Monthly Archive: July 2012

I am a spiritual Jeff Lebowski. That’s the problem …

I can’t honestly tell you that I love a challenge.

If I’m totally reflective, I’d snooze my life away in a hammock while waves lap gently against the beach just within earshot over the control of a successful business empire every single day of the week.

This understanding of myself is something that I tend not to shout about because few people in the western world admire you for having lesser ambitions than a hobo. But you’ve got to tell yourself the truth, right? I’m a spiritual Jeff Lebowski despite that I recognise his many failings.

This point was proved to me again recently when I listened to a friend’s plans to build a global business over the next 30 years and all I could think of was the word ‘exhausting’, reminding me as if I needed it, that I’m a wannabe slacker.

I wasn’t always this way. One of the advantages of growing older is that I’ve gained the ability to not take myself very seriously any more. I like me quite a lot and don’t feel the need to constantly bait myself like a chained bear to be better at everything I set my hand to. In many instances, I’m perfectly happy not to be very good at all. Not all challenges are created equal.

I’m aware however that in an odd sort of way, my ambition to be a slacker is even harder to achieve than my friend’s ambition to own a very substantial chunk of Wall Street. The simple reason is that his ambition leads him towards constant action whereas mine, by its very nature, does not. And ironically, he’s got a better chance of a life in a hammock bought by his successes in business than I have simply because thinking up ways to fund my hammock seems to defeat the object.

But that right there is one of the greatest paradoxes of the world humans have built. Those who can afford to lie around and snooze rarely want to. Those who want to, can rarely afford to. And all of it is self-inflicted.

It likely started out as one hell of a good idea

Not all aspects of a recent big adventure in future-shaping my life have worked out as I expected them to, and I’m currently backtracking from two major figurative cul-de-sacs.

And I’m a little pissed off if I’m honest, not with the situations I now find myself in, but with the fact that I’m so much of a dummy that I got into them in the first place.

But it reminds me once again that the worst thing about hindsight is the power it has to blind me to my own courage. I’m the sort of guy who tends to perpetually downgrade my own tolerance for really disruptive decisions, which is damaging considering that like most people, I’ve made so many of them.

What happens is that when things go right, I give myself a mental high five and congratulate myself on my general awesomeness. When they go wrong however, I tend to kick myself most violently for being such an idiot.

And I do that even though I know that both reactions are way out of perspective because actually, the process of making the decision that led to either outcome was fundamentally the same.

I’m well-enough mentally and emotionally balanced to have a pretty standard decision-making process. It begins with a random, often reckless emotional whim, which for the most part I’m able to contain by pouring some logic into the mix, and then it’s all allowed to cool before I actually do anything.

Call it robotic, but when you’re prone to reckless emotional whims like I am, you need to create a process.

That may mean I take weeks to make a decision. It may happen in just a few minutes. Either way, generally when I’ve decided to do something, I’m pretty certain that I’m comfortable with it.

Which is why I remind myself that it’s most critical to judge my decisions not by the end result but by the courage it took to make them in the first place.

Because whether the result is a triumphant victory or a total disaster, it likely started out as one hell of a good idea.

Why Orwellian selfishness matters to me

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm have long been heralded for their prescient storylines and earned the writer a reputation as one of the greatest in the English language.

And it didn’t stop there. In between the two, in 1946, he wrote an essay entitled Why I Write, which with classic Orwellian insight described a human challenge that is still with us today: we’re simply not selfish enough.

In it, he said: “The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all – and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery.”

Ouch. Well, though he was called a lot of things, an optimist wasn’t one of them.

That said, the man had a point.

I don’t know a single person who feels they have an abundance of time. I don’t know a single person who says ‘no’ to enough things and there’s no doubt those matters are related.

But unless you’re uni-dimensional, it’s unsurprising. The major categories of work, home, extended-family, friends and hobbies each demand a share of our attention and for me at least, it’s the latter category – the one that I daydream about spending more time on when I dare to defocus for a moment – that has traditionally received the least amount of my time.

I am first and foremost a writer. In my head, that’s who I am. That’s what I love and that’s where I believe I could achieve my most passionate successes. But notably it is only in the past 18 months that I have felt regularly enough in a position to be utterly selfish, that I have produced anything that I believe even approaches merit in The Baggage Handler.

Could I do better? Well I certainly bloody hope so. But I can tell you without a doubt, it’s going to require ever more selfishness.

It’s funny how that’s sometimes not a bad thing.