I’m on board with the idea that we only have so much willpower. We can only fight off our urges to play, get into some trouble or just kick it for so long. Perhaps it’s an evolutionary trait that has been passed down. Hunter gatherers, sociologists believed, enjoyed much more leisure time than we do today. 9 to 5 workdays are relatively new. 12 hour days in today’s startups are even newer.
There’s only so much work you can do before dancing with robots in the park.
Can any of us really concentrate and produce quality for this many hours a day? I’m not so sure. Even when I occasionally manage to, my brain feels wiped and I can’t be the only one.
How does one manage to have intense focus for even four hours a day? Sure, there are plenty of ideas around this. Do work you love. Eliminate distractions. Get enough sleep and drink enough water. I believe in all of those, but I found a simple mantra that gets me back on track.
It started in September of 2000. I was running #1 on my high school cross-country team due to a couple of injuries. I had a great race and personal best that day, but ultimately what I remember is something my coach yelled to me during the race. “HOW GOOD ARE YOU?!”. Those were four words that inspired the shit out of me. It was something I’d go on to ask myself when I avoided doing work I knew was important or would help me reach a goal. When I asked myself that question, my inner monologue was never “eh, I’m okay”. It was “I am good enough” as if to silence the critics.
Lately though, asking “HOW GOOD ARE YOU?” seems too much like willpower to me. I’m often still justifying doing something I don’t want to do. And why should anyone spend a significant amount of time doing something they don’t want to? It seems like we’re still waiting for technology to come through for us in that regard.
I’ve since changed that question to “What is life too precious not to be doing?” I like this better because it makes me think about how I spend my time.
I might also decide that life is too precious to not be eating healthy and working out. Or that life’s to precious to be spending it with people that I don’t think are absolutely amazing. Similarly I felt like this topic was too important not to write about because maybe it’ll help someone and that person will go on to do incredibly meaningful things in their life.
If you follow me, you can apply it to just about anything. Is your limited time on earth too precious not be be traveling? Is it too precious not to be helping others with your gift or making sure your day to day actions align with what you believe in?
It’s your choice, but I’ve found it to be an extremely helpful question to frame what’s important to me.
“You can’t trust anyone” is a ridiculous phrase. Sure, when we’re let down or betrayed we empathize with that statement, but we’re also being incredibly hypocritical. The truth is we trust lots of people, many of them complete strangers, every single day. We trust restaurants to feed us without getting sick. We trust police, firemen and doctors will be there when we need them (even when we do something incredibly stupid). All those cars, trucks and bicycles on the road? They’re driven and ridden by people that we trust won’t bash into us or run us over.
Image from Steve Lambert
Sometimes we do get clobbered though. Or become a hot mess on the toilet or have a surgeon that makes a grave error on the operating table. But how often does this really happen when you consider all the opportunities for things to go wrong? We don’t hear about everyday things going smoothly, unless it’s The Onion celebrating a so mundane it’s funny moment. Still , somehow we’re outraged that anyone could ever be human. Not everyone works in fields where a mistake is as trivial as a typo or a Photoshop blunder. It doesn’t mean they’re not allowed to make them. In fact, it’s those type of expectations that will dissuade our brightest minds from aspiring to take on our most difficult, courageous professions.
Society doesn’t crumble because functional human beings have empathy for each other. It’s not just the fact that there are consequences for harming others. We don’t want to let others down or hurt them. That doesn’t make us feel good.
So we’ve got to get rid of this idea that the world is out to get us because it’s a buzzkill and saps the life out of us. Run an image search on trust and you’ll find plenty of negativity. Does that really help us? I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure that’s what happened to old people that have the permafrown on their faces. Besides, the world is way too large of a place to hold grudges like that – and if you want to consult science for its latest dust in the wind moment, it’s constantly finding out the universe is even more mind-cripplingly bigger than we thought.
The point is, embrace our system of trust. Can you really imagine living without it? We’d get nothing done if all we did was rely on ourselves and worry about someone trying to screw us over.
