Look at Your Life, Look at Your Choices

My wife and I had a long discussion about technology and not being in the moment. I was asked how long can I go without my internet connected phone or computer? Am I addicted to social media, constant updates, and instant validation? Where is my mind?

It made me question if technology has made us more selfish, self-absorbed and anti-social? Are we less aware of the world around us? Have we lost true intimacy with others?

Her observations on my behaviors shined a light on how I’ve been for the last several weeks. Which is to say, not in the moment and definitely in my own little world.

The discussion reminded me of something I had saved a while ago. Spoken-word artist Richard “Prince Ea” Williams has a pretty cool video addressing this very problem.

Our choices define us. It’s a choice to constantly be on the computer or on the phone and not in the moment. My brother-in-law likes to use the phrase, “Look at your life, look at your choices.” He says it in a joking manner much of the time, but it’s also a good step when evaluating one’s actions.

We make choices all the time about how we react to the world around us. Do we retreat? Do we keep our head down and our eyes on our phones or do we make a point to pay attention?

Again, I’m reminded of another video. Author David Foster Wallace was asked to give the commencement address to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College. This is Water made an impression on me, but I haven’t listened to it in a couple of years. This video adaption illustrates the most important point of his speech: you get to make the choice. He advocates switching off the default settings focusing on how unfair everything is and taking control over your thoughts to be more aware, and, in turn, well-adjusted and less selfish.

Finding happiness is often a choice to be happy. I’m constantly accused of being a “glass is half-empty” kind of guy. I get asked repeatedly why I can’t be more positive. It’s a choice. My plan is to try and make some positive choices in my life.

I will actively choose who my friends are on Facebook. My default setting was to friend people I used to be friends with, old work buddies, high school friends, college friends, etc. Now, I’m going to go through my friends list and decide just who I want to see in my feed on a regular basis. I want to surround myself with smart, interesting people I like and respect. Anything else just adds stress.

I’ve already culled my Twitter follows, but my default has been to have it up constantly. Evaluating my addiction, I’m using it under the guise of learning what’s going on in the world but in reality I’m just distracting myself. Plus, rarely does checking my feed add one ounce of happiness to my life.

Focus is important. I need to focus on my family first and the rest of the world via technology a far away second. I get distracted far too easily. I need to focus on what matters. Focus is also a choice.

Choosing the right path is ultimate decision.

Let’s choose to be mindful, present and happy. I bet we get a ton of creative work done.

A Subtle Art

In general, I am a pessimistic person. My glass is always half empty. I am quick to take extreme, black or white, all or nothing, positions. I predict the worst in every situation.

My anxiety is high. My blood pressure is elevated. My fear of the unknown is ramped up to 11. My self-induced stress level is through the roof. Politics, sports, and pop culture oftentimes tear me apart and I have trouble finding silver linings.

I recognize these less than stellar qualities in myself and, now with my attention as of late focused on current events, they bubble and froth. However, it’s really not just about the election, baseball trades, or basketball recruiting. My belief is there’s something more going on. It’s a general malaise floating around me like the cloud of dirt around Pig-Pen of the Peanuts gang.

I can’t enjoy anything unless I’m emotionally detached. I didn’t care who won the World Series and found it fun and exciting. I was also genuinely happy for my friends and family who are long-time Cubs fans, but don’t tell anyone. If the St. Louis Cardinals would have been in the Fall Classic, my emotional barometer would rise and fall with every pitch. If they would have lost, I would have been a wreck.

I used to follow college basketball and football recruiting at the University of Illinois practically religiously. I can’t do it anymore. The highs are never high enough and the lows are devastating.

Just watching regular games at home can be difficult. I scream at the players, the coaches, the refs. I get worked up and my self-induced stress level is always close to hitting the red line.

My wife asked me recently what makes me happy? I said my family, my extended family, lots of external things like a good book, music, movies, good writing, art, being creative. She said it’s important to remind yourself what to care about and, more importantly, what not to care about.

