What If You Never Improve?
- Posted by James Altucher
I’m so depressed now. I log onto Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, whatever and I’m just inundated with pictures of self-help aphorisms written by everyone from Lao Tzu to Mein Kampf and re-posted, re-pasted, photshopped, imaged, throw in a cute cat, or someone doing acrobatics, and life is great. C’mon, cheer up! Failure is good. In order to have sunshine you need rain to make the harvest in the spring. Or someting like that.
Some days I simply want permission to fail. I don’t want self-help. What if I’m a janitor and I log in and everyone is copying a URL of an image that someone copy and pasted “The people who fail the most are the people who TRIED the most!” from Confucius or whoever (sounds like Confucius. But I’ve never read Confucius. So it sounds like people who have, for my entire life, copied Confucius so I would not have to read him). I might feel pretty bad at that moment. Isn’t there a rule or something about finding purpose in life and then TRYING to fulfill that purpose. Did I really want to be a janitor?
Ok, as an example, give me one second. Logging onto Pinterest. Great. I knew it. Right at the top. The quote is by the actor who played God in “oh, God”. I like the design: type mixed with drawing on a schoolpad.
George Burns might honestly think the above, but that doesn’t help me when I feel like a failure. When I fail at something I love, whether it’s better or not, I’m going to feel pretty horrible. If something (or someone) I love disappoints me, then I’m going to feel pretty crappy. No matter whether it is “better” or not.
Now I look at my inbox (169,724 unread emails) and I guess I’m a failure. I’m horrible at keeping in touch with people. Even the people I love the most. And then sometimes people write me and say, “I’m really surprised and annoyed you didn’t respond to my latest email.” Don’t you read my blog? I’m dysfunctional at communicating with people, ok? Do you have to remind me? And I love communicating. So maybe God (see above) was right: better to be a failure at something you love.
Sometimes I can’t improve. I can’t always breathe deeply and smile and breathe in compassion and breathe out gratitude. My brain might not want to. I can’t control, for instance, the color of my skin. Nor can I ALWAYS control what my brain does without my permission. If I do yoga I’m going to hit a wall, for instance. Maybe I will or maybe I will not ever be able to do a handstand for 60 seconds straight. And even though Claudia bought me “Spanish for Gringos” and I made it a New Year’s Resolution in 2011 to get better at Spanish I just might never learn it. I might never improve my language skills. I wish I could. But sometimes I can’t. And I promised.
And as we’ve been told in countless books, “can’t” is a bad word. A curse word even. And so is “should” and so is “impossible” and so are phrases like “I’m no good” or “I hate the way I look”. But sometimes I look in the mirror and I just want to puke. I’d like to meet the person who doesn’t. Maybe Larry Page doesn’t. I don’t know.
Yesterday I felt a little burnt out in the middle of the day. I had things I wanted to write. I have three books I want to get together. I have emails to return. I have phone calls to return. I have one or two people I have to disappoint (I’m sorry in advance!). But I didn’t want to do anything. I wanted to take a little break. So I turned off the computer. And I just sat around. I didn’t read any self-help books or fiction. I didn’t return the emails. I could’ve maybe taken a walk but I didn’t. I got a glass of water and sat on my couch and did nothing. There were leaves creating shadows on the windowshade. I stared at them. They were hypnotic.
Claudia said to me, “all ok?” and I said, “not really”. And that was that. I sat there for about an hour. Was I depressed or something? No. I just wanted to do nothing. It was the middle of the day and I had nothing to do. Or, better put, I felt like doing nothing. So that’s what I did. I didn’t improve any aspect of my life. I didn’t write down ideas. I didn’t exercise. I didn’t pray or meditate or anything. I just sat around and did nothing. It was fun doing nothing.
And it doesn’t really matter. It’s only me. I can do whatever I want. Anyone can.
Sometimes its important to think “decrease” instead of “increase”.
I find with people who are practicing a minimalist lifestyle, they get very good first at decreasing the things that take up space in their lives. They move to a smaller house, for instance. or give away some possessions. Its like they first decrease in three dimensions.
Then they might get good at decreasing the fourth dimension: the things that take up their time. They make fewer committments. They watch TV less.
But there’s an important fifth dimension to decrease – all of the directions you want to INCREASE. I’ve recommended constantly something I call “The Daily Practice” – every day incrementally improve in four areas: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. A reader even created a platform at tdp.me for people to track their goals. Whenever I’ve been able to successfully do the daily practice I’ve found my life to be completely different every six months.
But sometimes you just can’t do it. Sometimes I can’t. Sometimes it’s enough to just do nothing. To not think of how much you need to improve. Or how much you need to fail in order to succeed. Or how much you need to go paleo in order to look and feel your best.
To sit and think, “how great is it that I’m doing absolutely nothing right now while everyone else IN THE ENTIRE WORLD is running around.” Decrease the number of things you pressure yourself with. What can you decrease today. Across any dimension. Can you decrease the amount of money you think you need before you are happy. Or can you decrease the pressure you put on yourself to kiss ass at your job? Or decrease the amount of pressure you put on to come up with great ideas, or a “purpose” or “goals”. Sometimes you want to “improve every day” but just as important: “decrease every day”. I’d like to write more books. But what if I don’t? Maybe in the pursuit of decreasing I uncover something I didn’t know about myself. Something that makes me happy that isn’t part of the nonstop drive for success and improvement.
I mentioned this in my last post: a few years ago I wanted to do a fund. Something happened. Someone trashed me to someone who owned some NFL team and the next thing I knew: no fund. I was upset. It almost ruined a few friendships. In fact, it did ruin some friendships. But now I think: man, that would’ve been HARD WORK. I should never have even pursued that in the first place. Thank god I was forced to decrease some of my ambitions, even unwillingly. I should call my ex-friend back and thank him. Because he just called me the other day and I didn’t return the call.
If you sit and do nothing someone eventually will walk into the room and say, “Hey, is everything ok?” Because people might not be used to “decrease” from you. You might be the “increase” guy. The one who is improving every day. But cut yourself some slack. It’s ok to then say,
“Nothing is ok.” Because Nothing always is.blog comments powered by Disqus