Do you ever just stop?
In 14 Things I Still Haven’t Figured Out at 25, I mentioned that something I wanted to figure out was how to “write things down immediately after they happen.”
“But I’d love it if I was one of those writers who always carries a notebook with her. You know, the sad-looking, brown, old notebooks with coffee stains and chunks of pages falling out.
Maybe if I had one of those, I’d write everything down as soon as it happened and remember everything in detail even years later.”
When I published that article, I was in Instanbul and I found this anything-but sad-looking, tiny, velvet, maroon notebook with yellow pages. I’ve been carrying it with me since then and writing things down soon after they happen.
I was waiting in a restaurant. Twitter is my go-to activity when I’m waiting for 1-5 minutes. If I’ll be somewhere longer, then I read in my Kindle app on my phone.
This time I decided to…do nothing. I looked outside. Did some people-watching.
Since last week I spoke about love quotes that make no sense to me, here’s a quote I’ve always proudly supported. I think it was even my cover photo on Facebook a decade ago.
“If you’re bored, you’re boring.”Barbara “Cutie” Cooper
Fault my logic: When by myself, I was in good company. I enjoyed my alone time and I was rarely bored. If I was in a situation where I felt bored, that meant I was boring, since I wasn’t able to turn it around.
I still cringe a bit when someone says they’re bored, even though boredom is completely normal.
Some people are optimizers, others are simplifiers
I’m the latter. If I’m going somewhere, I try to check two or three things off my list on my way there. Here’s a thorough explanation from the person who came up with the divide, Scott Adams. It’s long but funny and worth a read. Plus, I’m a sucker for anything “There are two kinds of people in the world.”
“Some people are what I call simplifiers and some are optimizers. A simplifier will prefer the easy way to accomplish a task, while knowing that some amount of extra effort might have produced a better outcome. An optimizer looks for the very best solution even if the extra complexity increases the odds of unexpected problems. Allow me to compare and contrast the two approaches.
My wife, Shelly, is a world-class optimizer. I, on the other hand, cling to simplicity like a monkey on a coconut. As I write this chapter, we have plans tonight for a simple dinner thirty minutes from home followed by a movie that is near the restaurant. We’ll stop to pick up our friends who conveniently live on the shortest path to our destination. Once we get to the restaurant, we won’t even need to move the car. Parking will be easy, the drive will avoid all rush-hour traffic, and the timing will allow for a leisurely evening with no worries. I, the simplifier, made these plans.
In about an hour the optimizer in the family will return home from whatever she is optimizing and potentially introduce several changes to my plan.
If the changes work, our evening will be even better than I imagined, or perhaps more productive. That’s great! But the changes will also introduce new opportunities for things to go wrong. This balance works well for Shelly because she has nerves of steel. I’m more like a squirrel that wandered into a monster-truck rally. I don’t have the constitution to optimize.
Tonight Shelly might try to complete several urgent tasks before we leave, which might make us get a late start, but not too late. No big deal. Then perhaps Shelly will recommend that we drive her car, which has no gas, so we can refuel it on the way, because she needs it in the morning and won’t have much time then. Before we leave the house Shelly might produce a shopping bag with an item that needs to be returned to the store that is “right on the way.”
Most optimizers like myself probably suffer from internalized capitalism.
What is internalized capitalism?
- Feeling guilty for resting
- Your self-worth is largely based on doing well in your career
- Placing productivity before health
- Believing hard work = happiness
- Feeling lazy, even when you’re experiencing pain, trauma or adversity
- Using busyness as a way of avoiding your needs
The discomfort we feel when we’re “not being productive” is a sign of internalized capitalism.
Before I was aware of the term, I was waiting in the restaurant I told you about where I did nothing and thought it was revolutionary. In an oxymoron turn of events, I got an idea for an article I wanted to write. Hah, I thought, see, boredom serves a huge purpose. That is obviously not the point. That’s why when I recently read a thorough analysis of internalized capitalism, I was like, sounds about right.
Like many women who suffer from internalized misogyny and think they are so much better than other women, I also don’t see much of an issue with my “symptoms.” If anything, I felt kind of proud reading that analysis.
It’s absurd to suggest that doing nothing for the sole purpose of doing nothing is in any way revolutionary.
But as many people’s favorite problematic figure said:
“There is more to life than increasing its speed.”Gandhi
Sometimes we should just stop for absolutely no reason at all.
