There are so many avenues to explore – but be mindful about the potential rabbit hole of having too many options – or believing you do.
There is only so much we can accomplish in our lives, but what we can accomplish is likely vastly more than we believe we can.
Someone once said that we overestimate what we can accomplish in a week but underestimate what we can accomplish in a year. That makes sense. We cram so many activities and “busy work” into our to-do lists that we always have items left undone at the end of the week. But many people surprise themselves by the progress they have made at the end of the year – especially when it comes to the action they took toward a specific goal.
But we can also crash and burn if we lose sight of our goal, failing to see that consistent action throughout the year would have brought us the result we were after.
We all know about how crowded gyms are at the beginning of the year and how attendance usually flattens a short time later. Bloomberg cited an analysis from Strava, a fitness-tracking app developer, that found most Americans giving up on their fitness resolutions as early as mid-January.
We give up so easily.
What if we made consistent progress on that one thing– the overriding thing that keeps us awake at night – the dream we can’t shake…
Just a bit of progress every day…?
One of my favorite writers and broadcasters, Earl Nightingale, “The Dean of Personal Development,” is attributed with the following quote, but he might have found it somewhere else:
“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.”
Makes sense to me. To-do-lists are one thing – but taking daily action on that one thing can make all the difference in the world.
Remember: Successful people get that way by doing the things that others are not willing to do.
Of course, success means different things to different people.
This could be about getting exercise every day, saving money, or waking up an hour early (or going to bed an hour later) to learn a new skill or write that story, or devoting quality time to your family.
In my heart of hearts, I know that this is usually not the case. I don’t recall a recent instance of having been deliberately ghosted. And I have written about intentions several times on this blog. I would like to think my intentions are pure – and 99.9 percent of the time, I get an appropriate response in due time.
This has nothing to do with romance. I have a longtime girlfriend. We live together. I’m sure she feels like ghosting me at times, but that’s another matter altogether.
What I am talking about here is mountains-out-of-molehills, worst-case-scenario overthinking in my day-to-day interactions with others. Because I believe that I have an above-average EQ (or emotional intelligence), this doesn’t mean that the very same gift might not be misfiring.
You can’t interpret somebody’s aura unless they are interacting with you.
Am I some sort of entitled prick who thinks I deserve top priority at all times? Am I a narcissist?
Not tonight, Narcissus, I have a headache…
I think this really goes back to intention and process. My friend, motivational author and speaker Jeff Yalden, always says to have patience in the process, and that makes sense to me.
Roger: Nobody’s ghosting you. It’s all in your head.
Can being a generalist be better than specializing?
That’s a good question. Being a specialist makes sense in some ways because you are laser-like in your precision when it comes to your area of expertise. But it must also be true that we become so caught up in our respective niches that we fail to see the options.
There are blogs about blogging – and presumably there are blogs about petunias. And many hard-at-it bloggers extol the virtues of a niche.
If there was some one thing I would blog about as a niche, it would be personal development. I am drawn to this because we are all on paths that could culminate in a zenith of self-aware bliss. Of course, another outcome could be the train wreck of nihilism.
But could I really add to this conversation? You bet. Anyone drawing breath can do the same. We all have something to bring to the human party, and we all come to it in varied ways and with diverse perspectives. And we all have a platform – a group of friends, perhaps, to share our views with.
Hell, some crash the party looking for free drinks or company with nothing to give in return. But at least they showed up.
But there has to be such a thing as too many options.
All my life, I would thrill to what I perceived as an endless supply of available options. I would love to be able to explain the excitement that welled up (and still does, for that matter – only in smaller doses) in the face of such intangibles. And it seemed (and still seems, although I am keenly aware of the inexorable march of time) like anything was possible – as if one could order and consume every existential item on the menu.
You might be able to order everything on the menu, but there’s no way you could finish it in one sitting. Let’s say this “one sitting” is your life. You now have all of these options sitting in front of you. It doesn’t matter to the restaurant owner what you do with them. In point of fact, the lion’s share of that stuff will wind up in the trash.
