I realize now that living in New York has instilled in me a sense of impending doom.
Not doom in the sense of the world ending (sure, we have those issues with planes blowing up the neighborhood); I mean doom in the context of going somewhere with one’s life. Doom in the very real sense that every second we have is valuable (and, potentially, profitable).
New York breeds some of the most determined and hardest-working people on earth. From the street cleaners to CEOs, everyone is trying to get ahead, and the only way to do that (given that we all live a roughly equal number of days) is to work harder, or faster, or better. Being surrounded by this energy, especially living somewhere like Wall Street, gave me the constant signal that everything should be very very important. Work when you’re on break. Work when you’re on the train. Every second you aren’t working is a second someone else is.
The thing is, far from being neurotic (though my friends might beg to differ), I think this energy helps me prioritize. It’s true, I always claim to be busy. It’s also true that I always claim to be having fun. This is no accident.
In truth, people become more lazy and more unmotivated the more “breaks” they take. Why go back to work at all, after a certain point? If your work requires you to stop so often, it’s probably not something you want to be doing. If it was really tailored to your energy levels and tapped into your real drive, hours would go by before you even considered stopping. The fact is that 99% of what we do is irrelevant to our core motives, detached from our real passions. But this is something you can change. You can choose to move forward towards your goals, or you can choose to have the same day over and over again until you die. Which do you choose?
Next time you’re faced with a decision about what to do next, which “next action” to cover, ask yourself this:
Which choice will put me in a position of greater knowing? Which choice will I look back on and say, ‘that was important’?
You’d be surprised at how much that clears up.
Most of our lives, we’re caught up in an endless loop of consistently choosing the least-useful path, simply because it requires less effort. We’re not just creatures of habit, we’re creatures of laziness. What did you do today that was dramatically different from yesterday? Can you name five things? Three? Even one?
It takes courage to do something unique, something difficult, every single day. But damn, is it worthwhile.
Every morning when I wake up, I ask myself if I’m truly moving forward. If I’m not, I want to know it as soon as my day starts, and address it right then and there–not after 14 hours are wasted on projects I don’t care about, or whose outcomes don’t affect me.
New York may be a hell of a bizarre place to live, but at least it’s been a good teacher.
Are you better prepared today than you were yesterday? Are you closer to the things you want? Are you working, or just surviving?
No matter how overworked you might be, or how tired you feel, or how much you hate the idea of challenging yourself with new directions, there’s still time to learn something new today. This is the internet. Read something worthwhile. Just one new piece of information a day will mean you’ve learned 30 new things in a month. And at least one of those things might completely change your ideas about yourself and your career.
It’s worth the effort.
Violins are spiraling darkly from a corner of the room. It is late July and the smell of summertime is so thick in our senses that the cold seems a forgotten relative, or maybe the “sponsored child” in some third-world country; one whose face you’ve seen and whose letters you’ve received but whose life recedes to the edge of your awareness until it’s time to send a new check. Months go by, more checks are sent, and the winter crawls past on shaggy bear-limbs until we decide we can’t keep ignoring it.
Here, though, heat settles like a sponge on my neck: I am in a sidewalk cafe in the East Village or maybe Prague, reminded of place by scent of cedar coffee, the sharp bite of orange peels. A notebook is suddenly no home for this feeling boiling inside of me, this unending need to bring some creation, some newness, to the world. All of us are living the embodiment of our thoughts, piled up like a dusty catalogue of desires and hope; even as you read this, we are going through the motions of an existence, sometimes oblivious to the reality we’re creating.
The great and terrible secret of our culture–indeed, of the world–is that our financial and social rewards are directly proportional to the percentage of our lives that we “hand over”. Long before we are able to conceive of the future, we are asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. Long before we are able to understand why or how we’ll get there, we are asked, “where do you want to go to college?”. And at some seemingly-random point, we are asked “what are you going to do?”
What am I going to do? I’m going to be alive; to dream and explore and experience as much as possible. Is that not good enough? Is that not a life lived richly?
I have fallen in love, once again, with the open road.
Humanity and nature entwine so deeply in the making of a road: each side, initially struck by the shock of Change, gradually comes to understand and preserve their new boundaries, learning to live together, becoming conscious and not merely outraged at Other. The road becomes, like the trees or the mountains around it, another mark of time, another indicator of an era, another geologic record to be someday excavated by an unknowable future. It becomes the Zen mind, seeking nothing, attached to nothing, yet profoundly aware of each moment brought before it. Cars of a hundred styles and colors flash across its surface; seasons advance, conquer, retreat along its twists and turns. And yet it remains utterly present, indifferent but not uncaring to the world that rises and falls around it.
So, too, do the massive trees I find dancing lazily in the heat. All of them have stood rooted to a single piece of earth for longer than I have lived; most have witnessed more, perhaps, than this road, stretching like hanging hands across a world that has no doubt completely transformed before them…
It is striking for me to imagine that one of these trees is likely my age exactly: that for twenty years, as I have seen and talked and written and walked, this tree (wherever it may be) has remained perfectly in place, its entire journey upwards, its life utterly devoted to a single, unreachable sliver of the sky. The same sun has shone on each of us for those same twenty years; the same energy ultimately pulsates within us. I find myself wondering if perhaps I could have become a tree instead, had I merely learned to drink sunlight; had I merely stayed still long enough. In that kind of life there would be no time, no place, for judgment or reflection--in that life one is a witness, ascending towards the infinite, an inch at a time.
One of the most common barriers to really “waking up” seems to be the propensity to avoid, isolate, and hold back when confronted with things that upset us. We seem pretty capable of holding onto cherished memories, but when it comes to something really ugly, we can’t run away fast enough. Why is that?
As I write this, I am (quite surprisingly) upset. I am stressed and confused in a way I don’t often feel anymore, having spent a lot of time learning ways of transmuting and altering emotional charges. As a result, I’m known for my emotional “even keel” and readiness to accept most anything that happens. But the fact remains: right now, I am upset. And it isn’t going away as easily as it should. This makes it a perfect time to taste my own medicine and try and impart some knowledge to others who might be reading this while angry, despairing, depressed or just plain scared.
The most satiating advice I can offer you, in this moment, and the advice I’m taking right now as well, is best expressed in two words.