What it’s like to work in publishing?
In his latest Dense Discovery newsletter, Kai Brach shared his thoughts on what it’s like to be so closely tied with the future at all times:
“Whether it’s a newsletter, a podcast or a printed magazine, working in publishing has been described to me as ‘feeding an insatiable beast’ – after every meal, you immediately start looking for more food.
It’s not a nice metaphor but there is a certain truth to it that all publishers will appreciate: after one issue is always before the next. If you publish anything on a regular basis, you are constantly in the production cycle of a future edition.
Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy my work. I often say that I have the best audience a publisher could wish for! At times it’s difficult to feel a sense of achievement, though, because before you get a chance to celebrate having released a good piece of work, your head is already stuck in the planning of the next piece.
So today, I want to use this intro to celebrate with you. To all my co-publishers out there: don’t forget to come up to the surface for some air. After almost ten years of running a magazine and more than six running a weekly newsletter, I know too well how easy it is to get sucked into the time loop of ‘the next issue’. Whatever you’re working on, make sure you occasionally pause to appreciate what you put out into the world. The beast will wait.”
I also found the metaphor “feeding an insatiable beast” not nice to say the least, but I’m learning to live with discomfort. To ask “why does this make me uncomfortable?” before moving on. This doesn’t apply to clothes.
You’d be surprised to hear how much fewer body image issues and body dysmorphia I had when I simply stopped trying on or buying clothes that were too small for me. (And when I stopped weighing myself.)
But besides clothes and people who make your gut wave red flags, things that cause us discomfort are often worth exploring. There may be something there.
Chilling for “no reason” makes me uncomfortable. So does hearing people say “Ugh, I’m bored.”
I used to especially hate hearing this at work. Because of ongoing structural changes, I worked without a manager for a considerable chunk of time at my last full-time job. I was in charge of my work, time, and free time. I was rarely bored because I didn’t allow myself to. Plus, I guess not having someone to “advocate” for me meant my work had to advocate for me. Plus, “I didn’t have the time.”
Even if you’re not in publishing, I think we can all relate to feeling like we’re in a production cycle.
No matter how good this week was, something else always comes up in the next.
Something new to fix.
A new challenge always presents itself the next day.
Work still needs to be done next week.
In How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, Scott Adams also wrote:
“You have the same paradox with personal energy. If you look at any individual action that boosts your personal energy, it might look like selfishness. Why are you going skiing when you should be working at the homeless shelter, you selfish bastard!
My proposition is that organizing your life to optimize your personal energy will add up to something incredible that is more good than bad.
As I write this paragraph, my wife and our good friends are wondering why I’m selfishly lagging behind and not meeting them for an afternoon of sitting in the sun. I’ll get there soon. And when I do, I’ll feel energized and satisfied and be far more fun to be around. No one will think worse of me in the long run for being thirty minutes behind for a full day of fun that they have already started. But everyone will appreciate that I’m in a better mood when I show up. That’s the trade-off. Like capitalism, some forms of selfishness are enlightened.”
Do we organize our life to optimize our personal energy, despite how selfish it looks like we’re being?
We should, and not just for our sake either. When I don’t prioritize rest, or when I don’t meditate, I’m not that nice to be around. All that’s left is for me to learn to love rest even if it didn’t imply a positive outcome.
I wrote The Other Side of Burnout- (Don’t) Push It to the Limit in 2018 and it’s still as real as ever now. It doesn’t apply to my dad only.
“Sometimes, I think my dad is allergic to self-care.
A team of 12 doctors can tell him, have told him, that he needs rest. He still can’t get himself to just relax, rest, replenish. Band-aid solutions till the next time he burns out, hypnotized by that feeling of accomplishment and the adrenaline rush of more.
Out of 12 article categories in The Inner Dolphin, two are about:
These themes emerge time and time again in my life and my writing, nudging me to pay attention to them, think about them, write about them.
This article was about optimizers and simplifiers. In defense of boredom. Internalized capitalism. Organizing our life to optimize our personal energy. The next thing.
What’s now will hopefully, eventually turn into the new “what’s next” for me, as I continue to share what I’ve read, learned, and realized.
Thank you for being here every week,
Thanks for making the come up to the surface for some air ever so sweet,
There is more to life than increasing its speed.
Hey, it rhymes.