I was recently patting myself on the back because I thought I was procrastinating less. I’d like to think that I take care of things in a much timelier fashion than I once did. That includes handling deadlines, paying bills and getting where I need to be when I am supposed to get there.
Perhaps this is because I am 57, and somehow I’m acutely aware that the clock is ticking and that I had better get cracking on the things that matter – and I’m much better on that score.
But on closer examination, there is still a great deal of kicking-the-can-down-the-road going on.
For decades, efficiency experts have extolled the virtues of handling a piece of paper once. If that paper is important and needs to be retrieved later, then file it away with a “tickle” on your calendar – but by no means let it get lost in a jumble of mounting paperwork…
I get it.
But my digital life is another story. I have an email folder called “reading list – emails,” into which I have stuck everything that I’d like to revisit that isn’t urgent. Sounds like a good idea, but is it really? I also have an app called Pocket, a really useful reader. Every article I find interesting at a given time goes in there.
Here’s the thing. My list in Pocket is bulging at the seams – and only because I have been making a concerted effort to whittle down my email reading list, I’m proud to report that I have only 150 items in that queue at the moment. But if I hope to get that to zero – I need to handle my incoming emails only once – unless they need to be addressed later, much like the paper that the efficiency experts talked about.
Don’t even get me started about my photos and assorted cloud storage. I am about as fragmented as I can be.
Thank God my Word files are properly tagged for easy sorting and retrieval. That’s a win.
But I have been storing photos for more than a decade – and a great deal of them have not been properly renamed.
Much like I do with other keepsakes, I have these photos squirreled away for enjoyment later, but there is no rhyme or reason at play when it comes to finding something from a certain time period.
I have gotten wiser over the years and have tagged most of my newer photos for easy indexing.
I am guilty of not only procrastination but of digital hoarding as well.
But here’s the thing. These things are not half-eaten boxes of cereal or expired Spam. I’d like to get these things organized.
I suppose my flawed thinking centered around the “one day” when I would have the leisure to go through it all. I am beginning to sense that that “one day” may not come in the way I imagine it would come. Compound this with the march of time and all of the “live in in the now” rhetoric (I really should try that sometime), and you have the makings of a perfect storm.
As soon as I am done with my email reading list, I’ll be reviewing my notebooks – mining for potential gold, getting my digital hoard into a manageable state and working on my Pocket reading list.
No matter how long you have been on this planet, there’s something you still need to do.
I remember when my father started going through old papers, notebooks and letters he had stored in my aunt and uncle’s basement in Crestline, California – 5000 feet up in the San Bernardino Mountains…
I found that odd, but I knew what he was up to. He had recently emerged from the hospital after suffering a fall in the shower and developing subdural hematomas, which rendered him incapable of doing basic things like using silverware, holding a cup of tea (his favorite) or even walking.
He had fully improved by the time decided to get rid of that stuff.
I couldn’t have been more than twenty, and I just watched him as he discarded item after item. It was as if he had an agenda, and it seemed to me then that he had a taste of his own mortality and wanted to make sure he “cleaned house.”
He died of an abdominal aortic aneurysm soon after that. That day also happened to be my 21st birthday – the day my twin brother and I were set to party it up. Our friends had a limo ready for us. Let’s just say that was a bust.
The above is not so much a digression as it is a story about what my father felt he had to do, and I kind of wish I had those discarded items to shift through to make better sense of his life and the man he was.
Do the Thing
But this post is not just about getting your house in order before you die; it’s about making sure we don’t depart this mortal coil with our work unfinished – our purpose unfulfilled.
I’m going to be 57 in July. That number is almost unbelievable – and if I let my thoughts run rampant, I am afraid that they will take me to a place of regret – the cursed domain of “should-haves,” “would-haves” and “could-haves.”
