, you have 100$ to spend and you decide to buy a pet rabbit, you won't get to spend those 100$ on a cat, an iguana or a honey badger.

Or food, or clothes, or books, or charitable contributions, or a gift for your mom. The infinity of purchasing options has slammed its door shut in your face and there you are, holding that stupid rabbit.

Outside of buyer's remorse, opportunity costs have a much deeper implication if we look beyond economics. Your time investments have opportunity costs, so do your emotional investments. Desires are infinite, resources are finite. There could be 10.000 worthwhile things you could be doing with your time right now, but you chose to scroll through this article.

Why solutions are not the answer

Photo by  Chris Barbalis  on  Unsplash

Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash

Many of us live with the expectation that life is solvable, that there are potential clear solutions to life's problems, and that this march towards progress is not only possible but necessary. We feel that there is a right answer waiting for us if we look hard enough.

We feel like we are supposed to have a calling.

We feel like we are supposed to find the one.

Like one day, somehow, we'll figure life out.

Like there has to be a key underneath life's thousandth couch pillow.

But given the natural constraints of our world, there simply can be no "right" answer.

Because even if we can inch closer to an improvement in one area, it won’t be a solution. That improvement had a cost: in time, energy, emotion or money, that was not spent elsewhere.

Every choice we make is a trade-off.

Every step in one direction takes us one step away from another.


Why you're in a hamster wheel thinking you're in a race

Photo by  Chris Barbalis  on  Unsplash

Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash

Our instinct for solutions is the cause of a lot of unhappiness in the world. If you expect answers rather than what you actually get, a trade-off, you will be sorely disappointed. And we are.

Opportunity costs have never been higher, just because we have so much opportunity.

We've moved from a world where you became the village butcher because you were the butcher's son to a world that is your oyster in 50 million dazzling technicolor ways.

And you better make the right decision at every turn.

The trend line for anxiety is pegged to the one for "productivity porn" and is continuously sloping upward. Gary Vee thinks you should be doing more. There is so much to do, see, hear, so much to experience and so many people that need to know about it all. It's all happening at once and it's great fun and it's terribly exhausting.

This voluntary schizophrenia leaves us feeling empty but still wanting more. We're stuck, restless, between the fear of missing out and the fear of burning out. And there are no solutions on the horizon in either direction.

The tragic vision and the sad truth

Photo by  Alina Grubnyak  on  Unsplash

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash

"Imagine all the people, living life in peace".

In A Conflict of Visions, economist Thomas Sowell makes a point that a lot of what you will believe about the world, including your political orientation, can be traced back to one of two perspectives.

One perspective holds that humans are essentially good, can be made better and that there are selected individuals who have transcended their condition and are morally superior. We can call this the utopian vision. The other perspective sees man as fallen, as a flawed being with moral flaws that can be reigned in on an individual level, but not transcended. This we could call the tragic vision. ( Steven Pinker coined these names for Sowell's concepts of Constrained/Unconstrained, I feel they're a bit livelier and more descriptive)

The utopian vision obviously sounds more fun.

Despite that, the second one has proven time and time again, unfortunately, to be closer to reality.

The utopian vision of the world is the ultimate form of solutionism.

If we could only ban war, crime, poverty, rape, racism, sexism, bigotry... the world would finally be solved.

The blind spot here is that the medicine itself carries a cost, which often gets swept under the rug in the midst of utopian fervor. Invariably, the utopian projects of the world had costs and for some, these costs involved digging mass graves.

Solutionism is zealous and starry-eyed and it makes you blind to the trade-offs. The problem is that not only are trade-offs inescapable, they are often hidden and wipe out all of the benevolence of the solution, in one fell swoop.

How to find peace, but no solutions

Photo by  Simon Migaj  on  Unsplash

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

Making peace with the impossibility of solving the great dramas of life should be a relief. It should feel like getting home and taking off your bra (50% of my audience wear bras, none have burned them). It should feel like a warm bath after a hard day. It should feel like

It doesn't mean that you can't be ambitious and better yourself and the world. But leave the hubris at the door.

You're in the wrong job, you're dating the wrong person and you could definitely have better friends.

But you've come a long way, baby.