Alternate title: The art of sitting still
I’ve had this article on my mind for over a week now – where did the time go?!
(Oh yeah, it went to hosting one of two dinner parties in the past week, Zombie night at the Science Center, Birthday recovery, entertaining my aunt and uncle in town for the day and prepping for the 2nd dinner party which is 8 people coming to my house…)
I follow enough hippie dippie stuff on Facebook that every once and again an article about living my best life crosses my path. I often click on them, thinking if I get even a nugget of good advice, then it will be worth it. I rarely do. Until this one…
7 Strange Questions That Help You Find Your Life Purpose by Mark Manson
I clicked through and the frankness of the author’s tone and the opening anecdote hooked me. I read all the way through, nodding and feeling inspired. I emailed the article to my old grad school cohort, encouraging us all to revisit the development plans we made, to continue to hold each other accountable. I got several responses from my ex-classmates and one in particular stood out to me. I’ll get to that in a minute…
The opening paragraph that was so fetching to me was this:
“One day, when my brother was 18, he waltzed into the living room and proudly announced to my mother and me that one day he was going to be a senator. My mom probably gave him the “That’s nice, dear,” treatment while I’m sure I was distracted by a bowl of Cheerios or something.
But for fifteen years, this purpose informed all of my brother’s life decisions: what he studied in school, where he chose to live, who he connected with and even what he did with many of his vacations and weekends.
And now, after almost half a lifetime of work later, he’s the chairman of a major political party in his city and the youngest judge in the state. In the next few years, he hopes to run for office for the first time.
Don’t get me wrong. My brother is a freak. This basically never happens.”
I love the phrase, “this purpose informed all of my brother’s life decisions.”
One of my former classmates told me the story of her son, and how he always knew he wanted to be a pro football coach. Everything he does – school, internships, activities – points him there. He just joined an SEC college team as the youngest coach on staff. He’s tuned in to his purpose and I was happy to hear that story.
I felt a really strong purpose for myself in 2012. My word for the year was FOCUS and I had three objectives – school, work, run. And every decision I made did indeed fulfill one of those purposes. I didn’t drink on Friday nights because of long run Saturdays. I got over the fact that it was kind of a dead end job because it allowed me to go to school. While I got my 13.1 tattoo, Claire and I were discussing one of my assignments. Seriously – I had a purpose that year. Even to an extent in 2013, I had a purpose… Get a new job and preferably in Ohio. Put that master’s degree to work. And I did. I had some goals in 2014 – buy the house, involved in ACMP, etc, etc… but I think I’ve lacked clarity. Or, I had clarity and it broke. Or, it was cloudy clarity. Moral of the story is I’m floundering. Good news is, I manage to still be successful at work and engaging enough to make some friends while floundering. Bad news, I am lacking purpose. I don’t mean existential purpose, I mean Focus. What am I really after right now?
Back to the article.
“1. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE FLAVOR OF SHIT SANDWICH AND DOES IT COME WITH AN OLIVE?
Ah, yes. The all-important question. What flavor of shit sandwich would you like to eat? Because here’s the sticky little truth about life that they don’t tell you at high school pep rallies:
Everything sucks, some of the time.”
Mr. Manson goes on to say that everything includes an element of sacrifice, even the stuff we love to do. We sacrifice time, another activity, etc each time we make a choice. What struggle or sacrifice are you willing to put up with?
Luckily, I love my job. I love my work and can’t think of a sacrifice I had to make for it, outside of seeing my family less. The few bad days or rough spots I’ve had have hardly seemed like a struggle. Moving on…
“2. WHAT IS TRUE ABOUT YOU TODAY THAT WOULD MAKE YOUR 8-YEAR-OLD SELF CRY?”
I used to be able to spend hours playing with dolls or toys, making up elaborate story lines and character development. Through high school and college I was involved in theatre – mostly painting or building big things that brought stories to life. Even 8 or 9 years ago I was thinking about creating elaborate “bits” for Ex Hubs or casino employees. I have a hard time being alone with my thoughts enough to get back to that imaginative, creative place. I have said for some time that I’m not great at being alone with my thoughts, and that seems to have gone into overdrive lately. I can barely get out of bed unless I have a tv on. I can’t cook or do the dishes without 30 Rock reruns in the background. I’m making a more conscious effort to from tv/movies in the background to music (love Spotify! I’m a late adopter. Love it.). I think my 8 year old self would be surprised we don’t act or play or imagine.