I have written before about the value of reconnecting with our inner 12-year-olds to see what resonated with us then. Forget the conventional wisdom that a pre-teen doesn’t yet have the ability to intuit what they want from life. I have a feeling that we all have an inkling of what moves us long before that. It’s only after repeated exposure to those who tell us to stop daydreaming that we begin to lose – or sublimate – our innate and God-given talents.
Look at the people who told you to grow up. Did their lives show any indication of fulfillment? Of joy?
Chances are good that somebody else told them to grow up, thereby continuing a generational beat-down – a downward spiral of error, if you will.
Conform or die.
Always remember this obvious fact: Death is not the exclusive domain of the old. The bell could toll at any time. Earl Nightingale, the Dean of Personal Development, once said something to the effect that if we are on course, the end could come like a snapped piece of film in a reel as we are going about our business.
What do you need to finish?
What do you need to start?
What thing have you talked about for years, for decades, that you never got around to starting?
Believe me, the urge to complete that thing will not stop dogging you. No matter how much you try to avoid it.
The result – bitterness. Regret. Failure to launch. The void.
There is something inside you that needs to be realized – something dear to you that you have cherished since you were little. It is my hope that you dust that off and begin in earnest to nurture that.
From my heart to yours: Start the thing. You will be glad you did.
I have written before about the fear of my intentions being misunderstood, and some of my friends responded that they felt the same way about theirs. It’s a thing, and there must be a basic human need to be understood. We have societal structures in place: language, manners and nonverbal cues. These things can help us avoid being misunderstood.
But it happens to me quite often.
Just when I think I have gotten over one misstep, another one comes along to start me back down the rabbit hole of uncertainty, overthinking and loss of sleep.
I believe in being positive, but I also aim to be truthful about this. I don’t want to sweep this under the carpet or grit my teeth and try to will it away.
Related to this phenomenon are what I call Larry David moments. These are not so much about being misunderstood, but rather the awkward moments, mistakes and misfires in my daily life that make me want to crawl under a rock.
These are not game-changing life events, either.
I know from experience that many of these moments are mountains-out-of-molehill situations, but for me the discomfort is very real. And because I am sober, I need to find ways to deal with them. Maybe writing about them will help.
Here are a couple examples of what I am talking about from the past week or so – but there were more than just these two.
THE WRONG WRIGHT
My last blog post, “Is 56 the New 12?” featured an excellent rendering of Harry Potter’s Professor Snape with my face edited into it by my friend and fellow writer Brendan Wright. I credited another friend, Bill Wright, with the photo. It was only after Brendan saw it and reminded me that he had created it did I remember where and when he first showed it to me a couple of years back.
The memory is a funny thing, and to say I was chagrined is an understatement.
In my mind, coming back from something like that is tough. For other people, an apology would suffice. For me, the need to overexplain reigns supreme. Of course, I apologized and made a quick change to the post, but that’s not the point. For me, the damage had already been done.
I lost face. The only logical end to this would have been for Brendan to cut off my head after I gutted myself. Seppuku.
Why didn’t I remember…
SOMEBODY STOP ME: THE MASK INCIDENT
I was taking a break at work the other day, sitting in the closed cigar lounge at Tinder Box Myrtle Beach with my girlfriend, Brenda. A mask was dangling by a loop my right ear.
“So what,” you might say…
Here’s what sent me into a tizzy:
Our friend, Meghan, came to see us. She was outside lounge door, which was locked. Brenda let her in while I remained seated.
Meghan made some awesome masks for us to help us through this time of social distancing, and we’re grateful for them – but when she came in that day, the mask that was dangling from my ear was not hers. Rather, it was made by another friend, Karan, who was kind enough to send us a few great masks as well.
Based on my anxiety level, you would have thought I got busted sleeping with somebody I shouldn’t have been sleeping with.
I was speechless and my mind was racing. What course of action would be best? All I could think to do was quickly unhook the mask, let it drop it into my seat and try to play it off the best that I could.
What was my motivation in that moment? Why was I so awkward?
Did Meghan notice? I don’t know, but I continued to babble. I realized even then that I should have addressed what was, to me, the elephant in the room.
