Last week I wrote two posts discussing the desire to find fulfillment in your work1. As I thought about it over the weekend, I noted that many people call the quest for fulfillment “following your passion.” If you live in the culture I live in, that phrase is all-too-familiar. We experience such inspirational advice in every venue from education to advertising. It feels really good. I love indulging in the mental exercise of dropping the seemingly “unnecessary” elements of my life and focusing on the few things that I’m most passionate about.
I recently wrote a post called The Challenge of Not Having a Challenge.2 Here’s an excerpt:
I believe we’re embedded with the desire to accomplish things—to make something with our skills, abilities and resources. On the other hand, I think that unbridled desire can lead to an unhealthy sense of entitlement and lack of commitment (according to Forbes, “ninety-one percent of Millennials (born between 1977-1997) expect to stay in a job for less than three years.”).
I was delighted to be asked a really good question in the comments and I thought the exchange would be interesting to publish as a post.
1. You can read the full post, The Challenge of Not Having a Challenge, here.
This is the sixth post in a series called Making it Count about getting things done and using our precious hours wisely3 .
Recently I wrote about unsubscribing from a friend’s weekly email and how he challenged my reason (or excuse) of “being too busy.”4. I’ve been thinking for some time about the next post in my Making it Count series and an article on how I consume the internet has been at the top of the list. Responding to my friend’s email was a great way to kickstart the writing process.
A Vast Ocean of Information
Intentionally consuming content on the Internet can be an overwhelming task. The speed at which content is created and travels, along with the sheer immensity of information available is simultaneously wonderful and engulfing.
For many of us, though, the Internet can feel small at times. I think there are a few reasons for this. First, we use tools that bring content to us: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, news feeds of any variety. Secondly, we often use the web to find very specific types of information and search engines allow us to start our journey and arrive at the correct destination in short order. Third, we develop go-to content sources over time. If the information isn’t coming to us, we often go to ‘familiar’ places to consume content from proven sources, just like a favorite restaurant. (There are many more reasons, of course, but these will suffice for our purposes here.)
Engaging a network that is both immeasurably large but can also feel small and familiar creates somewhat of a paradox in how to actually use it, in part because the possibilities are, almost literally, endless. You can find anything you can imagine or only what you’re looking for—and we find value in both.
This year I’ve been working on a few projects/goals outside of work:
- Reading the entire Bible.
- Exercising 6 days per week.
- Processing thousands (5,000 maybe?) of photos from trips I’ve taken in the last two years.
I’d love to say I’ve consistently chipped away at each of these things over the last 12 months and have had a really successful year. The reality is, though, that each area has been a series of starts and stops with periods of complete neglect, followed by periods of intense catch-up.
I recently had a chance to visit with my dear friend Dan Roge in Washington, D.C. Dan is a big fan of Wendell Berry5, an acclaimed author and activist. Recently, Dan had the privilege of sharing Berry’s company in the luminary’s own home.
Dan shared many lessons he gleaned from that visit, but one in particular has been rolling around in my head for the last several weeks. Here’s an excerpt from Dan’s own hand, describing the relationship between the actual work Berry produces and the way he produces it:
1. Wendell Berry is “…an American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer. A prolific author, he has written dozens of novels, short stories, poems, and essays.” Read more about Berry on Wikipedia.
Ceteris Peribus is a Latin phrase that means, “all other things being equal.”Economists often use the term to qualify their analysis. In other words, economic models necessarily assume in many cases that variables will remain constant-sometimes a mathematical mandate when you are studying change in a single variable. Using a qualifier is necessary because there aren’t constants—economic variables are constantly in flux and can change in significant ways unexpectedly.
I’ve noticed that I can get into the habit of viewing my life and business in the context of Ceteris Peribus. To some extent, that type of forecasting is necessary because I can’t predict what’s going to happen and we all have to make the best decisions we can with whatever information we’ve got.
That mindset can become unhealthy, though, when I idealize a life where many variables are constant.
Most often this shows up when I live in the “Land of If.” We all play the “if game” with ourselves:
My wife’s uncle is an amazing entrepreneur and creative director. He shoots commercials for big brands all around the country and lives on a completely off-the-grid farm in rural Oregon. Needless to say, he’s quite an interesting and fun person to know.
For a long time, he’s sent out what he calls a Monday Morning Email. It’s a weekly blog-by-email of sorts where he shares everything from simple life lessons to time-tested business wisdom. Recently, I unsubscribed from his email list, which I’ll explain in detail in a post soon (it’s not because of the content—the writing and ideas are really good).
Shortly after I unsubscribed, Dave (the author of the email) called me to do an exit interview and learn why I stopped reading. My response was simple:
I’m just too busy to read it.
His response was exactly what I needed to hear:
Last night my wife and I were folding laundry. We had two loads to process, so I started on one while she took care of a few other chores around the house.
We’ve been married a few years, but don’t often do laundry together—we both do the laundry, it’s just that most often it’s a solo activity no matter who is doing it (my wife is wedding florist and works weekends, which is why our schedule is a little out of the ordinary).
When my wife came in to help fold the clothes she asked, “do you always separate all of the clothes into piles before folding them?” I didn’t think much about it, but that’s exactly what I’d done: I sorted all of the clean clothes into piles by category (socks, shirts, etc.) and then set about folding them. Of course, I was asked to explain my methodology.
Earlier this month my wife, a florist, wrote a short blog post about messes and failure6. It included a few pictures of what her studio and work truck look like after the chaos of a big event.
A lot of bloggers, designers and makers use this phrase “a beautiful mess”. It’s great. Really. I understand it 100%. My work is 95% messy in the flower world. SO not glam. Lots of buckets and lifting and moving and stems all over the place. I have been following the sister team of A Beautiful Mess for a few years now, and have enjoyed watching them continue to create and grow. They were interviewed by Design Sponge recently (read about it here), and I like how they phrased this – “Failure is a funny thing because, if you treat it right, it just morphs into a lesson learned.” If you treat it right. I like that. Do you need to shake something off? Change something you’re doing? Say you’re sorry for something? Ask someone for help? Treat the failure and it will morph into a lesson learned.
That reminded me of a post I wrote a few years ago called Creation and Chaotic Residue7 that included a short anecdote about my first experience with the messes that being a florist creates. (It was also fun to look back and see myself writing about this as a fiancee before we tied the knot.) Here’s the original article:
Because I travel a good bit, blocks of down-time in airports have become coveted chances to knock work out and clear my inbox. Sometimes, though, I choose to take a break from productivity and simply observe the world around me. That’s a fancy way of saying I enjoy walking around and looking at displays, marketing campaigns and, of course, people-watching.
Yesterday in the airport I observed several people, who were waiting to board flights, simply staring at their smartphones. I happened to be close to several of them in the context of boarding and could see their screens, on which were apps. These individuals were staring at apps on their phone. What a curious behavior. It’s even more strange when repeated—one gentleman stared at his phone for a bit, locked it, put it in his pocket, then pulled it back out again in a few minutes and performed the same staring ritual, this time swiping back and forth a few times between screens.