When asking questions and seeking answers, I often find myself wanting to rush to the end so that I can move on to what’s next. I’ve done this in every stage of my life; every milestone in some way was rushed. The results weren’t always bad, but the habit was formed.
I know when I am rushing through life. I’m not spending time with friends. I’m not building the dreams I have. I’m toiling in the grind of rushing from moment to moment. It’s exhausting and nothing reveals the point of balance my life rests upon more than when things go wrong. The facade of success I have built crumbles. My mask shifts revealing who I am: a scared man that’s making it up as I go along.
As I reflect upon my desire to rush through life, I remind myself what it is I want. But instead of staying in that place of self reflection, I must weigh it against the needs of my family and community. I must do the things I don’t want to do, because I am able to do them. I may not like them, I may despise them, but I am able. There may be a time when I no longer have to do those things, but today is not that day. I try to rush through them, but the faster I go, the more impatient I get.
When I hit pause, reflect, and allow myself time to breathe—in both the good and in the bad—I realize that I have been shortchanging myself for a long time. My impatience has got the best of me.
It’s time to do it right. To go deeper, in both skills and relationships.
But that takes time. It takes commitment.
It cannot be rush.
Today was one of those days.
I didn’t want to get out of bed.
I was feeling the deep depression that comes when multiple events start compounding in my soul: From the state of the world and my finances, to fighting to stay on my diet and an overwhelming sense that I do not have control of my life.
But as I worked through the day, it got progressively better. I got out of bed. I tried to meet with a client, but the internet decided not to work. I worked on a design, which directly impacted my evening lecture. I prepped my taxes and wrote the checks. Then I drove to class.
I was feeling pretty low by the time I got to class. But then I saw the work that my students were creating. I listened to their excitement. I chuckled at the student who fell asleep. I fought the urge to slam a book on the desk to wake him up. I helped teams learn more about working together. I made up some words.
As I interacted with others, I was able to get out of my head and listen. I wasn’t worried about tomorrow. I wasn’t worried at all. I was present.
Perhaps that is the best way for me to work through my melancholy: be present.
I thought I would start the blank page with a little clickbait: The Worst Case Scenario! I think about how much mental energy it takes to imagine all of the horrible things that could happen. I let the depression sink in; the melancholy of destruction.
Then I think about dog smiles, the smell of dryer sheets in the garage, the sounds of Metallica and Neal Morse, the way freshly cut grass smells, the taste of chai tea, the way my wife lightly touches my back to say hello, my dad’s voicemails replacing words in a song with poop, the joy of reading, the love of writing, smiling at strangers, and the smell of cooking meat on a barbecue. I think about that damn blue turtle shell in Mario Kart and the way my wife and I spend time talking about dreams and ambitions while we play. I wonder how other people find happiness and joy in the midst of sorrow.
I spend time thinking about the best case scenario. It’s not because I want to be ignorant to what is going on. It’s because there has to be a better use of my energy and strength. I’m not trying to manifest something. I’m just trying to stay grounded in hope and peace.
This morning, I had coffee with my dad and all we could talk about was the division in the country. He asked me what I would do to bridge the divide. I couldn’t think of the best answer at the time (I don’t think well on the fly), but after some reflection, I think it would have to be kindness.
To be kind to people I agree with. To be kind to others I disagree with. To be kind when people are angry. To be kind when people are happy.
Kindness is a simple answer to a complicated reality. Will kindness really help? It certainly has more of an impact than anger and fear.
Today I am wearing a shirt that says, “Keep calm and shoot film.” A woman on the college campus I teach at said, “Keep calm, I like that.” I started saying something while walking away and reminded myself to stop, turn around, and have a brief conversation. I ended it as I often try to, “Have a nice day.”
Have a nice day. Smile. Thank you. You’re welcome. Eye contact. Kindness is to recognize the humanity in others and embrace it.
I choose kindness.
I have a simple response when I don’t know something: “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”
But is it that easy to find something out?
Research is time consuming and involves wading through academic papers, stories in newspapers, journals, and books. It’s easy to fall victim to confirmation bias: “the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.”