That is my problem―I care too much about things that I shouldn’t let affect me. Prioritizing the important things in my life and keeping my focus there is one of my biggest personal faults.

So, I bought a book.

Yeah, yeah… it’s a self-help book, but one that has surprised me with every page turn. Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of the Not Giving a F*ck is making me think about things in ways I haven’t before. It’s funny, when I tell my wife about some insight or thought process from the book she just smiles and says something akin to, “I’ve been telling you that for years…”

The premise of the book is simple. We care far too much about situations and things when they do not deserve the time and energy. Manson says it this way (warning: there’s a lot of “fucks” coming up. He doesn’t give a fuck. Neither should you.):

We give a fuck about the rude gas station attendant who gave us too many nickels. We give a fuck when a show we liked was canceled on TV. We give a fuck when our coworkers don’t bother asking us about our awesome weekend. We give a fuck when it’s raining and we were supposed to go jogging in the morning.

Fucks given everywhere. Strewn about like seeds in mother-fucking spring time. And for what purpose? For what reason? Convenience? Easy comforts? A pat on the fucking back maybe?

This is the problem, my friend.

Because when we give too many fucks, when we choose to give a fuck about everything, then we feel as though we are perpetually entitled to feel comfortable and happy at all times, that’s when life fucks us.

I always thought if you didn’t care and were indifferent to things, you could simply float through it all unconcerned and unaffected. Projecting indifference made me feel “too cool for school.” I was “above it all” and I think, in retrospect, I came across like a giant douchebag. A know-it-all. An asshole. I was selfish.

So, I turned my energy into caring about things. I gave a shit about everything. My passions ruled my emotional state at any one time. Now, I’ve found I care far too much about everything and will spiral into depression and self-pity when outcomes are not to my liking. I was entitled to my happiness… dammit.

Not caring doesn’t work. Caring too much doesn’t work. Is there a balance?

Manson describes balance by explaining how those “who don’t give a fuck” think, “They say ‘Fuck it,’ not to everything in life, but rather they say ‘Fuck it’ to everything unimportant in life. They reserve their fucks for what truly fucking matters. Friends. Family. Purpose.” So, step one for me is to define what’s important in my life and spend my time, energy and “fucks” there.

There’s an old saying about not crying over spilled milk. It means to not focus on the little problems. Manson addresses this as well:

If you find yourself consistently giving too many fucks about trivial shit that bothers you — your ex-girlfriend’s new Facebook picture, how quickly the batteries die in the TV remote, missing out on yet another 2-for-1 sale on hand sanitizer — chances are you don’t have much going on in your life to give a legitimate fuck about. And that’s your real problem. Not the hand sanitizer.

I need to spend my time, energy, and “fucks” on the things that matter. It means finding what that actually is and pursuing it. What should I legitimately give a fuck about?

So, what is going on in my life?

I have a beautiful wife, great kids, a nice house, a good job, an awesome family and a few close friends. I’m never going to write the “Great American Novel” and that’s OK. I’m never going to run like I did in high school and college and I’m OK with that. It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t write a novel or get into better shape. I absolutely should, but my priorities need to be set and family comes first.

With the new year fast approaching, my focus is going to shift. I spent far too much time worrying about the wrong things and making myself miserable. My road map for 2017 is to focus on my family, my creativity and the things that bring joy to my life.

It means I need to look for experiences that bring me happiness. I’m going to finish my short story and essay collection. I’m going to market Goodnight Princess to more than friends, family and acquaintances. I’m going to go on a real Honeymoon with my wife. Maybe I will write that novel and get into better shape too.

Politics, sports and pop culture will still be a part of my entertainment diet, but I’m going to pull back from letting it take over my entire life. It’s unhealthy. I need a change of perspective and a new road to travel down.

These are the things that matter:

My wife.

My kids.

My work.

I’m going to plant my tree here and quit chasing happiness externally. The things that matter bring me untold joy and I will remember where I should focus my time, energy, and “fucks.”

Howabout you?