Theme song: Unwritten

The first thing that struck me about doing Weeknotes was how overwhelming it is to whittle down seven whole days into a single post. (One that won’t take seven hours to get through.) “I’m just beginning, the pen’s in my hand, ending unplanned” — this week’s musical subtitle is on point. As usual, planning was a poor scout.

But – and here’s the beauty of self-reflection – this lead to a major AHA that made it a Butterfly Week. Which makes the fact that today’s the Wednesday after the Sunday I was supposed to publish this on, still totally worth-it. Sometimes, procrastination isn’t about putting something off, but being busy connecting dots.

#1 The Paradox of Choice

I love how small, entirely insignificant things are direct windows into the theatre that is your life. We’re great at hiding the big #cantdeal boulders in our lives by pretending not to see them (or telling ourselves they’re on the next mountain and we’re not there yet). But we suck at hiding the evidence. Those little niggles intruding on us while we’re busy doing other things? They’re like Easter Eggs reminding us there’s another movie playing in a cinema off to the side.

Being unable to decide what to include in this write-up is the great-grandchild of a place I’ve been in for a while now. Behold how Small Things are merely reflections of Big Things we fail to face.

I’m multi-passionate, multi-talented (humble to a fault, too), and multi-distracted. I’m all for us All the Things people rebranding ourselves as Multipotentialites, Renaissance Souls, and Scanners. Being known as that person with Interest Commitment Issues was so not a good look on us.

But until I embrace being what Charlie Gilkey calls a creative giant, those #cantdeal boulders remain more imposing than summiting Everest will ever be. And “dealing” isn’t always quite as easy as it sounds. 

It’s dangerously easy to view our daily lives as though categorised by loss. 24,000 ideas, only 24 hours. Minus sleep, and what does that leave you with 😏 This is no way to live. Overchoice sucks. Psychologists agree.

(I googled “so lucky that it makes you unhappy”. Yeah. No results. Cos it doesn’t make any frigging sense, that’s why. Having more choices doesn’t guarantee happiness. Often, just the opposite. Remember the freedom that endless generations of ancestors all over the globe fought for? We’re misspending it. Something crazy.

TAKEAWAY

Being a Maximiser isn’t doing me any favours. Satisficing is where it’s at. Life’s too short to stay in busy-choosing mode. Nike it.

#2 Work vs/and Life

The week started off on a long, rather exhausting note. I had a writing project to finish on short notice, so for the first two days of the week, I worked well into the early hours of the morning. Then up early again to rinse and repeat. (Imagine my glee when the project deadline was then extended. After I completed it, of course.) 

Rushed deadlines are something I try my damnest not to get into anymore. Partly because creative writing is something I prefer not to rush. And partly because I’ve chased enough — often senseless — deadlines to last me. Alas, sometimes it can’t be helped, and then all you can do is to take the rest of the week off as a feeble (but well-received) apology to self.

I feel over-the-moon fortunate to be able to take off when I want. It wasn’t too long ago that my life looked shockingly different. But thankfully my days of working myself to the bone at the cost of my health, sanity, and quality time with my family are behind me. Mostly, anyway. I still have boundary issues, but I’m getting there.

A WORLD IN BALANCE

We had a discussion around this topic over the past week in a group I’m in. Members’ ages range from early 30s to 50s which — not too long ago — used to pretty much guarantee a massive age difference in terms of career attitude.

It struck me during this conversation how many of us felt so similarly about maintaining a work-life balance even if that means not chasing every goal that takes our fancy, or chasing it as high up the mountain as we’d like. There’s a definite shift in consciousness from having it all (be it money or success) to having enough. Minimalism has landed.

BIORHYTHMS (or something like it)

What I noticed is that for many of us, this isn’t a straight-up linear process. Overwork doesn’t fast-forward to chilling in a hammock overlooking the ocean and so ends the story. Instead, we have periods of great productivity when we’re actively working on and toward something, and times when we hang ten

Hibernation periods don’t imply no work gets done. Just that we slow down and go with the flow instead of controlling the flow. Then at some stage, we move back into the upwards stream. Like nature doing her ebb and flow thing, growing and resting, so do we.

This perpetual slow-fast-slow cycle fascinates me. I’ve never insisted I’m one or the other because while my interests can (sometimes) border on monkish, my overall personality is too athlete-on-speed to be content just being content. Thus I constantly find myself viscerating between longing for giving it all up and getting a little place in the woods – actually doing that – and then at some point, a year or two down the line, being back in the city doing All the Things.