Why didn’t I just say something…
Like, would Meghan really care that I wasn’t wearing a mask she made and opted for one of Karan’s that morning? Unlikely.
Would Brendan lose sleep over the fact that I made a mistake about a photo he made for me in fun? I wouldn’t think so.
Nothing in these events would indicate that my friendships with Meghan or Brendan would suffer – but in those moments, I feel like it’s curtains for me.
I asked my daughter to take a look at a draft of this post, and she said, “Wow. I really am your daughter.” She went on to tell me that she once texted an apology to a friend who didn’t even realize there was an issue.
My Larry David moments border on the pathological.
I’m 56, so I guess that depends. To a teenager, I’d be ancient.
I don’t feel much different than I ever have, and God knows I act like the perennial 12-year-old – albeit with the weight of decidedly adult stresses and the consequences of the decisions I have made over decades bearing down on me – contributing to what might be a low-level but persistent depression called dysthymia.
But is that it, really? Dysthymia is defined as a mild, chronic depression – less severe and with fewer symptoms than major depression. And it can continue for years.
If you know me, you’d hopefully see a positive and upbeat person. That’s true, too. We humans are complicated. Every new day brings a chance for new vistas of opportunity and renewed hope.
If I were to experience a sea change in my finances, I suspect I’d be even more upbeat. It’s not money that is the root of all evil, after all – just the love of money…
My mother’s first husband, I have been told, had something to say about this – a riff on the old quote about having been poor and having been rich, and rich was better: “I’d rather cry myself to sleep on a silk pillow,”
I always found that to be amusing.
But a good friend of mine told me that he went to a high school reunion, and many of his peers who had made the “right” decisions – perhaps pursuing “The American Dream” by finishing college, dutifully working a solid career path, marrying and raising a family, saving for retirement and buying a home – perhaps enjoying the finer things in life – looked old, played out and decidedly unhappy.
Of course, many others are completely happy and fulfilled.
Still others peaked in high school. You know the ones.
I have zig-zagged my way across the country, worked jobs that make no sense on a linear resume, and have lived in major cities and rural areas. I have been addicted to drugs and alcohol, and I need to get over my fear about giving voice to this, because there is a lot of ground to cover.
I was a single parent for many years and have been sober for nearly six years.
But for more than a decade, I have been fortunate enough to be engaged in the things I love, namely writing and music. Sure, the paychecks could be vastly improved – but I am happy to be writing, playing and singing.
Without a doubt, I am most grateful for the relationship I enjoy with my twins – a son and daughter, now 26. I don’t know if I could have gone on if not for the absolution they seem to have granted me. They love me and I them, forever and always.
So far, I have none of the aches and pains that many other men complain about after 30. I am as inflexible as I have always been, and I have been doing my part to make sure I exercise and stretch. I hope I have been given some sort of cosmic dispensation; that because I am attempting to take care of myself, the universe is responding in kind.
My reflection in the mirror – this 56-year-old man looking back at me – betrays a still-youthful twinkle in the eye, the corners of his mouth ready to curl upward into a smile – the laugh lines growing deeper with each passing day.
I am a writer. I should write daily. I should write without restraint. I should say what I want to say without some people-pleasing inner troll telling me to watch out – that I might offend somebody or that I might piss somebody off. After all, isn’t good writing meant to elicit an emotional response?
As writers, our goal is not to deliver a lukewarm version of what we intended to say.
“Great stories are rarely aimed at everyone. Average people are good at ignoring you. Average people have too many different points of view about life and average people are by and large satisfied. If you need to water down your story to appeal to everyone, it will appeal to no one. The most effective stories match the world view of a tiny audience—and then that tiny audience spreads the story.”
Godin has written extensively about the importance of finding one’s tribe, and that concept makes sense to me. The right people will gravitate to your message. The substance of what we have to say will resonate with some, and that some is enough.