“3. WHAT MAKES YOU FORGET TO EAT AND POOP?
We’ve all had that experience where we get so wrapped up in something that minutes turn into hours and hours turn into “Holy crap, I forgot to have dinner.”
Supposedly, in his prime, Isaac Newton’s mother had to regularly come in and remind him to eat because he would go entire days so absorbed in his work that he would forget.”
While I don’t love the word choice, it’s a great question, right? And I think it goes to where is your passion? The place I get lost for hours is writing this silly blog. A post last week took me three hours by the time I found the right pictures and crafted the story the way I wanted and thought about flow and word choice. I sat down at 7pm to write a quick recap and next thing I knew it was 10:15. Tonight, I’ve been at this for about 45 minutes now. I know that because I popped some cupcakes into the oven, set the timer for 30 minutes and I had barely gotten warmed up when I needed to get them out of the oven.
The author states that he loved video games – got lost in those. But really it was the competition against himself he liked. I like to write. I could channel that into writing papers or articles or crafting research.
“4. HOW CAN YOU BETTER EMBARRASS YOURSELF?
Before you are able to be good at something and do something important, you must first suck at something and have no clue what you’re doing. That’s pretty obvious. And in order to suck at something and have no clue what you’re doing, you must embarrass yourself in some shape or form, often repeatedly. And most people try to avoid embarrassing themselves, namely because it sucks.
Ergo, due to the transitive property of awesomeness, if you avoid anything that could potentially embarrass you, then you will never end up doing something that feels important.
Yes, it seems that once again, it all comes back to vulnerability.
Right now, there’s something you want to do, something you think about doing, something you fantasize about doing, yet you don’t do it. You have your reasons, no doubt. And you repeat these reasons to yourself ad infinitum.
But what are those reasons? Because I can tell you right now that if those reasons are based on what others would think, then you’re screwing yourself over big time.
If your reasons are something like, “I can’t start a business because spending time with my kids is more important to me,” or “Playing Starcraft all day would probably interfere with my music, and music is more important to me,” then OK. Sounds good.
But if your reasons are, “My parents would hate it,” or “My friends would make fun of me,” or “If I failed, I’d look like an idiot,” then chances are, you’re actually avoiding something you truly care about because caring about that thing is what scares the shit out of you, not what mom thinks or what Timmy next door says.
Great things are, by their very nature, unique and unconventional. Therefore, to achieve them, we must go against the herd mentality. And to do that is scary.
Embrace embarrassment. Feeling foolish is part of the path to achieving something important, something meaningful. The more a major life decision scares you, chances are the more you need to be doing it.”
I’m going to just let this section speak for itself. Embarrassing myself is something I’ve got down, friends. Moving on…
Start watching around 1:10 if you don’t want to do the whole clip
“5. HOW ARE YOU GOING TO SAVE THE WORLD?
In case you haven’t seen the news lately, the world has a few problems. And by “a few problems,” what I really mean is, “everything is fucked and we’re all going to die.”
I’ve harped on this before, and the research also bears it out, but to live a happy and healthy life, we must hold on to values that are greater than our own pleasure or satisfaction.1
So pick a problem and start saving the world. There are plenty to choose from. Our screwed up education systems, economic development, domestic violence, mental health care, governmental corruption. Hell, I just saw an article this morning on sex trafficking in the US and it got me all riled up and wishing I could do something. It also ruined my breakfast.
Find a problem you care about and start solving it.”
