Insatiability – a blessing & a curse

I am a person who believes in principles. Many people have told me I am this way. One of my principles is that definitions are limiting. As such, I hesitate to even identify as a principled person, but I know it is generally true.

As a person who believes in principles, I tend to admire other people who are principled. As I mentioned in my last blog, I am currently reading The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh. Bill’s book is practically a collection of principles. I am reading it partly because it is one of the top two books I have heard recommended by Keith Rabois who I am scheduled to have on the podcast tomorrow. Keith talks about first principles all of the time and clearly has used them to his advantage as a prolific operator and investor. Even as I am writing this piece now, I am doing so in large part because of a principle I learned from Naval Ravikant, an extraordinarily wise man who like Bill and Keith is well known for his principles. Naval once tweeted, “Inspiration is perishable – act on it immediately.” In my head, before looking it up to quote Naval verbatim, I had turned this into, “Seize inspiration immediately.” Either works.

Anyway, I was reading Bill’s book quite contently out in the South Carolinian shade of a tree on a chair by a dock on a river when his reference to “an insatiable hunger to capture inspiration and answers that all highly driven people share” sparked inspiration in me to write. My monkey brain said to keep reading and that I could write about it later but my logic recognized that if I did not write now I might never and that, even if I did, it would likely feel like work then whereas it would feel like play now. Any action on inspiration is enjoyable in a way which nothing on a to-do list can usually compare.

Funny enough, the thing I was inspired to write about is something that I have not even gotten to yet. Perhaps subconsciously I have dangled it out in front of myself like a carrot, using the inspiration to write about this thing as an inspiration to write generally until I felt that well of inspiration running dry and decided finally it was time to broach the subject that inspired me to write in the first place. That subject is defined by the second word in the quote that I mentioned from Bill’s book – “insatiable”.

The word insatiable may be insignificant to most but it holds a great deal of meaning in my mind. As far as I can remember, it was the first word I really liked for my answer to the question of “What is one word you would use to describe yourself?” I may be mistaken but I believe the first time I was asked to consider that question was while applying to a few private high schools. If that is true, I believe it is also true that I responded with the word insatiable. I remember my mother encouraging me to find a better word because the word insatiable to her had some negative connotations. She was not wrong. I have argued from a logical standpoint that there is no such thing as good or bad. This is the same as suggesting that all things are good and bad. Even easier than that argument, however, is the argument that the attribute of insatiability is both good and bad. In case this is not obvious, I will go ahead and explain it.

As my title suggests, I believe insatiability is both a blessing and a curse. It is a double-edged sword which must be wielded carefully. It can make you or it can break you. I am not sure I could escape it so I choose to embrace it. The benefits of insatiability are plentiful. It is the root of all drive and sets the aim of ambition. 

As an insatiable person, I am almost never satisfied. When rarely I am, it is a feeling that is all too fleeting. There is always something to be improved or something greater to do next. For the insatiable person, achievements are merely means to endlessly ambitious ends. The blessing is the relentless persistence powered by the lack of satisfaction. The curse is the persistent lack of satisfaction itself. This is why I say insatiability is a double-edged sword which must be wielded carefully.

I am still young and figuring things out, opening the door of my mind to you as best I can as I do so, but I think it is important to remember that the sword is for using rather than to use you. To let the sword use me would be to let it drive me into the ground. It would likely lead to fighting and losing a battle versus depression. It would lead to living a lousy life but one of considerable accomplishment in some narrow area or two to which my insatiability by happenstance became applied, like banking for example. 

I went into banking after school because I viewed it as the best opportunity to begin a career in business, because it paid well, looked good, and offered the opportunity to learn a lot, among other reasons. In banking, as in any environment, many people share similar perspectives and aspirations and both become more difficult not to subconsciously conform to as you are continuously exposed to them day in and day out. I have no doubt that my insatiable nature could have led me to work insanely hard for years on end to become a Managing Director without ever realizing that my insatiable nature was driving me to advance further and further in a game that I never actually wanted to play. Some people like that game and that is fine for them but it became evident to me in just a couple of years that it was not the game I wanted to play even though I was fortunate enough to be granted a slot in the race. I am thankful that I was able not only to recognize that fact but to act on it and quit without the reason that most have to do so, because they have another job lined up.  

To use the sword rather than to be used by it means to choose when to unsheathe it. In other words, it means to choose your battles wisely. It stands to reason that if you do well in the best battles, you will do well in the war, and though there may be no way to ultimately win for the person who is so insatiable it could be considered a sin, I do believe that satisfaction is a spectrum and that even the most insatiable person can find themselves on the good side of the line even if they can never get to the absolute end.

This is all nice for me to write and think about but there are some practical measures worth mentioning in addition to the somewhat philosophical ways of thinking about insatiability that I touched on above. If one is to use their insatiable nature to their own benefit, they must learn to protect from the downside of the double-edged sword beyond simply learning where best to apply the upside. It is naturally unpleasant to be insatiable. If given the choice to be satisfied or unsatisfied in a given moment, no sane person would choose the latter. Though insatiability can be helpful in the long-term, it is never desirable in the moment, and so one must choose gratitude which, if granted full focus of the mind, cannot be interrupted by insatiability, as hard as it may try. One must have the will power to overcome one’s own nature on occasion so as to balance the scales a bit and counter the compulsion to be dissatisfied. I aim to accomplish this mostly through my morning journal which gives me at least a few minutes of positive thinking and gratitude every weekday, and in maintaining a generally positive mindset. Meditation would probably help too.

In closing, it is worth mentioning that there is no easy solution for the person with the power and problem that is insatiability. There are some helpful frameworks as I have endeavored to write a bit about above, but there is no easy answer. As with most things, the answer lies somewhere in the balance and the scales are never still, especially for the person who is hardest to be satisfied.