It’s like the old Faberge Organics shampoo commercial. One person tries it. They’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on…
I have been a people pleaser, and that has not worked for my emotional well-being. I have learned over the years that this phenomenon stems from deeper self-worth issues, and I need to get to the bottom of that. Where the hell did these issues come from? It would be easy – and intellectually lazy – to blame somebody else for this. Was my mother the culprit? If I were to point fingers, I’d be sure to include those misguided phys-ed teachers who, brimming with toxic masculinity, failed to see that not all boys were the same.
Over time, I have learned to say “no” more often. It’s pretty liberating, and I need to do more of that.
How about the bullies?
I didn’t suffer much at the hands of bullies, but not all kids get beaten up physically – and I am very good at beating myself up.
Now nearly six years sober, I always thought that I intentionally started using drugs and alcohol because it was simply what aspiring rockers did. But something happened somewhere, and I intend to find out what it was.
With my self-imposed indoctrination in personal development, it’s odd that I would even consider writing an opening sentence like that. Since I was a pre-teen, I’ve been gobbling up the advice, direction and methods proffered by authors from Orison Swett Marden to Napoleon Hill, Anthony Robbins to Wayne Dyer and so many more.
I’m not sure any of those gurus would see the value in admitting that I am an overthinker. Still others, like my friend Mike Dooley (Notes from the Universe, Infinite Possibilities), would certainly caution me that making such a statement would, in effect, make it so – that by putting those three words out there into the ether I am giving a celestial order – visualizing, acting as-if and generally bringing this into reality.
I don’t want that, for sure – but I also want to be honest about this. Though just in case the Universe is listening, I want it to know that I am merely trying to sort this out. I hereby declare that overthinking is something I have no interest in.
Now I imagine the Universe saying, “You could have fooled me…”
Author and psychologist Amy Morin wrote in her column for Inc. that “time spent overthinking, whether it’s 10 minutes or 10 hours, won’t enhance your life.”
She also wrote that “overthinking comes in two forms; ruminating about the past and worrying about the future.”
Guilty on both counts.
I can’t tell you how many times I replay embarrassing moments or beat myself up about why I might have said what I said in a given moment. Or better still, lose sleep over things that happened years or decades ago and my part in them. That, right there, is rumination. But let’s throw in the worry component for good measure. I’ve got that in spades too, like, if I offended anybody, how will that play out in a future encounter with that person.
I am too old to continue down those paths.
I need to do something about the fact that I am a bit of a people pleaser – and that’s a symptom of a deeper self-worth issue.
Well – now we’re getting somewhere, but now I’m scaring myself. We’re supposed to be talking about overthinking.
I recently had an epiphany of sorts: I believe much of my emotional discomfort stems from the fear that somebody might misunderstand my intentions – that I have not communicated them in a way that a particular person completely grasps. In situations like these, a lot of factors come into play. I might not have chosen the right words or the correct timing and the other person might not have been in a place to receive the message.
Emotional intelligence plays a role too.
I am quick to pick up on the emotional cues of others, whether these are direct or not. Call it a benefit of my undiagnosed ADHD, but I can get to the heart of what somebody is trying to say long before they finish speaking it. Couple this with body language, tone and attitude, and I get a good sense about what’s going on.
That drives a lot of people nuts, including my son and my girlfriend. I need to learn that people generally like to finish a statement before I react.
I can’t assume that everybody else’s emotional intelligence quotient is the same. It would also be foolhardy to assume that I have imparted my meaning to others in a way that makes sense to them. We all process these things differently, I’m sure.
It’s also silly to think that what I have to say to others is so important that it makes a difference either way. At the end of the day, a perceived slight on my part could be complete fiction.
Sometimes I am so wrapped up in my own head over something that happened previously that I am not able to be fully present to others, including those I love – thus creating an endless loop of rumination and worry.
As Tony Robbins says, “Get in your head, you’re dead.”
Based on these facts, my job should be to try to be as straightforward and as mindful possible in my encounters with others – and learn to let things go if I stumble.