A List of Reasons Not To Do Something: Welcome to 2016

I thought a lot about whether or not to post this. But 2015 was a year of change for me, and as I’ve said before, finding time to write about my experiences helps me bridge that gap to conclusion. Last year I started a new job. I moved across the country to Los Angeles. I moved in with a person that I love. And now that I’m on the other side of 2015, I can look back and see that I was slow on my feet for those last few months of the year. 

Change is hard. Looking at some of my biggest changes, I see two tools that help bring familiarity in periods of change. The first is patience (I’m the first to say that I don’t have enough of this). The second is putting in active effort. So I am posting this now as an effort to declare (mostly to myself) that I am actively working to make a new home. 

I am going to start with one new change right here. 

In 2016, I am going to start regularly posting my blog on social media, contrary to what I’ve been doing the previous five years. That sounds dumber that it is. In fact, it’s still pretty dumb, unimportant, irrelevant for 99.9999999% of the world. But the decision is symbolic for me. 

When I started this blog five years ago, my goal was to use writing and the blog as a way to continue my efforts to synthesize content and information instead of merely consuming it. I felt deluged by posts on Facebook and the millions of articles sent to me through email. And I wanted to continue deriving my own conclusions and opinions, similar to how a college student defends hypotheses in a course essay. 

I still plan on using this space in the same manner. But I’m going to be more public about it. 

But like many I have a list of reasons why I don’t think I should be writing publicly. I very much think writing (even blogging) is a creative endeavor. And anytime someone undergoes a creative endeavor what they are doing is undergoing risk. There are always reasons not to do something. Have you ever found yourself holding back on a project or getting cold feet about a decision? I do. There is power in simply naming those fears, putting them down on paper, exposing them so that they can be taken down. 

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic espouses a very similar practice. In Gilbert’s book she reads her own list of fears. The list is built of reasons why one might reject big magic and inspiration even when it chooses to present itself. I was inspired enough to create my own list. And now I am going to share my list of reasons why not to do something, even if that something is as simple as posting regularly on a blog. 

  1. I’m afraid of what others will think of me and what I have to say.
  2. I’m afraid of other people thinking I have no credibility. 
  3. I’m afraid I don’t have enough credibility. 
  4. I’m afraid I have no talent. Or better put, I’m afraid that the gap between my taste and my talent is too wide. I can recognize good work or good art. But that doesn’t mean I can create something equally good myself. 
  5. I’m afraid I won’t be able to continue my day job and create or write on the side. 
  6. I’m afraid of leaving the very safe confines of my day job. 
  7. I’m afraid that I’ve neglected my blog for far too long that everything I put out will feel rusty and less than my best. 

Numbers 1 through 3 comprise probably 80% of the total weight of my fears. They will probably always be there. But this year, I will consciously act in the face of them. It will be a change for me. And change is hard.

But I’ve already thought about that.  

An Interview with Tara Brach, Conquering FOMO, and What Successful Meditation Looks Like

I have said before that I often think of my life in terms of before and after a 10 day silent meditation retreat I spent in western Massachusetts. Hyperbole aside, I still find ways to maintain a focused practice and I recently found this interview between Tara Brach and Tim Ferriss to be a great refresher on why I meditate. 

There's a strong quote in the interview that resonated with me: "Often times, the people that need meditation the most are the people who might also be most likely to quit because they like doing everything successfully." I am not shy to name my addiction to overachievement and this quote from Tara acknowledges the truth that meditation is not something to conquer, but instead a way of understanding how to categorize and employ a framework of living. 

I discovered four categories of insight from the interview:

(1) The Trance of Unworthiness:
When Tara first started getting involved in meditation (she actually lived in an ashram for ten years after college), she went through a lot of the same things I myself go through and the things I hear my friends go through in our present day Western culture which is the question: 'What else can I do to relieve myself of anxiety and stress?' The short answer? Relax more. Tara describes this relentless desire for self-improvement as the trance of unworthiness. And it comes from a mindset that lives in a world of scarcity and not one of abundance and self-love. 

(2) Balance
In my conversations with peers, another problem that is posed is this: What is the balance between acceptance and pushing the boundaries to increase progress? This refers to either self-progress and self-optimization in the personal life, or progress within a specific job function or company. I've thought long and hard about Steve Jobs' accomplishments and what he had to sacrifice to fulfill those, for example. Here, I enjoy Tara's pull from Carl Rogers: "It wasn't until I accepted myself just as I was that I was free to change." 

(3) What does successful meditation look like?
Okay, a bit of a paradoxical question, but my point is that for those of us who want to live a life not removed from civilization (i.e. I don't see myself moving to the mountains of Nepal anytime soon), what is the end goal? To this, I enjoyed Tara's point: The goal isn't to live life without any pleasures or desires (materialism, satisfactions, etc), but the goal is to be aware of when there is tight gripping and control of those objects, rather than the other way around. There is a difference between thinking of Buddhism and mindfulness as an ideal state of being without any desire, and thinking of Buddhism and mindfulness as a state of awareness of what those desires are. 

As an aside: I found some really great pointers in the interview geared towards giving a better way to meditate for the first time. Around the 1:30 mark. 

(4) Having tea with Mara
In Buddhist mythology, there is a popular story that describes the Buddha going out to have tea with Mara. In the Buddhist mythology of Buddha's awakening, one night Buddha sits under a bodhi tree (later known as the tree of awakening). Through the night, the god mara (Mara represents all the forces that create misery. Think jealousy, greed, desire, etc) attacked him. Instead of reacting with emotion, Buddha employed a practice of presence mind thinking so that every arrow, so to speak, was turned into a flower petal. Over the course of Buddha's life, Mara kept showing up. And the Buddha’s reaction to Mara was always to employ an attitude of calm and chill, despite more explosive cries from the guards and the caretakers who would sound the alarms with Mara's presence. In those moments, Buddha would go up to Mara and say, “Hi Mara. Good to see you. Why don’t we go have some tea?"

Okay, so...my two takeaways from the story: 1) Awareness: Buddha sees what is happening in this moment. He has a capacity to acknowledge what is here. Instead of fighting what is here in the moment, there’s an ability to create space for it and find a way to live with it. It’s a way of being with ourselves that is intimate and full, not part in part. 

Both of these together are radical acceptance. And with this, when we respond to the world, we get to respond to the world with our full selves and with our full potential. We aren’t in a reactive mode. 

“Between stimulus and response, there is space. And in that space is your power and freedom.” - Viktor Frankl

(5) Dealing with FOMO (fear of missing out)
I will keep this one short. There's a way to feel fear without being driven by it. There's a way to say that you're going to take a step back and take a sabbatical. This is the exact kind of relationship we can have with FOMO if we want to feel more liberated.

"The hero and the coward feel the same t hing. It's what the hero does that makes him different." - Mike Tyson

Tara ends the interview: "Ask yourself: What am I unwilling to feel?" To become fearless, you first have to feel the fear.