This perpetual slow-fast-slow cycle fascinates me. I’ve never insisted I’m one or the other because while my interests can (sometimes) border on monkish, my overall personality is too athlete-on-speed to be content just being content. Thus I constantly find myself viscerating between 

  • longing to give it all up and getting a little place in the woods, 
  • actually doing that,
  • and a year or two later, being back in the city doing All the Things

Case in point: I left it all behind — not for the first time — a few years ago. This time to make travelling the world my full-time gig. Somehow that turned into living next to a big old mountain in a foreign country sitting on my balcony every day watching the clouds. And right just now the itch game is on again. I’m ADHD’ing my way through the 10,000 things I want to do all at once. Once again, it’s Sleepy Time’s turn to hit the backseat.

I’d love to get to a point — perhaps elusive, but why entertain that and suck the joy right out of me — where passion converges with a deliberate go-slow. Which could just mean choosing the right things at the right time.

I misremembered the Daniel Kahneman title as Thinking Fast, Acting Slow. Maybe that’s what I’m striving for to balance out these disparate personalities in my head: We’ll thought experiment All The Things, but we won’t necessarily jump on at Burnout Station to go chase after all of’ em. Cos OM and all that.

PROFESSIONAL DECLINE

Arthur Brooks in The Atlantic drives it home: However mentally and professionally hot you (think you) are, there’s a very slim chance you’ll stay that way for as long as you think you will. I highly recommend reading his essay.

On this constant internal pendulum flux I’ve been pondering:

On the one end, there’s guarding against going over the edge and into creative madness. Which is alluring as hell, but doesn’t mix well with the demands of everyday existence, which I’ve chosen to be a part of.

On the other side, there’s building an intuitive buffer against what Brooks calls the Principle of Psychoprofessional Gravitation. This principle declares that the higher you climb, the higher you fall. The more professional success you achieved in your career, the harder it is to retire yourself from that identity. That is, if you formed a significant emotional attachment to the prestige your career bagged you.

It’s hard work to negotiate: 

  • the demands of society (which drives the popular definition of success) with 
  • the demands of self (personal satisfaction, even if that means being a beach artist living in a straw hut), and 
  • then renegotiating this even further by balancing the needs of those around us (whichever social arrangement we choose).

But it’s necessary work, because a healthy triage makes for a happy life.

Our society worships the single-minded hero on a wild ride to make millions, no matter the sacrifices required. But our obsession with being doggedly in pursuit of a grand achievement is blinding us. It completely ignores the unsung heroics of being the everyday wo/man. Which is no less impressive. 

It seems like we’re slowly starting to emerge from this unhealthy obsession we have with seeing overachievers as people who are better at life than we are. “Life” isn’t the amount you have in the bank or the accolades behind your name. If it were, there wouldn’t be so many unhappy millionaires or people on their deathbeds wishing they’d worked less.

TAKEAWAY

My options might be unlimited. My time alive (and window of efficiency) isn’t. Pursuing micro goals and projects with limited lifespans means I’ll have more overall opportunities to do what I love. But I need to pick my battles wisely – I‘ve learned enough about enough to know enough about enough.

#3 Good Enough is Enough

Major milestone incoming

We had a landmark event happen. One of the most significant weeks at our house this year. My tween turned teen.

Thirteen is an arbitrary age as far as becoming a teenager goes — they don’t start growing lip fuzz the minute the birthday candles go out — but it’s a cultural institution, and so now it’s official. In any case, his lip fuzz showed up whenever ago.

This was the first year he had neither a cake nor candles. Super weird for me, having always been on Cake of the Year duty. He pulled a Master Chef and made his own ice cream cake using a triple-serving tub of blueberry ice cream and a packet of sponge cake. Dastardly combination, but he loved it. As for candles, we forgot to get some. Yes, that’s what 13 looks like. Last-minute shopping and memory loss. Welcome to the real world.

I was surprisingly — though predictably — contemplative. Parenting has been a wild ride. A wonderful one, for sure, but it’s also been unbelievably hard. I become a mother at a young age and was — in retrospect, I’m thankful I didn’t quite know it at the time — way out of my depth. But we made it this far, and we made it good.

