Life: Expansion, Limitation, and Success
Life is about collecting experiences. Or, at least, that’s how I’ve lived a large portion of my life. I think it’s a valuable attitude, but I also think it falls short in some ways. Specifically, it doesn’t include creative or attitudinal values. But, I’ve operated under that life philosophy for so long that it’s a strong habit now, and maybe I have a natural tendency to be that way too. So, I’m going to dump some of my mind in here and see if I can come up with any new, good, or useful thoughts.
An Amish friend of mine asked me today if I would be interested in taking some of his products to the farmers’ market in Holland.
Yesterday, a friend of mine asked me if I would go to car auctions with him because he owns a small car lot.
At a business meeting yesterday someone told me that I should dive into the book and publishing industry in some way because I seem quite knowledgable about it.
I would like to pursue all of these things, but that’s the problem. If you’re constantly expanding your variety of experience then you don’t have the resources to focus at the same time. As Bilbo Baggins says in “The Lord of the Rings”, it’s like being butter spread on too much toast.
I recently tried to clarify what my main areas of life are, I wanted to get down to as few as possible, this is what I came up with: art, business, philosophy, romance, health, adventure, religion, politics, fun. That’s more than a few, but I don’t see how I can cut any of those. I made a three tier priority system, but I’m not sure that really helps.
I have more to do every day than I can possibly do. My health is declining right now, and I can’t let that go for very long or I have cognitive declines that it takes awhile to recover from, not to mention the long term damage to the brainstem.
A lot of people think my life is, and has been, cool. And that’s true, but it’s still been poorly managed. I’ve been trying to move from collecting experiences to creating for the last couple of years, and I’ve made progress, but it’s been slower and harder than I would have hoped. The brain can be rewired, but it’s not easy.
I’m trying to get better at saying no to opportunities that aren’t attuned to my plans, goals, and priorities. Like those first three ideas I mentioned from today and yesterday that came from Mervin, Mark, and Russel. I didn’t say no in the moment, but I kind of did softly because they’re just not going to fit. I do think about trying to work them in there, but I don’t see how they could possibly fit in the schedule. (But, many of the coolest things I do come about through this same sort of thing: like leading writing groups or speaking at the Harry Potter festival, and I have no interest in giving those up, even though I didn’t have any plans to do them before they happened.)
I was talking to a woman yesterday at a business meeting, Haley, and she brought up two interesting things.
Every time I see her she mentions that it seems like I have a ton of stuff going on. That’s true, and a lot of people mention that to me when I see them. I never give an entire list of what I’m currently doing because I can’t remember the whole thing. Some of it should be cut, like a two day horse riding seminar I’m going to this weekend. I’m not even sure if I’ll ever be able to ride horses again because of my spine. But, I just find so many things in life too interesting to miss. I’m also doing a rehearsal for the Harry Potter festival speeches this weekend. Neither of these things is really connected to any other goal, they’re just things that I want to do in themselves. Every time I see her she mentions how much I do with some level of astonishment, and it makes me wonder how odd it is, and whether it’s correct.
(In another conversation she brought up the false dichotomy of happiness and meaning. We didn’t get to dive into it, but that’s not a real choice because happiness is an effect, not something you can pursue directly with any good results.)
My friend Holly recently mentioned to me that I am successful. That’s obviously not true if we’re measuring by money, or position, or even being satisfied with where I’m at in the general scheme of things. She said I’m successful at being me, and there’s some truth in that. I think that the truth contained in there might be something like, I’ve become significantly less self-deceived over the years and thus I’m able to confront life in a more direct way than many people. Something like that. That, hopefully, should be a platform to better behavioral patterns in the world, and I think I’m already seeing that. I’m authentic, so it’s difficult for people to attack me in many ways, and my internal fortitude seems to be forming and reforming in a stronger and stronger arrangement.
I think the writer Neil Gaiman has some advice that I might be able to apply in a more general way. To be a writer, he says, you have to do three things: write things, finish things, and send them out into the world. That is so true. Maybe each of my major life areas could have a simple little three step process like this to keep me on point on what the real foundations of progress are. I’m not going to work those out here because I’m exhausted right now and should already be asleep.
I talked to my uncle Ron yesterday about social verification. He was asking about what qualifies me to do the stuff I do. It’s a question about objective versus subjective truth, really. Objective truth is that which is consistent when we expand the perspectives viewed from across time and space. This is social verification and creates a shared reality.
That idea is somewhat connected to an idea called acquisitive mimesis by the philosopher Rene Girard. I was telling my friends Doug and Amanda about it the other day when I was visiting them and their young kids. These types of social verification processes are so important for humans that it’s how we form many of our desires. It’s incredible.
Then I see stuff from people that seem to be doing well at consulting companies that say things like, “Abundance is your natural state!” or that you are limitless. These are delusions at best. It’s complete b’s’. Your natural state is more like non-existence, dying, or dead. The rest is created, pulled and hammered out of existence through thought and effort. And, one of the most important things you need to do, to do that, is to accept your limitations so that you can work within them and around them, and to put limitations on yourself. I’m bad at that stuff, obviously.
Alright, so what have we learned? Well, I’m not sure about you. I wrote this off the top of my head, so I didn’t really learn too much as far as that goes. But, what are the keys? What’s useful here?
Self-imposed limitations are a key to life. Social verification and shared reality are a key to anything having to do with humans. And, maybe, articulating something like Gaiman’s three steps for various priority categories may be useful for determining various self-imposed limitations.
That’s all I can pull out of it in this moment.
You can find more of what I’m doing at http://www.JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com