Trust more often and you’ll find you’re doing the society a favor. Social psychology has shown us that in emergencies, people are more likely to step in and help when addressed directly (even a ‘hey dude’ can convey that you’re counting on them). So why wouldn’t knowing you’re trusted make you feel more of a responsibility for others? A reputation is at stake and you can’t bear to let them believe you weren’t up to the task. For all the bad we try to prevent and remedy, it’s got to be equally important to squeeze the positive vibes out of the legions that really are open to it. Trust is empowerment and it has a contagious effect.
I want to be doing the things that help us progress as human beings. I’m a believer that truly evolved humans cooperate more often than they squabble and bicker. Is it easy? Hell no, we have to recognize and consciously make an effort to let go of our defensive impulses. But if and when aliens come to Earth that’s going to look way more impressive than some inferior weapon of mass destruction we’ve wasted our time on.
We’re really, really good about supporting local independent businesses in the Bay Area. We rally against big-box retailers encroaching our space (with the exception of the beloved Target) and the thought of being caught at or having supported these behemoths is unsettling. That’s not a surprise. Many of us fled our hometowns where strip malls and chain stores run rampant. We’ve seen the People of Wal-Mart in real life. Some people might call us obnoxious or pretentious, but it’d be horrifying to live in a place like that again.
Even if we’re unaware of real studies and science on how local, indie businesses enrich our quality of life and community, we champion them because our friends and neighbors are the ones behind them. We feel good about spending our money there and are wise to the truth that our dollar often speaks louder than a vote (depressing as that may be). Most of the time, the quality of the products and services is far superior anyways. How could they not be? These folks are loving their work, working their love and taking a risk to do it.
Events like Renegade Craft Fair support indie biz, but don’t wait for them to start making a difference.
Yet as much as supporting indie business is overwhelmingly accepted as the right (or even hip) thing to do, I find myself startled about how we stray from our beliefs (myself included). I found myself shopping on sites like Amazon and Soap.com on the regular, ignoring that I’m supporting what I’ve said I can’t stand. Jim Gaffigan puts it best when he says “It’s all McDonald’s” to describe reading US Weekly or watching Glee. How is Amazon any better than shopping at Wal-Mart? I’m using Amazon here as an example again because it really is a company that has endeared itself to us, despite all the wrong it perpetuates. It’s as if cheap prices and convenience are all it takes for us to forget questionable business practices, labor issues and its not so secret plans for domination. And that’s sad to me. Why are we heralding a business like that and looking up to it? There are much better things and people to aspire to in this world. We know better.
I understand that many of us are just trying to make it here in a land of skyrocketing rent and housing prices. I’m not expecting us all to boycott anything because it’s probably infeasible and maybe there is something you like way better about a larger company. But can we cut back just a little bit? Probably. Is paying a few more bucks for something now going to break you? No. When you’re doing it to support what you believe in, it’s an investment and proclamation of love for your local community. Not having the time to participate is not a good excuse if it’s really important to you. We make time for what’s important in our lives.
I’m challenging myself this year to get better. I can buy my coffee beans from friends that need my support and take the time to source as fair and sustainably as they can. If I want to read a book in paperback, I can use Indiebound or hop on over to a local bookstore and ask for it. God forbid I have to wait a couple days for them to find me a copy. Life should never be too busy to prevent you from making decisions aligned with your values. If it is, maybe it’s time to re-assess your priorities.
I’m not going to be perfect in my efforts, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about improving and making the best choices a habit. I can no longer pretend that buying cheap foreign goods from factories doesn’t in some way contribute to pollution, poor health and birth defects – just because I don’t see it right in front of me. I don’t need to have items I can readily find in my city shipped across the country and pollute our skies just because it’s drizzling out and I’m a lazy bastard. I know better.
As an educated person I feel like I have a responsibility to act on the knowledge I’ve been so fortunate to receive. If you really love the internet, use it not just to fill voids of boredom or to seek positive feedback from your friends, but learn and improve the world around you. This goes for whatever you believe in. It’s time participate and walk the walk. It’s going to start with a couple of us to change things around here, but at least it’s something we can be proud of.