I’m definitely biased, but man, do I have a good kid. Not “good” in the sense that he’s obedient and never sets a foot out of place. I’ve wondered how it would’ve played out if I ended up mothering a personality like that. I conclude (every time) that we happened for a reason. Another personality type and I would’ve had a hard time together. We’re a great match as far as mom-son selections go. Mine was first in line for everything from energy levels to a mind and will of his own. The kind of kid a person like me couldn’t be more proud of or thankful to parent. And now he’s 13. Happy birthday, Alexander!

Between the two of us, we cobbled together a beautiful existence thanks to factors like:

  • Following my intuition when I didn’t have much else to go on (apparently humans really don’t come with user manuals I was always so sure my parents just lost mine). 
  • Letting go and let him teach me. Kids will teach you everything about life if only you step aside to let them show you the way. The crystal clarity they possess are gifts we adults can only dream of (and spend the rest of our lives reverse engineering our way back to).

Do I wish I could go back and undo some of the parental mistakes I’ve made? Sure. But hindsight is 20/20. I’m a good enough parent, and that’s enough.

TAKEAWAY

Trust the process. The journey is the destination. The struggle is the road map, not a detour. And as it always does, learning this through parenting lets me learn this about life.

#4 Be Willing to Make Mistakes

I saw a Facebook memory this week from 8 years ago (circa 2011). Facebook memories are the main reason I ever post on Facebook — it’s like time travelling to a version of me I used to be). This one was written when I was 25. Right in the throes of, equal parts, the promise and terror of the rest of my life. It said:

“I’m out there where angels fear to tread. It’s the only way I know. I will taste everything.”

When I was little, I encountered an arch-nemesis in one of my grandmother’s miscellaneous drawers. Innocent-looking, it was just a small wooden plaque with a stage-centre quote. A gift shop curio undoubtedly gifted by someone as nothing more than a gift shop curio. A tiny plaster of Paris angel sat glued next to the words, “I learn from other people’s mistakes. I won’t live long enough to make them all myself.”

That was one gift horse I did look in the mouth. Those words puzzled me to no end. How could someone make such a blanket statement? What if you learn from someone else’s mistakes but how they handled it was worlds apart (and worse off) from how you would’ve done it? That means that, by not making the mistake, you’ve deprived yourself of a valuable — even life-transforming — experience. (Yes, people have told me I think too much.)

To my 11-year-old self, this was an enormous question, and I simply couldn’t reconcile myself with such fortune cookie wisdom. So I decided I’d do the opposite. I’d study the mistakes of others, but I sure as hell would make my own, too.

I’m happy to report that I’ve done that. In abundance. And I seriously am all the better for it. What I’ve learned through my own personal trials and errors have been as legion as the number of trials and errors it took to learn. Youth might be wasted on the young, but there’s magic in the folly of not knowing what the outcome of your mistakes will be. Had I been older and wiser I probably wouldn’t have been as immune to risk as I was. The result of making decisions on the fly has resulted in a beautiful life that no amount of staying between the lines would’ve afforded me. 

It’s easy to imagine the same best-case scenarios had I been someone else, with a different set of life circumstances. But for the me who was born into the life that I was, my willingness to make the wrong choices was the little rowing boat that crossed an ocean and laid claim to a New World on the other side of the planet. Metaphorically and literally lol. Though in the literal sense I had a plane. Phew.

TAKEAWAY

What I’m right about, what I’m wrong about… I’d like to think I know which is which, but history keeps disproving me. In the end, it doesn’t matter. The more mistakes I make, the more ground I end up covering. So it’s all good. Decide this or that, do or don’t, go or stay, whatever. All of it leads me across the playing field of life.

My Public Output This Week

My Top Inputs This Week

BOOKS

#1

Miracle in the Andes: The first-person account of one of the survivors of the Uruguayan rugby team who survived a plane crash in the Andes in the 1970s.

“It occurred to me that Roberto and I were probably the first human beings to have such a vantage point on this majestic display. I felt an involuntary sense of privilege and gratitude, as humans often do when treated to one of nature’s wonders, but it lasted only a moment. After my education on the mountain, I understood that all this beauty was not for me. The Andes had staged this spectacle for millions of years, long before humans even walked the earth, and it would continue to do so after all of us were gone. My life or death would not make a bit of difference. The sun would set, the snow would fall …”

Nando Parrado

This definitely hits home with my current personal theme. The bigger our pictures, the smaller our problems. The higher up we are, the more we’re able to see how few of our daily worries are worth fretting over.

