Living past the peak

I often wonder what life is like after a person achieves their life goal.

  • An astronaut dedicates her life to space travel and then finally gets to go into orbit. How does she feel taking those first steps back on Earth?
  • An American Idol superfan auditions year after year and then makes it onto the show. What’s it like heading home after the show ends?
  • A professional snowboarder wins an Olympic gold medal. That plane trip back home afterwards must feel strange.
  • A chef wins the Michelin star he’s dreamed of for decades. How does he feel kicking off yet another dinner service the next night?

When you spend your whole life working towards something and then achieve it, how do you start from scratch with finding a new purpose? How does it feel waking up the next morning?

Anticipation is the greatest joy, and coming back down after the thing is over can be the greatest despair. Every kid who celebrates Christmas knows the disappointment of waking up on December 26th. That feeling must be crushing for anyone who accomplishes their life’s dream and notices that there’s a lot of life left afterwards.

Tim Ferriss sometimes talks about how it’s easy to hide behind big aspirations. You’re not going to surprise or disappoint anyone by not winning a gold medal or going to space, so failure is safe and there’s comfort in that. It’s easy to hide behind that comfort instead of pushing yourself. But it seems unfair that the lucky few who do achieve those big aspirations would struggle to find meaning afterwards. Big aspirations are lose/lose.

Maybe it has to do with maximizing vs. satisficing goals. Satisficing goals are binary; once you’ve done it, then it’s done. Maximizing goals are never done, so maybe that’s the lesson? Make your life goal a maximizing goal so you never have to live past achieving it?

It’s at least an interesting thought experiment. What is your life goal? And how would you feel waking up the next morning after you achieved it?


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