This weekend wasn’t as productive as I was hoping it was going to be. That’s interesting– Why do I say hoping? What does hope have to do with it? “Hoping” suggests that I leave it up to randomness or chance, that I don’t take control. I need to hope less and design more, schedule more. On the plus side, I did break some lifting PRs– Bench 1RM of 70kg, squat 1RM of 82.5kg, 5RM of 62.5kg. That felt good. And then I ate pizza afterwards. Score!
Last Friday I had a pretty good conversation with a few colleagues over coffee, and revisited some old ideas about mental software, models of reality, the language that we use to speak to ourselves. How words like “big”, “great”, “important”, “meaningful”, “best” and so on can be poisonously loaded. How we ought to take the time to be very, very clear about our desired end-states.
What are mine? I’ve tried thinking about this several times, but it still feels like I haven’t really scratched very far beyond the surface. (That said, while the feeling is consistent, I do believe I’ve made progress and discarded many ‘outer layers’. So I’m always scratching at the surface of the next level.)
I was thinking also about how… after re-reading an old Superman comic (where he spends all day trying to save a single suicidal girl, which is definitely not the most optimal thing Superman could be doing with 24 hrs) and thinking about several other recent slice-of-life comics I’ve read recently… that a lot of life is definitely about recalibrating expectations. About knowing that your expectations will be recalibrated for you. That the payoffs you you think you’re going to get are less likely to materialize than you think, and even IF they did, they’re likely to be less rewarding than you think. And you’re going to have to be okay with that, or you’re in for a miserable time.
I mean, it’s neither right nor wrong to want to be a Great Man Of History. But the question is, why? Is that really a good or healthy target to have? Why is that a desired end-state to begin with? The assumption I think is that it’s a sort of Sinatra Test. (If I can make it in NYC, I can make it anywhere. If I can be a Great Man Of History, I must have lived a good life.) But why allow your happiness to be held hostage by something that will involve so much luck and serendipity and randomness? There are GMOH who weren’t happy, and non-GMOH people who are. Supposing being a happy GMOH is out of the question (since that’s perfect-optimal), what would I settle for? Would I rather be happy but not Great, or Great but not happy?
We’d have to dig into what happy means. And I think it gets cylic because part of what makes me happy is the idea that I’ve achieved something. Why? What’s so great about achievement? All achivements will fade away in the end. Remember Ozymandias. Remember the heat death of the Universe. Glory and legacy are, in the grand scheme of things, as transient as rainbows.
So I think if I have to choose between working hard at a legacy that I may not realize, and will not be around to enjoy, and being happy in the present moment, moment by moment, I will pick the latter.
The knee-jerk reaction I get then is, so why not just become fully hedonistic, eat junk food, smoke cigarettes, live fast? That’s because the “now” is a pretty long now. If I had just one day to live, sure. Give me all the junk and all the drugs. But I expect to live for, say, at least 5-10 more years. And hopefully another 10 more years after that, and so on. This is where things start to get a little blurry because I’m bad at making long term plans, and they never seem real. Hell, I struggle with deadlines because I tend to put them off until the last minute. But I can’t afford to do that with this. Death is something I intend to overprepare for.
Uh. So what then? What was the legacy I was hoping for? I suppose I’ve always thought that if I have any shot at being “legendary” at anything, it would be at being a writer. Not in my current form, of course. But after say another 50, 60, 70 years of practice. I don’t intend to stop. I intend to keep getting better. How great can an individual get? Where should you set your target? Well. What was Shakespeare’s attitude towards his writing? What about Homer? Marcus Aurelius? Voltaire? I guess I get the sense that these people weren’t too obsessed with trying to enter some sort of great list, they were just doing their best at doing what they thought was good, what was right. And as I think Aurelius put it, not even the Gods can ask more of you.
But yeah, so. I want to be the best writer I can possibly be. I want to stop worrying about my legacy or prestige or anything like that, and focus instead on writing every day, on continuing to get better, on dissecting what I’ve done. I was going through my workflowy earlier and realized that there’s so much rewriting work I have to do with my older word vomits. I’m almost avoiding it subconsciously because I know that it’s going to be a tedious and frustrating experience. But I got to embrace the suck. This is the one thing that I know for certain I’m going to be more-than-willing than 99% of people to do– to go over things over and over and over until they’re tidy, pretty, beautiful. I’ma gonna do just that.
But that’s just the writing bit, though. There is so much more I need to explore and expand on (and subsequently compress) about my desired ends. With writing, though, I guess for now it’s volume. And then it’s rewriting, and compression. And I need to be making progress on that practically every day, so I don’t fall into the lulls.