“I would feel an apprehension of the age and experience of the mountains, and realize that they had stood here silent and oblivious, as civilizations rose and fell. Against the backdrop of the Andes, it was impossible to ignore the fact that a human life was just a tiny blip in time, and I knew that if the mountains had minds, our lives would pass too quickly for them to notice. It struck me, though, that even the mountains were not eternal. If the earth lasts long enough, all these peaks will someday crumble to dust. So what is the significance of a single human life? Why do we struggle? Why do we endure such suffering and pain? What keeps us battling so desperately to live, when we could simply surrender, sink into the silence and the shadows, and know peace?”

Nando Parrado

#2

I tend to read several books at once, both fiction and non-fiction, covering a large terrain. On any given day I might dip in and out of one or two, then pick them up again in a few days or weeks. Since I make notes as I go along, it’s easy to catch up without feeling like I’ve lost the thread. This allows me to mull over what I’ve read, letting it simmer, stew, and possibly even take shape in my current life. 

So while I generally won’t list what I’m still busy reading, Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, fits right into this week’s top-level discussion. From the book:

Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.

Greg McKeown

I’m hard-pressed to choose only one quote. Every page is its own gem.

The way of the Essentialist rejects the idea that we can fit it all in. Instead it requires us to grapple with real trade-offs and make tough decisions. In many cases we can learn to make one-time decisions that make a thousand future decisions so we don’t exhaust ourselves asking the same questions again and again.

The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.

Greg McKeown

AUDIO

#1

Alien III: An Audible Original. The original Alien III script created by William Gibson in the 1980s is now in audio format. I’m trying to get into audiobooks (I find ear-reading a lot harder than eye-reading), and this is one of those audiobooks that help move this learning phase along. I’m able to listen to non-fiction more easily, but this is only the second time I’ve had luck with fiction.

The first was another Audible Original, The X-Files: Cold Cases. (And its follow-up, The X-Files: Stolen Lives.) These are film-quality in audio form. They have the cast, they have the sound effects. While I generally prefer using my own imagination (i.e. books) versus enjoying the fruits of someone else’s (i.e. movies), this class of audiobooks is a good bridge. It helps me get into audio. For someone else, it might be a stepping stone to getting into books.

#2

I’ve also been listening to the audio version of a book favourite. If you’re familiar with the systems-thinking Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy model popularised by Richard C. Schwartz, Self-Therapy by Jay Earley is a good treatment of IFS. (The premise that we’re all comprised of various internal parts who want different things at different times, some of which conflict.)

Even if you’re not, Self-Therapy (there’s Volume 1, a workbookVolume 2, and Volume 3 — the franchise is strong with this one) is designed to be an at-home introduction to using the voices in your head to your benefit. We are plural beings (mystery solved of where wanting All the Things come from). It helps to be armed and ready (in a work-together, let’s go picnic) kinda sense and get all our parts to work together.

Featured image by Cory Woodward on Unsplash

17 Comments

  1. I agree its so hard to fit 7 days into one post. Depending on the week, some weeks I could keep writing forever. Others well, it could bore you! Thanks for this post.

  2. Juliet Amo Reply

    All work and no play will definitely makes anyone a dull person

  3. Elizabeth O Reply

    I think overwork also needs to be paired with play and recreation. This helps us keep the balance.

  4. Matija Antonić Reply

    Overworking is never good, I know that sometimes deadlines and stress can pile up, but still you should always take a few moments to rest up, take a stroll, have a cup of coffee or tea, it’s better than collapsing from exhaustion, everything will be done in due time

  5. Overworking is very difficult and can bring unnecessary stress into your life.

  6. This is really helpful for workaholics (like me haha). It’s always good to take breaks often or you’ll end up procrastinating because you’re overwhelmed!

  7. Wow. This was a really interesting read. You did a lot of hard work in creating those diagrams and flowcharts. Thanks for explaining the relation between work and life in such an elaborate way.

  8. Being a perfectionist can drive a person crazy. Good enough is enough. There has to be a balance between work and your personal life. Giving up perfection can lead you to that balance.

  9. Pingback: Weeknotes S01E02: Week of the Upside Down Butterfly - Eastern Heart Western Mind

  10. I agree, fitting more than one day into a post is hard for me! Kudos to you for fitting a whole week in! I agree about balancing your life. Thanks for sharing your week!

  11. I’m impressed with your notes. They are cute and well written. It’s always good to take breaks in between.

  12. I can relate, bloggers can have time for themselves as well. Writing for a seven days happenings might be a tiring one but I would say it’s better for the person behind that blog post. In life we really have to balance everything even if it’s not that evident.

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