Don't do muchThu, 16th Oct '08, 11:15 pm::
I had my first real in-class exam today after a break of four and a half years from college. I think I did well for someone who barely had the time to sit down and study. I have been pressed for time lately and this very lack of time is gradually teaching me how to better manage my todos, stress, expectations, and goals in quite an unorthodox way. I know my thoughts below will initially seem to be going all over the place but just hang on a bit because I will eventually reach the focal point that I intend to discuss.
The problem with life is that for most people, it really is the same story day-in and day-out. Even if you have an exciting work or social life, the excitement has the same flavor on a day-to-day basis. Then one day something changes and it starts to get more stressful. You can't change your life around immediately to counteract the increased stress, so it builds up. Pretty soon you fall way behind on your todo list and your goals and hopes are nowhere in sight. A few years later you ask yourself how did I end up here and whatever happened to my dreams and all those plans.
At the same time, you see successful people in every walk of life around you. The gym instructor is in better shape than you'll ever be, your coworker knows more about Excel than you thought was possible, your sixty year old neighbor can run faster and further than you can, the mechanic knows more about your car than you ever will, your friend has read more books than you can imagine, and even the stupid guy who interrupts movies on cable TV seems to cook better than you can ever hope for. It is as if we are being told we suck at life by being encouraged to be good at everything and we are going crazy trying to deal with it all.
Then New Year's Day comes around and the go-getters among us make resolutions and promises. Time to join gyms, lose weight, start reading, help the community, sign up for a music class, and take a course in web designing. All of this is supposed to make us a better person and help us grow. And I am all for it too, regardless of when and how you start. Knowledge, skill, and art makes one a well-rounded person so go for it by all means. The problem isn't that these things don't help us in the long run. The problem is that they displace the honest, self-actuating goals we had on our list and have forgotten over time. What was once a list of unique, personal goals, goals that truly mattered to you, is now a list telling you to sign up for pilates, swing dancing, and pottery classes just like eighty million others.
The trick is to not buy into it. I don't want to run faster than anyone and I don't need to be an awesome cook. I will not be jealous of my well-read friend's library and I will not try to be the best Excel number-cruncher (though I'm pretty damn good at it already.) What I will be, is the best me. I no longer want to be the best at anything and everything. If that means I get a B in Accounting while making more time for my wife and pets because that's what matters more, that is how it shall be. If it means my website gets fewer hits because I'd rather be sitting outside staring at the moon instead of computer code, so be it.
Throughout our lives we have been taught that it is a great thing to be good at something and success is what we should strive for. Society puts a great deal of value on the champions in every field. You cannot fight these uncontrollable urges to be better at everything unless you are consciously aware of your true desires in a given field. From the bottom of my heart, I do not care about running a mile in under six minutes. I never have and never will. However, the moment I see someone dart past me at a park, an annoying little bulb lights up in my head and commands me to "wake up early every morning and start running again so you can be fast like this runner." So I wake up the next morning, run for a few days or weeks if I'm lucky, and then give up. Why? Not because I hate waking up early or despise running, but because running is not something I genuinely want to do at this point in my life.
The simple reason most of our resolutions fail is because we don't want to do them. And on top of that, we are told that we are utter failures if we don't stick to our resolutions and plans - plans that we never even wanted to make to begin with. So this is where we are right now. We make our own dreams but get sidetracked when we get stressed in our day-to-day life and see others succeeding at their own goals. So instead of working on our goals, we pick up their goals because self-help books and self-titled gurus said so. We try hard but fail after we realize we don't really like bending over backwards in yoga or rock-climbing. Then finally we ask ourselves what happened to our goals and why life seems so stressful and joyless despite our every effort at improving things.
I learnt all of this over time after trying to do too many things too fervently and failing miserably at almost all of them. I still hope to do a lot of things but only ones that I really, really want to do and without trying too hard to succeed in most of them. The handful of things that I am passionate about and dedicated to, will still get my full attention but the rest of the things on my todo list will get sort-of done, whenever, if ever. By not caring too much about everything, I am able to care a lot more about some specific things and that I feel is the key to reducing stress and reaching one's personal goals.