Day 7 of the Trust 30 challenge, which I skipped over yesterday, was suggested by Matt Cheuvront. It’s a long one!
Our arts, our occupations, our marriages, our religion, we have not chosen, but society has chosen for us. We are parlour soldiers. We shun the rugged battle of fate, where strength is born.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Next to Resistance, rational thought is the artist or entrepreneurs [sic] worst enemy. Bad things happen when we employ rational thought, because rational thought comes from the ego. Instead, we want to work from the Self, that is, from instinct and intuition, from the unconscious.
“A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. Its [sic] only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate.”
—Steven Pressfield, Do the Work
The idea of “being realistic” holds all of us back. From starting a business or quitting a job to dating someone who may not be our type or moving to a new place—getting “real” often means putting your dreams on hold.
Today, let’s take a step away from rational thought and dare to be bold. What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to accomplish but have been afraid to pursue? Write it down. Also write down the obstacles in your way of reaching your goal. Finally, write down a tangible plan to overcome each obstacle.
The only thing left is to, you know, actually go make it happen. What are you waiting for?
In Defense of Rational Thought
This prompt reminds me of everything that I didn’t like about The War of Art. After a lot of useful material about the nature and characteristics of resistance, Steven Pressfield goes completely off the rails in the third section of the book, suggesting that we need to credit gods or angels or Muses as the source of human imagination and creativity. He eschews rational thought in favor of instinct and intuition. That’s a shame, because a little more rational thought might have led to the realization that the human mind—of which rational thought is a small, but inseparable component—is sufficient to dream into being all of the creatures of our stories, including the Muses, angels, and gods themselves.
So I don’t care to follow Pressfield’s lead in rejecting the rational. I don’t know how I’d even go about using my mind that way. The conscious mind seeks out learning and stimulation, collecting raw material for creative work. It may follow the guidance of emotional responses, conditioned tastes, and cultivated interests, and it can apply rationality to the collection process, too, as when we make up our minds to pursue a course of education or read a particular book. We gather all of these inputs, and through processes that are beyond our awareness, unconscious components of the mind catalog, compare, store, and synthesize images, experiences, and words. We dream, we fantasize, we remember, we plan, we imagine, and then one day, we sit down to write. And if everything comes together, maybe we’re “inspired,” and a brilliant story, or a beautiful poem, or a radiant painting spills out of us, seemingly from nowhere.
Once again, I’m afraid that I’ve skirted the point of the prompt. But too many of the premises of the assignment seem flawed. Yes, a child believes the unbelievable…but children don’t produce a lot of great art. The fears that emerge from looking at our goals too “realistically” are fears—products of emotion. Rational thought can be our ally in dispelling fear and going after what we want. We don’t have to give up rational thought to imagine and create great things in our lives.
Day 8’s prompt for the Trust 30 challenge, presented by Corbett Barr:
There will be an agreement in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
What would you say to the person you were five years ago? What will you say to the person you’ll be in five years?
Forward and Back
To the future me, I’d say, “Well done! I knew you could do it. Even though there were times when it got discouraging, you remained mindful of how much you could achieve in small increments. And now you’re accomplishing things I could only imagine—and things I never dreamed of. I’m looking forward to knowing you.”
To the past me, I’d like to say, “You’re on the right track, so stick with it. Be more patient with other people, though. And save every dime! There’s a rough patch coming, but it won’t last forever.”
[Dear readers: I skipped the Day 7 prompt, but I’ll come back to it.]
Here is the prompt for Day 6 of the Trust 30 challenge, offered by Jonathan Mead:
Life wastes itself while we are preparing to live.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
If you had one week left to live, would you still be doing what you’re doing now? In what areas of your life are you preparing to live? Take them off your To Do list and add them to a To Stop list. Resolve to only do what makes you come alive.
Bonus: How can your goals improve the present and not keep you in a perpetual “always something better” spiral?
Planning to Live
I’ve had a hard time with this prompt. I’ve put in a lot of time and effort to become a goal-setter, a planner, someone who lives life as consciously and intentionally as possible. If medical science cooperates, I plan to live a thousand years. It’s hard to adjust my time horizon to one week.
When I was a young adult, I was self-indulgent and selfish, always living for payday, chasing every impulse toward instant gratification. Somewhere in my 30s I got more serious. I became more strategic in my approach to life. I started setting goals and making plans. I’ve worked hard to create disciplines that have helped me accomplish the things that are important to me. I’ve lost 110 pounds, sold a house that I didn’t want, established a writing practice, and climbed most of the way toward being debt-free. My to-do list is full of projects and tasks about improvement, about designing my future life—balanced against getting as much joy and satisfaction as I can from the present moment.
My younger self was chasing after pleasures of a less subtle kind than the ones that interest me now. These days, a lot of my sources of satisfaction are more long-term, deeper, more “big picture.” Big-picture goals take work that you don’t necessarily enjoy in the day-to-day life of the trenches. But that doesn’t mean that obligations that only serve a long-term goal aren’t worth doing. Now that I’m more of a long-range thinker—and doer—I set goals, create projects aimed at achieving those goals, think through the actions that the projects will entail, and then work my way through those actions to get the job done. Is that “preparing to live”? I don’t know. Maybe it’s relishing life on a different time scale.
All of that having been said, I get the point of the prompt. There are tasks we take on every day that are nothing but resistance to living, nothing but running out the clock.
Maybe I have to think about this prompt in terms of clarifying a distinction between “planning for life” and “preparing to live.” I get the gist of it, I think, which is that you can’t spend all your time setting the table—eventually, you should sit down and enjoy the meal. But I guess the thing is…I’m already enjoying the meal. Every day I sit down to enjoy the fruits of my labor: my independent work style, my freedom to set my own schedule, my ability to choose the clients with whom I work, my choices about what kind of work to do. I get to spend time learning every day—and doing all sorts of things that are important to me.
I like where I’m going. Are there things that I do that fall into the category of “preparing to live”? Maybe. It couldn’t hurt to examine my life—and my to-do list—with that question in mind. I’ll have to get back to you.
The Trust 30 challenge prompt for Day 5 comes from Chris Guillebeau:
If we live truly, we shall see truly. —Ralph Waldo Emerson
Not everyone wants to travel the world, but most people can identify at least one place in the world they’d like to visit before they die. Where is that place for you, and what will you do to make sure you get there?
Perú: Making It Happen
I love to travel, and I can think of dozens, maybe hundreds of destinations I’d be happy to visit. But Perú is the place that calls to me the most loudly. I’ve been captivated for years by the idea of seeing the ruins of the Inca and Nazca civilizations and the cities of the Spanish Conquest, of hiking the spectacular mountain landscapes and exploring Amazon jungles.
But there are a lot of sites and activities to choose from, and some of the destinations I’d like to visit require reservations made long in advance. I’ll need to be ready for extremes of climate and geography beyond anything I’ve experienced in Europe or North America until now. It won’t be a cheap trip, and I’ll want to budget plenty of time off from my regular responsibilities. So traveling to Perú will take more research, planning, and budgeting than any of my previous trips.
I’ve already taken the first steps. I bought a guide book, started browsing the web sites of tour companies, and I’ve begun collecting links to things I want to see and do. Most important, I set up “Perú trip” as a formal project in the system I use to manage my time and tasks on a daily basis. I’ve created a long list of “next actions” that lead to the day when I will finally board a plane bound for Lima. The goal of this project is so compelling, though, that I don’t expect to have to push myself very hard to keeping taking action. Collecting information, making plans, setting up a budget, and all the other steps required to make the trip real will be lots of fun in themselves!
Believe me: I will get there.