About nine months ago I took James Altucher up on his bet. I paid for his book “Choose Yourself” with the guarantee that if I wasn’t completely satisfied, I could return it and get my money back. Altucher asked that I at least read the book, before deciding. No problem, I’m a satisfied customer. I’ve started a number of changes in my life based on what Altucher has “discovered” and in my case, it has had interesting consequences. I haven’t suddenly turned into a millionaire, I haven’t written the great American non-fiction book (still doing research), but I have discovered some interesting things about myself and about life that I now think are worth sharing.
The Crap I Carried
The photo above is the pile of stuff that is literally stopping me from doing what I want to do. I call it “The Crap I Carried”. I’ve been staring at this pile for longer than I care to admit. But, in some ways, that’s a good thing. Today, it dawned on me why I haven’t gotten into Tony Robbins’ 4th quartile — or whatever it’s called — you know, the productive work you love. That’s where I want to be. This pile of stuff, is not anywhere near there.
Normally, my desk is a neat, tidy, work area. It doesn’t usually look like this. But, in the past, I’ve always been willing to jump on: every new demand of my time, every new request for my services, every new volunteer organization that needs my help, etc. I hope you get the picture. I’m a normal adult. I’ve always been glad to help, but in so doing, I’ve always pushed my projects to the background. So, I haven’t learned to: play the trombone, or dance like Fred Astaire, or develop an App to allow Twitter users to use 140 words instead of just 140 characters. I haven’t been doing the stuff I want to do. I’ve been doing the stuff the world assigned me.
This is probably why good students fail — yes, I was a good student — because we are always willing to take on the next assignment. We are always willing to do the work for the whole group (not because we like the group, we hate the group, but because we want the good grade more than anyone else does). Life, takes good students and just keeps giving and giving and giving: more assignments, more projects and more crap that the real smart people don’t want to do. You will notice: wealth, self fulfillment, and personal happiness are not in that list.
This morning, it dawned on me why I have this pile of stuff on my desk. I’ve been struggling to get to some of the projects I really want to do — the things that I’ve been interested in since I can remember. At Thanksgiving dinner, I mentioned to my family how most people don’t understand the Gettysburg campaign and how it shaped the Civil War. The “universe” didn’t respond with some enlightenment. Instead, my sister responded at Christmas with a book on the Gettysburg campaign. So, some of the time that in the past would have been devoted to “the pile of stuff” went into reading an hour everyday about the battles from Brandy Station to Lee’s recrossing of the Potomac. But, I’m interested in a lot of things right now. So, the pile has grown as I’ve rediscovered my enthusiasm for my own life.
Life, takes good students and just keeps giving and giving and giving: more assignments, more projects and more crap that the real smart people don’t want to do.
But, now I realize something. It’s impossible to fly with a two ton weight around my neck. I need to take a step back and solve the issues that are causing the pile of stuff to build up separating me from my real goals. I need to cut through the stuff and address the distractions that they represent. Basically, I need to say “No.” to a lot more stuff in my life. And trust me, in the last nine months I’ve said no to a lot of stuff already. I cut back on Cable TV: it costs too much and wastes my time. I cut back on a couple beers a night: to a beer with friends on special occasions (bonus with that one, my sleep improved dramatically). I cut back on my volunteer work, and organizations where I was worrying about issues that honestly have almost no impact on my life. I cleaned out the old books in the basement and gave away clothes.
But, I still have a long ways to go. So, it’s back to the pile of stuff to whittle it down and ask myself harder questions about why I think I need so much stuff in my life. Do I need Olympic bobsledding in my life? It sure seemed like it this weekend… My goal right now is to minimize that stuff in my life, by saying no to pointless distractions. Amazingly, saying “No.” opens up a lot more opportunities than saying “Yes.” ever did. But, to get to those opportunities, I’ve got to do even less. Wish me luck.
BTW: This blog post was inspired by James Altucher’s “Ten Good Ideas List”. I jot down a list every time I make myself coffee in the break room at work. Today’s morning list was titled: The Crap I Carried.