Dear Kaia, Lila, Yara, and Aleena,
This year, amidst the COVID pandemic, you got to hang out in person together. You had so much fun — enjoying parks, hanging out on a boat, and playing with toys together. As you grow older, I hope you will have many more opportunities to meet up and create more memories.
In this letter, I want to discuss vacations — what they are and what they should be. Like last year’s letter, Suraj — your father and godfather — contributed to this letter.
People take vacations because they need to escape from the daily grind and challenges. People look to vacation to “recharge” so that they can get back to the treadmill that got them exhausted in the first place. Some use vacation to catch up with loved ones. We get caught up in the daily activities that society has somehow ingrained in us as the “right path”. We keep going until we can’t go anymore, we take a vacation, and then, go back at it again. Most people will never break this cycle.
I believe the Dalai Lama best captures the impact of this daily grind:
He said “Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices his money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
But what if vacations were not about escaping? What if vacations were about learning a new skill or experiencing a new culture? If vacations are not about escaping your life, then they can be about adding to your life. So, how do we build a life that we don’t want to escape from?
There is a project management technique that I think can be extended as a framework to use for life as well. The “iron triangle” rule says that for a successful project, you need to optimize two of these three factors:
If you want the best quality output within a short period of time, you should increase cost (most likely hiring more people). If you are willing to live with “good enough” quality, you can do it cheaply and quickly. If you have unlimited time, you can achieve great quality even with a limited budget.
The easiest way to achieve all three goals for a project — low cost, quick delivery, and high delivery — is to focus on any two items and then, try to do your best with the remaining factor.
When it comes to life management, a similar iron triangle can be created with these factors:
● Kind of Work
If you coordinate the kind of work you do and the income it generates, then your level of happiness will be constrained; it will be a byproduct of the situation you have created. If you want to be happy with the kind of work you do, you will have to accept the prevailing wage of the jobs that are a good fit. Finally, if you create a life where you have surplus income and focus on your happiness, it is unlikely that you will get to choose the kind of work you do (those jobs would be very popular and quickly gobbled up).
So, which two factors should you control? One of them should be happiness. If you don’t prioritize happiness, it will likely elude you. You don’t want to have the perfect job and all the money in the world but not be happy.
For the second item, you get to choose between the kind work you do and how much you make. This is a false choice. Since you will spend at least half of your waking hours at work, if you don’t like the work, it negatively impacts your happiness. So, for the second item, you should focus on finding work that you enjoy. Good work brings meaning and purpose to life and adds happiness to your life.
As it turns out, if you focus on happiness and doing the kind of work you want to do, you have a pretty good chance of making a decent income. If you are spending hours every day doing work that you enjoy, you will become good at it. Top performers in any profession consistently earn good income.
The converse of this thinking also holds true. The best way to maximize income is to be very good at doing something. The best way to become good at something is to dedicate time to that activity. It is much easier to spend hours on something if you enjoy doing it.
If you are happy and you spend your day working on things that you enjoy, it won’t seem like a grind. You won’t feel like you need to take a vacation to escape.
That is a life worth living.
The letters from the past 8 years: