“These actions are not essentially difficult; it is we ourselves that are soft and flabby.” — Seneca
The Human Distillery
When you take a step back, the greatest of people in history are a distillery. The most talented and hard-working of people often produce only a handful (or even just one piece) of great work or events that are noteworthy. The rare and devoted few actually go through a great person’s minutiae — hundreds of thousands of small pieces that were completed daily to work towards that great work.
There is a deep conviction required for this. To spend hours per day working towards something bigger, something that might instead fail quietly. As well as the remarkable forethought to understand what needs to be worked on, and in what order.
Though, perhaps there isn’t such planning. Rather, these great works instead are conjured up organically by a repeating persistence and habitual work. Regardless, the conviction is still there.
For myself, personally, I find I’m only able to recognize a completed project in hindsight — I do not go about working on tasks with the plan being that there’s going to be a neat, finished-product once I’m done. This has only occurred a handful of times, anyways. Whether it’s my early photography, poetry, music, art, or this blog itself.
These projects are impressive or noteworthy by any means, but it’s nice to see that I’m able to accomplish something at all.
As I’m getting older now — I just turned 24, hence this birthday post — and I cannot help but to feel a drive to do more, and to work harder, to be a noteworthy person. This is not motivated out of ego, as it sounds like, but rather a growing sense that I need to take my time and actions seriously.
I am surrounded by memento mori reminders that are plastered around my workspace. A reminder that is uncomfortable, perhaps anxiety-inducing to others. I am going to die one day, this fun and absurd ride is going to end. Each birthday, I get closer towards this, and perhaps that’s why the topics have become increasingly morbid.
But for the past few months, death has become less avoidable as a topic. COVID-19, the worst pandemic in a century, has taken over 340,000 lives as the time of this writing. The eerily prophetic post I wrote last year, “Dying Without Seeing You Again”, would be a far more appropriate piece of writing a month ago, when the exponential growth seemed at its peak, and it felt like none of us were ever going to see each other again. That was a meditation on the acceptance of impermanence, and having the feeling of loving-kindness towards others intensified by it.
To go back to the topic at hand, I believe that if you are able to properly accept how temporary you are, it can really push you into doing. I have a deep yearning to create and leave something behind that’s far bigger than just myself.
I do not care so much for me, specifically, to be remembered — as discussions of people are interesting, but frankly shallow. As Eleanor Roosevelt said: Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.
Instead, I believe the cultivation of ideas, through profound aesthetic and storytelling, is what’s important to leave behind and have others remember and pass down.
Of course, even completely detaching yourself from this, there is still anxiety. Such work requires the investment of years of time and energy — what if you choose the wrong thing?
What if you tirelessly work all your life and it’s all for nothing, or you aren’t personally happy with the finished product? To picture the gifted but miserable artist that’s doomed to go their grave, with the masses popularizing but misunderstanding their work. Does that absence of inner-peace even matter, though — or is the effect on others paramount?
It is obvious that such anxiety is both nebulous and navel-gazing. It matters far more that you do something, even the incorrect thing, than to do nothing at all. So many lives wasted, and so many ideas dead-in-the-water by people who think about the lofty creations they want to achieve, but never act on them.
So instead I decide to act. But what then — where do you start? That’s a very good question, and I’ve essentially been trying to answer it for years for myself.
The Piecemeal Approach
Akrasia, is an obscure Greek word for a universal feeling, the lack of self-control or the state of acting against one’s better judgment. In other words, knowing what you ought to be doing, and instead doing something easier that’s perhaps fun but wasteful in your eyes.
Perhaps I identify with this feeling more intensely than with others — it is an ever-present problem for my wandering monkey-mind. After nearly a decade of constant procrastination, missed opportunities, and general laziness, I have found a partial solution.
More specifically, I have found a tool that allows me to do work, or rather the metawork, if you don’t mind getting nerdy. I’m of course talking about Beeminder, which is essentially the only thing I’ve been writing about for the past few months on my secondary blog dedicated to it.
But why Beeminder, specifically? Because it is effortless. Through the power of APIs, webhooks, and other various forms of technical automation, the things that I find important are tracked and recorded there automatically. I am given a visual representation of my progress with no extra work on my end. It demonstrates to me that I am actually getting somewhere, and I’m not stuck in a nebulous purgatory.
It allows me to take a step back and understand the minuscule, day-by-day advancement towards creating something noteworthy. I have definitely not figured it all out, but at least I’m taking steps in the right direction.
My Current Life: Things I’m Currently Keeping Track Of
Getting somewhere important and creating something big requires a bunch of small steps that nobody sees, and in an act of transparency and pragmatism, I’ve decided to share mine here.
(You can view the progress/graphs to all of these here.)
- Writing: Tracking the amount of words I write per day on Draft, which eventually will become a finished work within one of the following:
- Blog: My current blog, connected via IFTTT on Medium for ease of automation. Although I’m still trying to find my voice, I am going to be starting to post bi-weekly from this point onward.
- Journalbar: A side-blog where I force myself to review and reflect what I want/ought to be doing vs. what I’m actually doing.
- Poetry: I’m currently writing a new poetry chapbook, and publish one new piece per week on Tumblr that I keep track of.
- Twitter: Not exactly related to my other writing, but I’ve been using Twitter as a private, short journal for daily summaries and progress.
- Productive Time: A daily time-track of productive software and websites I’m using via RescueTime.
- Distracting Time: The opposite of productive time. Ideally, I want to be spending all of my recreational time on analogue, since I have to spend so much time in front of a screen for work.
- Daily Activity: Keeping track of my activity via FitBitand my Inspire HR. I’m aiming for 10k steps a day, and I usually take an hour-long walk or bike ride daily–I find it really helps with my ability to work mentally.
- Sleeping: Keeping track of the amount of hours I sleep per day as well. Sleep hygiene is a major issue for me.
- Weight: Keeping track of my weight — though this act is supposedly problematic. I’m aiming for a small, constant calorie deficit.
- Gratitude: Writing down one thing that I’m grateful for, each day.
- Duolingo: Currently in the silver league! Aiming for two lessons in French per day.
- Books: Currently taking out audiobooks on Libby which are not only free, but also give me only two weeks to make sure I get through the entire book, usually listened to on my daily walk.
PS: A New Mission Statement
I am highly concerned with the state of others, both with empathy and attention-to-detail. I often notice when people don’t understand things that are presumably easy to understand, and focus on what needs to be changed to become more intuitive instead of trying to reprimand the person or try to over-explain. (Since things are usually rather confusing.)
I want to dedicate my life to building and nurturing a legacy that’s focused on community — helping people understand and care for each other, as well as depolarize individuals and groups to foster unity. I believe that important work such as this is its own reward, and I value important ideas being recognized more-so than just myself. As long as I am in a work environment that allows me to focus on my values, the details of that environment are very minor to me. Similarly, as long as I have enough money to achieve stability, the details of salary are very minor to me.
In the grand scheme of things, there is a small amount of time we are given where we can focus on what we think is important, and it is too easy to get caught up in what’s safe or easy, so I want to push myself to live in discomfort as much as possible in order to be able to do the right thing even when it’s really difficult to do so.
I hope to work with like-minded people so we can keep each other accountable to these ideals, and who are casual in character, but strict about work being done. I want to hold myself up to the highest standard I can, because I deserve to be able to do the best work that I’m capable of doing. It is important to be weary of burnout, and even more important to find its threshold, to put the most amount of effort you can into work you love without reaching that point