People who make things happen scare me. They either drink coffee all day to run around like wired lemmings or they emit a quiet driven intensity that reminds me of Lance Armstrong. Armstrong always made me nervous, even before he fell off the podium of public adulation. To me, the idea of ‘pushing yourself’ to ever greater heights (or lengths) is the human equivalent of fracking; throw enough stress and chemicals into your body, you might produce something interesting and valuable — something that you can sell.
But this is not how creativity works. Nor leadership, innovation, change.
How many newsletters, special offers and updates do you get in your inbox? How many of these are relevant to your life? People in every corner of this world are ‘on it’; they get up every day determined to create content that generates money, business or some other form of survival need. I’m no stranger to this quest. But ultimately, does anyone give a ****? Is anyone going to pay attention if all you are doing is echoing back the frantic dysfunction and stress of everyone else out there?
Journalists, motivational speakers and marketeers have been peddling this approach to life for decades: in our ad campaigns, our pills (smash that cold!), and our philosophies of work (Uber).
For too long we’ve been thinking about ourselves as units of production rather than divine beings with organic bodies and miraculous brains that we don’t even understand. We’ve drunk the Kool-Aid of global competition and it has colonized our minds with its metaphors of struggle, success and overcoming odds.
This is not how life is supposed to be. We don’t need to jump higher, run faster, work longer. We’re not lithium batteries. We need to be less like robots, not more, if we are going to have any hope of outliving AI.
Valuable work requires space, solitude, time. Reflection and inspiration are essential not only for artists and meditators but for everyone— entrepreneurs, activists, CEO’s, parents and presidents — anyone in need of new solutions to life’s problems. Which forgive me if I’m wrong, but seems to include the whole world right now.
So if you’re in the game of trying to create something new, please take a moment to reflect on how you treat yourself, how you treat others, and how we collectively treat the world. They are all connected.
As for me, I don’t make things happen. Things happen around me; and I respond to them with as much presence I can. At first I struggled with this: I wanted to be a shaper, an initiator. But I’ve learned that my magic happens when I’m responding to things: events, ideas, people’s needs; when I’m available for something mysterious and unexpected to happen. Not when I’m forcing something into being that I’ve already decided on in advance.
So maybe you can experiment with not making things happen today— just for a moment or two, while the rest of us take a rest.
If you need some encouragement with this, there’s a game I have started playing with myself: Instead of dreaming up a plan or a goal that you need to achieve, sit quietly for a moment and reflect on what is already changing for the better in your life. What is happening already without you having to do anything about it? A shift in your habits or attitudes perhaps. A skill you are getting good at, without fully realizing it. A good thing or opportunity that’s opening up, that you haven’t properly celebrated.
Doing this will help you to notice and then align with what is happening already, rather than you having to make something happen —because change is a constant; you just have to notice when it’s on your side.
Whether you like these ideas or you hate them, I’m interested in what you think. This point of view isn’t obvious. It butts up against the work ethic of many centuries. I might be wrong. So I’ll gladly engage in dialogue with anyone — as long as there’s not too much caffeine involved.
Laurence Shorter is author of The Lazy Guru’s Guide to Life (2016, Hachette Books) and The Optimist: One Man’s Search for the Brighter Side of Life (2009, Canongate). He lives in the UK with his partner and son.
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