Pick your poison: If you don’t choose your sacrifices, life will

There’s no getting your way out of this one

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Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash

It’s no secret to anyone that sacrifice is almost always required to get something you want in life. Almost every single successful person on this planet talks about the things they’ve had to sacrifice to get to where they are.

There is a famous quote by Mohammed Ali: “I hated every minute of training, but I said: ‘don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’” The most famous artists, musicians, entrepreneurs etc have all sacrificed to get to where they are. In his book outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes about the “10,000 rule”: a figure for the number of hours that people must sacrifice to become truly elite in any discipline. Religious books such as the bible are packed with archetypal stories of sacrifice; even God had to sacrifice his only son to save mankind from their sins — if you believe in the Bible.

The significance of making sacrifices to get what we want is undeniable, yet so many of us avoid it. We avoid going to the gym, although we want to lose weight. We avoid putting in those extra hours to work on our businesses. We avoid putting in the extra work needed to apply for new jobs or a take higher positions at work. People avoid having to face their problems, putting things off for as long as they possibly can, often just to end up avoiding the problem altogether. One of the biggest issues I’ve had is putting off certain tasks that are necessary to scale my online business.

when we look at how painful a process making Sacrifices can be, It’s understandable why people don’t want to face their problems and make the sacrifices necessary to better their lives. Sacrificing isn’t fun. It’s uncomfortable — sometimes unbearably so. It can force you to face issues that you don’t want to face, issues that can be very nerve-wracking and anxiety-inducing. For example, applying for a higher position at your workplace is going to mean putting in more work on your CV/personal statement, on interview prep, even on yourself as a person. This could mean facing some inner demons you’ve been avoiding: working on your self-esteem issues, working on your confidence issues, working on your relationships with people in the workplace, having to accept more responsibility. More often than not, the thought of having to work through these things is way worse than the actuality of working through them, but all the same, you still have to go through that mental discomfort of dealing with uncertainty beforehand.

Ultimately whether we are having to deal with uncertainty in facing our problems and doing the things we have to do, the sheer boredom of having to grind out work, or the potential judgement of other people that comes from putting yourself out there; it all comes down to not wanting to sacrifice your comfort and security. Again, this was a big thing for me as a kid, I would never want to put myself out there and go for something potentially great when playing sports, although I had the ability, in case I failed and looked bad. I didn’t want to sacrifice the security that came from being in my comfort zone.

We think that we can avoid sacrifice by just not doing the things we should be doing, not putting in the work, not going through the pain, not putting ourselves out there in an uncertain environment and risking our reputations. But the issue with this is, you end up making an even greater sacrifice in the long run.

You see, staying where you are and not making the sacrifices you need to, will have extreme consequences of its own. You will end up being a shadow of the person you could be, missing out on so much unfulfilled potential. Waking up months or years later thinking, “what would have happened if I had gone for that competition?” “ what would my life look like if I hadn’t played video games for the past few years and worked on my business?” “Where could it have taken me if I’d stuck to ……. ?”

The question of, “what if ?” The regret of not knowing what you could have been. This will lead to pain much deeper, way more pervasive, and Significantly more long term than the initial pain and discomfort of making the sacrifices you need to make. That unfulfilled potential and regret is the type of pain that never quite goes away. It’s the type of pain that manifests itself in unconscious neurosis.

Again, going back to my high school days, I’d often try to circumvent making sacrifices when it came to my education; I was quite a naturally smart kid, but I was never willing to put in the work necessary to achieve excellent results. I remember in my final year of GCSEs, I was one of 3 kids at my school picked to do an A-Level Maths unit a year early. But I was too lazy and thought It sounded like a lot of work. Even up till now, I sometimes wonder how much I could have excelled at school if I’d given my full effort.

The point I’m trying to make with these examples from my childhood is that boredom and pain from sacrifice, as well as the disappointment that comes from failure, will go away. But regret is the kind of thing that stays with you.

In the book Towards A Psychology Of Being, Abraham Maslow talks about how not being yourself and fulfilling your potential can lead to these feelings of inner discontent that are hard to attribute to a specific thing, but you feel them all the same. He’s referring to that deep inner disharmony, where someone can feel that something isn’t right, they don’t feel happy, they don’t feel fulfilled but they don’t know exactly why; there doesn’t seem to be any obvious reason. But the truth is, living an inauthentic life, not being yourself, and not fulfilling your potential is often a large reason for these deep underlying issues.

In this same way, not putting in the sacrifices that you need to, not knowing how great you could potentially be, having that regret, can lead to this same deep-rooted inner discontent and lack of fulfilment. Also, this doesn’t just last a couple of days or weeks, this is the kind of feeling people battle with for the rest of their lives, not even aware of its causes. If you don’t choose your sacrifice, this is the default sacrifice that life will pick for you. And yes, it’s the most costly sacrifice you could make.

There is a quote by Jordan Peterson which perfectly encapsulates the kind of problem that arises from not picking your sacrifice: “You can choose your dam limitation, or you can let it take you unaware when you’re 30 or even worse when you’re 40.”

Clearly, no sane person would ever choose to let life pick this sacrifice for them. A sensible person would just grit it out and go through the lesser pain of choosing their own sacrifices, because, well, just look at the alternative. But the problem is, consequences which arise from picking your own sacrifices are immediate and directly attributable to the sacrifice; you feel them straight away, so there is no ignoring them. However, the consequences which arise from letting life choose your sacrifice — regret, unfulfilled potential, long term discontent — are not immediate. This makes it easy to forget about them. In addition, they are implicit, so you don’t necessarily know where they come from. Unlike the immediate pain you feel from doing 8 hours of work, you may not know that the sadness you’re feeling 10 years down the line actually stems from the years you’ve spent not being the person you should be. Because of this, people don’t realise that they are still making a sacrifice when they choose to avoid picking a sacrifice.

Ultimately, as Jordan Peterson has said: “You get to pick your dam sacrifice; that’s all. You don’t get to not make one.” On one hand, you can do the things you are supposed to and experience the discomfort of hard work, uncertainty, potential short term disappointment, judgement and scrutiny etc. On the other hand, you can avoid those things, but you will pay for that with your soul. Remember that next time you choose to avoid your duties.

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I write about personal development, wellbeing, and tools for living a better life.

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