Stop. Examine. Reconsider.

January 3, 2010 — 9 Comments

The first time a recovering addict thinks about relapsing and outsmarts the impulse, they’ve formed a additional layer of consciousness: a constant examination of why they might be driven to do something.

Most of us lack this. It’s strange that in our most formative period we were not taught to think this way. Remember back to when you were a teenager. It was almost exclusively a matter of whether some was or was not allowed. Never: “why are you doing this?” “tell me what compels you to get so wasted?” “have you ever wondered why you want a 26 year old boyfriend?

There is no prompting to question the desires themselves – only to check them against the posted rules and guidelines. This creates addicts. Addicts, losers, constant wall-crashers, the people who just can’t seem to function like the rest of us. It strips you have the ability to notice patterns in your own behavior – to catch what strikes impartial observers as being obviously reactions or connections. Most importantly, you learn to make a habit of trusting “the little voice inside you” long before its developed a track record of success.

As a child, parents often recognize this duality. Excuse him, he’s just upset because he hasn’t had his nap yet. And later, in adulthood, we tacitly acknowledge it all the time. The serial single are supposed to recognize what causes them to submarine relationships and men are expected to resist the humorous temptations of their mid-life crisis. But where are these skills taught?

Certainly nowhere I’ve ever been. In fact, we pay lip service to the opposite all the time. Go with your gut. Do what feels right. Follow your own path. But we are the problem.

By definition, what addicts leave with is an ability that transcends the “self” in self-awareness. It is calling the credentials of your instincts into question – auditing them, forcing them to stand up under scrutiny. So while this might not technically be self-awareness, I think it is certainly a kind of self-respect. And do you really believe it’s available only to people who have hit bottom?

Philosophy

December 22, 2009 — 15 Comments

Lately I have felt off. As I felt down, it often occurred to me how long it had been since I’d sat down and read philosophy. I knew I should fix this but I didn’t. A new book would come and I’d immediately pick it up. I’d think “I spend so little time reading now, it would be shame to sit down with something I’ve read before.”

It was a sham. What I was doing was distracting myself. This is what Steven Pressfield calls “the resistance.” I made myself busy so that I would have no chance to feel better. I knew that philosophy requires work and self-criticism and one inevitable conclusion – that my problems were almost entirely my own fault. Their resolution requires an active process that only I can initiate.

Philosophy is the tool with which to do so. As one would say, doctors carry their tools on their person, or more ideally, a boxer’s tools are his person. We should seek to do the same. There is no excuse for being too busy or too distracted. Nor is there any alternative.

One of Them

December 16, 2009 — 18 Comments

I guess what I was trying to say here is that when you start to work in the real world, you see people rewarded for the worst stuff. Things like overcompensation, cluelessness, aggression, shameless self-promotion and so on. This is especially true in Los Angeles. And when you see that happen, it’s easy to question the fairness of it all. What you have to remember that is you’re not refraining from those behaviors out of some “strategy.” You don’t decide to settle on integrity or humility because it will work out better.

The people that find rewards in these types of behavior have accepted a certain alchemy in their soul. They’ve traded in their self-awareness: if they were able to see themselves half as objectively as they saw others, they couldn’t live anymore. You could do this too if you wanted. In fact, it’d probably be easier. But you didn’t choose to not be insufferable after weighing the costs and benefits – it was simply not an option.

Self-Congratulation

December 10, 2009 — 38 Comments

When I read this, I am stuck by the extraordinary lengths that someone will go to avoid ordinary work. I see a young man congratulating himself for exploiting other people’s labor. Economically efficient, sure. Laudatory? Hardly. Consider the irony in protecting the “value” of your time while you brag about how cheaply it can be replaced.

The same goes for most of you auto-responders, automators, travelers and remote workers. How much pride you take in skirting the effort of everyday life. How elaborate the systems you’ve designed to facilitate it. I’m impressed, recently, to see that this force was enough to propel two friends in a boat around the world. Literally.

I think the same when I read this. Now, I know Charlie and he is a great person (Jeff too). He does not, however, have a career. In no way is that a failure, but it is important to look at these things honestly. What he has done is manage to land a series of internships and freelance work that show incredible potential. He’s young (like myself), ambitious and promising. But then again, this is what we should expect from intelligent, affluent, white college graduates.

What is it, then, that motivates us to be so quick to the trigger? Quick to reflect and congratulate ourselves? To wave the all-clear to those behind us when we are only in waist-deep? I’m not sure. All I know is that when I look back and find myself guilty of it I feel ashamed and disappointed. I am discouraged further when I see it incentivized by attention and emulation.

Let’s be frank: life is defined by how much you do, how often you took the difficult road and were rewarded for it. It is not, and will never be, improved by how much you avoid and scheme and congratulate.

Cursory Genius

December 1, 2009 — 9 Comments

A while back a designer posted an unsolicited redesign of the American Airlines website. He wrote “I spent a couple hours redesigning your front page. This is what I settled on. Imagine what you could do with a full, totally competent design team.”

The implication of the whole project, of course, is that American Airlines, a multi-billion dollar, multi-national corporation, didn’t have a designer who could spend a day messing around with the buttons on their website. Of course they do. They probably have 50 of them. That is not the problem.

Naturally he missed many of the systemic issues in favor of aesthetics. For instance, the confirmation time after purchasing a ticket online from American Airlines is north of 45 minutes to an hour – a ridiculous lag for any real time transaction processor. Or, should their website even be a priority when they have old planes that could be made to feel new again with small changes to the entertainment consoles or their archaic overhead storage?

You leave the analysis struck not by its value but by the bitter, obnoxious condescension. American Airlines was never the issue, only ego. It does not come as a shock to find that the author is 22 years old.

Here’s what I’ve learned: separate yourselves from these low-level Others by resisting the temptation to assume it is all very simple and straightforward. It is not. Don’t fool yourself. The problem is rarely the fact that they didn’t have you there to think about it for two seconds. What comes to mind after a cursory glance is an illusion – your young brain baiting over-extension. Deny this impulse and the attention it may offer. Focus on real strategy. On truly understanding what you’re talking about. Leave the bullshit attitude alone because it doesn’t get you anything but alienation.