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First off, a quick word of thanks to everyone who jumped on my special offer last week.
I have a lot planned for all of you. It's going to be awesome. :-)
Straight into it this week.
The day will never arrive when you finally have everything under control—when the flood of emails has been contained; when your to-do lists have stopped getting longer; when you’re meeting all your obligations at work and in your home life; when nobody’s angry with you for missing a deadline or dropping the ball; and when the fully optimized person you’ve become can turn, at long last, to the things life is really supposed to be about.
Let’s start by admitting defeat:
None of this is ever going to happen.
Four Thousand Weeks, by Oliver Burkeman
Life has been stressful lately.
I walk around with a small pit in my stomach. It's hard to put into words what it's all about.
Am I overworked? Busy, sure, but not particularly.
Am I worried about the business? Yes - but I've been in situations like this before.
Is it the holidays, maybe? The change in weather? The loss of the sun?
But still, it's there - the pit. The gnawing thoughts. Did I leave the oven on?
Anxiety is the absolute certainty that something bad is going to happen...
Paired with the uncertainty of when.
That other shoe is going to drop sometime. Could be today, could be tomorrow, could be in ten years.
But it always drops.
There isn't much time.
Not for you, not for me.
I know that, because a lack of time - and the awareness of that lack - is the defining feature of being human.
As far as we know, we're the only things alive in the universe that know our time is limited.
That foreknowledge can be tough to bear. It feels unfair. "What if something terrible happens, and that's it? What if I never have time to put things right? What if it all just...ends that way?"
We can't escape this lack of control. There's a shortness, a brevity to us that makes us who we are. We are our lack of time.
Your last words inevitably get cut off mid-sentence.
That's the way it's always been, and that's the way it's going to be.
But it isn't all bad.
Because we know that time is short -
Because we know that happiness isn't guaranteed -
Because we can imagine what could go wrong -
We also have the gift of being thankful.
We can appreciate when things go right, because we know that outcome wasn't guaranteed.
We can imagine the counter-factuals -
What if I never met my partner?
What if I haven't taken that call?
What if I hadn't moved out West?
...and we can imagine the things we'd have missed, the moments never experienced.
Gratitude is not just some feel-good moral truism for a culture without a backbone
(although it's that, as well)
- it's an existential necessity.
Gratitude for the Now - for the immediate, embodied moment - is the antidote for anxiety.
And we need it now more than ever.
How do you do it?
I won't say I have the answer. I don't. I'm like everyone - I forget all the time, I zone out, I lose touch, I obsess about what might happen instead of fully experiencing what is happening.
But I do have a system for reminding myself. It's very simple:
1. Every Monday, I plan my week.
2. The very first part of that process is answering the question: What am I grateful for?
3. Every quarter, I collect all my answers and review them.
There doesn't need to be anything fancy about it - it's a practice, a habit of mind.
The more you train yourself to look for something to be grateful for, the more you naturally find yourself returning to gratitude throughout the week.
I also find that the act of looking back at my collected moments of gratitude cements the process in a profound way.
It's easy to feel that a given quarter was a failure, or was a bad one, if you gloss over all the things that went right.
Looking back over 2021 - quite frankly, one of the most difficult years of my entire life - I can find so many moments of gratitude:
Last night I had a real moment of sensing my own mortality. With Max and Oliver, they were playing in Max's room and I just wanted to be in there with them. As I walked in I had a deep sense that I wouldn't get to do this too many more times, that the idea of being in that moment, walking into a room with the sound of my kids playing, will be so impossibly precious and valuable to me in the future, that I'd give anything to be back there, right in that moment..
Thao hung up new shades in my office. She's always taking care of little details that I forget about or ignore, but that end up having a huge positive impact on my quality of life. That she thinks of those things and follows through on them means a lot to me.
The weather is warming up - the buds are on the trees, it's beautiful out. The sun, the grass, the people milling around, for better or for worse. I'm grateful to be alive another year, to be truly alive, and able to appreciate everything around me. The natural world is beautiful and rare and should be appreciated.
Had a great day off without the kids - hung out with Thao, ate real food AT A RESTAURANT! Felt like finally returning to a sense of normalcy...
If you do not make the awareness of and gratitude for the everyday a habit, it will sneak past you.
You will lose it, and you will forget it, and it will be like it was never there to begin with.
But it is there. All the time, always.
You just have to reach out,
to feel it,
to hold it tight,
to let it go,
and be happy to have shared a moment in the life of the universe.
It will be over soon.
But for this achingly brief moment,
we were all here, together.
And that's wonderful, in its way.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
Cool Things To Read:
Soundtrack for this week's email. :-)
"Feeling good is such a waste..."
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