0583 – be clear and honest about desired end-states

In the previous vomit I began to start thinking out loud about what my greater vision for my writing was. I began to frame it in grand terms – that I wanted to become an effective communicator who would see things differently and challenge people to see, think and do better. That’s not new, that’s just a restatement of what has always been fundamentally true. That doesn’t make it redundant, I think it’s important to remind yourself of the big picture so that you can see whether you’re making decisions consistent with that bigger picture or not. If it seems like EVERYTHING I’m doing is consistent with it, then maybe I’ll benefit from narrowing down my scope a little. So let’s narrow my scope. How am I going to do the above?

Well, there are some constraints with regards to what I can see and what I can talk about. I’m not going to give the world a new and interesting perspective on Palestine. I’m not going to tell an amazing story about things that I don’t know, that I don’t understand. So first I need to be clear about what I do know, and what I do understand, and what I am on the brink of understanding.

If I’m not careful though I could fall into the trap of writing things that are trivial, that I know too well, that aren’t all that interesting. At some point I said that I wanted to understand procrastination better than anybody else, and that I wanted to write a great guide for it, and I wanted to lift other guys like me out of their funks, to spare them the pain and frustration that I experienced. I think the underlying sentiments behind those things are decent, but I’m also a little wary of that path now – because while I’d definitely like to be helpful, I don’t want that to define who I am and I don’t want it to become my focus. I would like to hang out with and work with high-functioning people, and challenge THEM.

This reminds me of a conversation I used to have over and over again with my boss at our 1-1 meetings. I often said that what motivated me was figuring out how to cross the river in front of me, and then going back and helping others cross that same river. He asked, why not go forward and cross the NEXT river instead?

On hindsight it’s obvious that he had some context and understanding of the scenario that I didn’t. Suppose I wanted to become an expert at helping teenage boys become great at dating, because I felt I wasn’t that great at it myself when I was a teenager. That’s doable, but then you spend your time and energy getting good at something instead of something else. There’s an opportunity cost there that isn’t apparent when you aren’t paying attention to what’s ahead of you. It’s nice to feel good about what you figured out, but you should typically spend the bulk of your time figuring out what’s NEXT.

Is this true? Yes I think it’s true. Life should be lived forward not backwards, especially when you’re young. When you’re old and weary you have plenty of time to sit around and write life advice for young people, if you’re so inclined. In the meantime it makes more sense to think, well how am I broken, how can I reach the next level? Because each time you reach the next level you realize that the last one was just a stepping stone to this one. What’s less obvious is that this current stage is itself a stepping stone to the next one. We get a little philosophical here, pondering about whether one should live in the moment or not, whether one should seek to be blissfully detached, or seek a deep attachment. To inhale or exhale. Obviously you need a balance of both, in some sort of back and forth configuration. Life would be boring if it were really all about one or the other.

I paused writing this at this point to start an outline of “Visa 2020 vision doc”, where I wrote down what I want my life to be like at age 30. I know that I want to be a writer, maybe a full-time writer, but realistically probably still working full-time while writing like a beast in my spare time. I know that I want to commit to eventually becoming a full-time writer, which means narrowing down non-writerly pursuits. Almost everything I do, apart from putting food on the table and a roof over my head, should be focused on helping me become a better writer, and/or helping me reach my goal of becoming a full-time writer in my mid-30s.

Examining the lives of successful writers, there are broadly two paths. One set of people work in a completely unrelated field, and they switch off about it. They work at the post office, or the butcher’s, or they’re a civil servant or something, and then they write at night. Others work in a related field – journalism, copywriting, etc – and they build their chops at work. I need to be clearer about how I manage my time, how I manage my own boundaries. I need to be honest with myself about my career goals. Right now I’m doing software marketing. I love the work environment, I love my boss, I love my colleagues. I don’t 100% love what I do, but if there’s anything I’ve learnt in the past decade or so it’s that “100% love” is an unrealistic and unhealthy target. Whatever you love doing, there’s going to be a bunch of shitwork around it. If you love writing, you’re still going to have to do editing, and keep up with deadlines, and all sorts of things that will be a pain in the ass in its own way.

But the point is… I have to be honest with myself about what my objectives are, what I really want to achieve, where I really want to focus my efforts, how I really want to spend my time. I’m not doing anyone any favors by being half-hearted in everything. I do believe it’s possible for me to give my best at work AND do great writing at home afterwards, but I need to be clear about the goals on both counts.

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