I remember being taught in middle school and high school about how to interpret the news. It involved looking at multiple sources to see how each newspaper interpreted events. It involved research in order to get the full picture.
Research in today’s world is automated and simple. We can search for just about anything while on the toilet, and that is often the same level of regard some people hold to its importance and validity.
I don’t know everything. In fact, there is a lot I have no understanding of. That is why I rely on the research and experience of others to educate me and transform me into a better person.
I often find comfort in a shared link because I don’t have to research. I don’t have to spend the time in the vacuum of opinions found between two extreme ideologies. I can revel in my ignorance.
But eventually, I have to say: “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”
As part of this year’s Design Week Portland, I dropped by several design agencies and film/animation studios in SE Portland. The level of professionalism and quality of work was off the charts. In one building alone, I visited over five studios that all looked and felt different. They all had their own identity. It seemed from the outsider’s perspective they had it all figured out.
It is easy when in these spaces to start comparing yourself to what you are seeing and experiencing and immediately discount yourself as anything but a hack.
But after I calmed down, I came to the realization: they aren’t my competition. The competition is in my head. I am competing against an ideal construct in my mind of what success looks and feels like.
What is the answer to this problem?
Every business book essentially boils down to the same wisdom. If you want to compete, you need to differentiate yourself from your competition. But this can be a trap and distract you from actually working.
As artists and creative professionals, they only way to compete is to create. The only way to differentiate is to work.
Who are you competing with? Yourself and the mental barriers erected to prevent you from doing the one thing that will set you apart: your work.
As an educator and life-long learner, I found these words in my introductory email so refreshing: “…as a member you are called to a higher standard.”
What does it mean to be called to a higher standard?
I must rise up to the challenge of learning and applying the knowledge presented.
The responsibility is on me to go beyond what I know to grow into what I can be.
Growing in the knowledge presented reflects upon the instructor as much as the student.
The standard is not the end, it only reveals what is next.
Why do movie trailers reveal everything?
Why did Fringe reveal that Leonard Nimoy was in the episode, so that you are expecting him at the pivotal moment at the end?
Why do TV showrunners let people know what’s going to happen to characters in advance?
Do we need to be told what is going to happen so that we watch?
Why can’t there be more mystery and surprise with modern media?
Some examples of shows and movies doing it right: The Leftovers on HBO. I have no idea where that show is going. It weekly surprises me and keeps me coming back, hoping for answers. Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens announced an enormous cast and has left many out of the trailers including Luke Skywalker (supposedly, there are a lot of wild fan theories).
Think about your own marketing. Are you creating room for surprise and mystery or are you just telling people what to expect?
If I were to draw a picture of what it takes to make it today in a creative or technical field, it would look a lot like this:
People who are making it in today’s world are constantly learning, but they don’t keep the results to themselves. They share their successes and failures. They can relate to others and others can relate to them. They aren’t creating in isolation, they are building a community and are a part of a community. They produce new work as a result of all the effort they put into their work. They inspire others to follow this model, which then causes the process to start all over again.
It is easy for me to measure the value of spending several hours at a time working on a project. These marathon sessions usually result in finished products. They are heroic in my eyes; epic and often necessary because I neglected the value of compounding time.
Let’s assume that a project takes 10 hours. There are two ways to approach this project: 1) Sit down and tackle the project all in a day; or 2) Work on the project for 2 hours a day for 5 days.
The procrastinator in me is used to tackling a project in a day. The end result is good. But it could be great if I valued the concept of compounding time.
Allowing myself the freedom of spending time to think about the project means that it will not be a by-product of a single gut reaction. Each day, something more will be revealed as I use my daily mental power to think through and solve problems.
Multiply this effect across multiple projects and the result is sustainability. Imagine finishing 5 projects in a week as opposed to burning out after two because the marathon sessions took a lot out of you?
This concept applies to not only time, but money and exercise. Is it better to save $10 a week without any problems? Or dramatically save $100/month, maybe, when the circumstances are right? Is it better to exercise every day for 10 minutes as opposed to waiting for the day when you can devote 30 minutes or even an hour?
Do the little things consistently and you’ll outperform the dramatically inconsistent over time. The tortoise and the hare.