4 life traps that fool even the smartest people

The invitations of wisdom and morality are often declined here in Florida. Long before Florida Man was a meme headline, we knew something was off. We knew Florida Man before he made it big.

Yet he isn’t alone. There are huge, lasting mistakes that haunt otherwise smart and reasonable people. No, they don’t involve throwing an alligator through a drive-thru window or calling the police on their imaginary friend. But good, intelligent people still stay in terrible relationships.

They make laughably bad investments. They fall for self-made traps, built with ego, impulse, and willful ignorance. Watch out for these four.

The absence of additional variables

The “Sexy Son” hypothesis was proposed in 1915 and suggested females seek a mate based on a singular goal: to create a child who will attract lots of mates. More plainly, her goal was to make the hottest offspring she could. There was little consideration for the father’s ability to provide, protect, or stay loyal.

The hypothesis doesn’t do well under academic scrutiny. But it does apply some to birds, where males tend to be “the pretty ones” and rated heavily on their attractiveness.

And while humans don’t have feathers, this science seemed alive and well when I returned to the dating scene in my 30s. I’d expected some level of evolution since high school. There was none. People were still making impulsive and superficial decisions. I know several 50-something men who are still hellbent on dating early-20s women. Their calculus is so lust-driven. The equation seems so doomed for longer-term happiness.

Before dating, I made one of my best life decisions. I listed the three most important things I wanted in my partner. I needed someone who was positive, smart, and had a great sense of humor. I was willing to accept other flaws to get those traits. This strategy became grounds for landing the best relationship I’ve ever had, which continues to this day.

The divorce rate languishes between 40–50%. I was a statistic. You’ll likely join me if you aren’t thoughtful and disciplined with your romantic decisions. Don’t fall into the trap of wandering into your next relationship on feelings alone. Know what attributes best fit you as a person. Dating decisions require tradeoffs, lest you find the first perfect human.

The trap of winning the wrong trophies

The Colonial Park Cemetery is a very old and fascinating burial ground in Savannah, Georgia. We walked through it last year and it was clear that its “residents” are an index of their time. About a third of the tombstones were of children under the age of five. Another third were people under the age of 40.

What was striking was the grave of one dueler. Two men got into an argument over a personal matter. One refused to apologize for an insult. So they had a formal duel with pistols. It went for four full rounds. Both combatants walked three steps away from each other, turned, and fired. One was eventually hit in the chest and perished. He was in his early 20s.

It’s hard to imagine what words would justify such a deliberate, lethal, and totally voluntary contest. However, as I shook my head, staring at his gravestone, I couldn’t help but think of several people who would likely love to bring duels back. So many people have this damaging desire to “win” at everything in life, especially stupid arguments.

It’s as we learned from Pyrrhus of Epirus, who was triumphant at the battle of Asculum but left with a tattered army that could not win the war. Do not fall into the trap of winning without considering the broader cost.

The resignation to one’s fate

I was around 10-years-old, riding home with my dad. I asked him a casual question, “Do you like your job?”

He answered quickly and affirmatively that he did. And even today, decades later, he says he was so lucky. He had 100% job satisfaction. He did what he’d long dreamed of, serving as a Navy SEAL. He worked with talented soldiers. He saw a deeper purpose in his work, chasing bad guys and making the world a better place.

I was born more of a make-love-not-war kind of guy. I never saw myself going down that path. And as I weaved through various levels of blue and white-collar jobs, it was abundantly clear that most people didn’t love their work. In fact, the current stat is bleak: 70% of people have a negative opinion of their career.

You look at children in grade school, and so many have these high aspirations, becoming a doctor, a fireman, the president. They are full of idealism and hope. Yet when we fast forward a few decades, so many are droning away under neon lights, feeling trapped in a grid of cubicles. Reality becomes a dreary contrast.

There will come a day when each of us knows our time on this earth is limited. Don’t let yourself fall into the arms of despair, the realization that you wasted your life being unhappy, that you never pursued your dream or developed your passions. I’m not saying you should quit your job if you hate it. But it might be worth considering other options.

What happens when you trust too much

The aforementioned example of middle-aged men trying to date near-teenagers has an ugly after-effect. When I was working in retail, there were a number of middle-aged women who were suddenly working there.

One of them caught her husband dating a much younger woman. Another husband simply found a “shiny object” and filed for divorce. These women didn’t deserve that treatment. But they were in a precarious position as a result. They were often a bit older and struggled to find a job. Their divorce settlements weren’t enough to get them through retirement. They ended up stuck in a minimum-wage job because they hadn’t worked in so many years.

The broader lesson: don’t depend on anyone else or assumptions about the future. Don’t put yourself in a situation that’s hard to get out of. Maintain your own ability to earn money, to escape when things hit the fan.

A friend asked me why I was paying off my house and car so quickly, rather than reinvesting that debt-cash because of low-interest rates. The reason is simple: playing with money you don’t own is a quick recipe for disaster. The same is true of the future: don’t gamble with it.

Some mistakes transcend all types of people. Intelligence can easily be overpowered by ego and a lack of consideration. Don’t subject yourself to these four mistakes.

Four life traps recap for memory

  1. Failing to be deliberate and logical about relationship decisions. Think of specific attributes that best fit you, that you are willing to trade for.
  2. Letting ego drive the urge to win fruitless wars. Be strong enough to walk away. Lose the battle and win the war.
  3. Accepting a luke-warm career. Explore your options. Challenge your belief that money and stability are worth the suffering.
  4. Being dependent on someone else, or some huge assumption about the future. Always have an exit plan. Self-reliance is a beautiful thing.

This article first appeared on Medium.

Subscribe to Relax and Read for more like this. Gigs: www.seanjkernan.com