Kids. In several ways, I want to save the world by saving the kids. I want to help all the foster kids. I want to make public schools so much better. And in one that seems counter intuitive, I want to protect the abortion law. Because I think people who have made the choice to have an abortion believe that they are not the right people to raise children and I respect that. There are enough unwanted children. I struggle with being “ready” for foster kids, but I could get involved in Big Brother/ Big Sisters again. I could volunteer more time. I could join the campaign to fight Missouri’s new ridiculous law about the waiting period for a legal medical procedure! Do I have to wait three days to get an appendectomy? A colonoscopy? I know this is a very passionately fought argument on each side and I don’t mean to start debate. I just mean to point out there are things I’m passionate about. I need to start saving my part of the world.
“6. GUN TO YOUR HEAD, IF YOU HAD TO LEAVE THE HOUSE ALL DAY, EVERY DAY, WHERE WOULD YOU GO AND WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
For many of us, the enemy is just old-fashioned complacency. We get into our routines. We distract ourselves. The couch is comfortable. The Doritos are cheesy. And nothing new happens.
This is a problem.
What most people don’t understand is that passion is the result of action, not the cause of it.2, 3
Discovering what you’re passionate about in life and what matters to you is a full-contact sport, a trial-and-error process. None of us know exactly how we feel about an activity until we actually do the activity.”
True Story: Claire invited me to Zumba class with her for about 3 months before I actually went. She kept asking me, kept telling me I’d like it… finally I went. And I can safely say it made a huge impact in my life. I fell in love with the instructor who was amazing to me and for my self esteem. She and I remain friendly to this day even though she lives in Las Vegas now and I am here in OH. I fell in love with Zumba – with dancing to loud music, little instruction, and feeling strong and happy. Passion is the result of action, not the cause of it! We don’t know what we’ll love until we try it! So, if I’m forced to leave the house, I’m probably stopping at a great Zumba lesson.
My aunt and uncle are on their way to Buffalo, NY and stopped in Columbus for the day this past weekend. I took them to this quirky bookstore in German Village, The Book Loft. The Book Loft has 32 rooms of books and the hallways wind around, it’s a funny place. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a bookstore because… Amazon. It was so wonderful. I wandered. I browsed. I bought a book called 100 Things to do in Ohio. I’m going to start doing them. If I have to leave the house all day, I like to see stuff. And then if it’s cool I want to tell other people about that stuff.
“7. IF YOU KNEW YOU WERE GOING TO DIE ONE YEAR FROM TODAY, WHAT WOULD YOU DO AND HOW WOULD YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED?
Most of us don’t like thinking about death. It freaks us out. But thinking about our own death surprisingly has a lot of practical advantages. One of those advantages is that it forces us to zero in on what’s actually important in our lives and what’s just frivolous and distracting.
What is your legacy going to be? What are the stories people are going to tell when you’re gone? What is your obituary going to say? Is there anything to say at all? If not, what would you like it to say? How can you start working towards that today?
And again, if you fantasize about your obituary saying a bunch of badass shit that impresses a bunch of random other people, then again, you’re failing here.
When people feel like they have no sense of direction, no purpose in their life, it’s because they don’t know what’s important to them, they don’t know what their values are.
And when you don’t know what your values are, then you’re essentially taking on other people’s values and living other people’s priorities instead of your own. This is a one-way ticket to unhealthy relationships and eventual misery.”
Yes. This last section. This.
I’ve been thinking a lot about why I want the things I want, lately. The problem is, I want everything. And I don’t mean stuff, I mean experiences, ideas, credentials, etc. I have something between an identity disorder and an impulse problem. Someone tells me they’re taking a trip to Egypt – and suddenly I feel less than because I’ve never been to Egypt. A few days later I realize I do not want to go to Egypt, I just want to be cool and interesting. Many people have a PMP certification, I think I need one to be accepted, to be taken seriously. You know what? I don’t! I can read a book, get some of the lingo and move on with my life.
There are a few things I know for sure that I did/do for me and not someone else’s priority. Grad school, trying veganism, flying to NYC to see Arcadia on Broadway, running the Tink 1/2 marathon… But so many other things I do because my knee jerk reaction is to do what other people are doing. I’m sure this is tied in with my comparison stuff… I’ll let Claire work that out for me.
There you have it. The article that has made me think. The article that has me asking questions. And if you have any time at all, read some more of Mr. Manson’s work. I devoured about 6 of the articles in the first sitting. He’s on to something.