The Usual, With More Joy Please

Here’s a thought experiment: If you had to relive your life, but everything would happen the exact same way it did before, what would you do with that chance?

“Well, is that even a chance at all?” you might say. After all, you can’t change anything. You can’t undo any regrets. Can’t choose right when you chose wrong. Can’t fix any of the situations in which you felt the most helpless. So what is there to do?

According to the friend who shared this idea with me, you would do the only thing you could do: Savor it all a little more than you did last time.

Knowing how fleeting the entire experience has been up to now, knowing the ups that follow the downs and the downs that follow the ups, you would do your absolute best to enjoy every moment. You would try hard to be present, to soak in the beauty, and to dwell in the struggles – for each minute only happens once, each pretty sight will become a memory, and each hard-earned lesson must last as long as it can.

The question that arises from this entire experiment, then, is why don’t we do this now? Our lives unfold as they unfold. Some bits we control, others we don’t. Some choices we get right, others we don’t. Often, we must wait years to see the full picture – so why don’t we enjoy the puzzle pieces in front of us as best as we can?

Life is not a waiting room. It happens all the time, even in the moments when we most feel like we are just waiting. Those moments, too, are moments to be enjoyed, or, if they’re non-happy ones, at least savored. The next time you order a drink at the bar, trying to kill time until your friend arrives, by all means, order the usual – just please remember to ask for more joy.

Find the Sound Barrier

When you leave work at 5, get home at 5:30, and plan to sleep at 11, you have six hours to do things. You might relax for 30 minutes, do chores for an hour, then prepare dinner and eat with your family. Around 8, you tuck the kids in for the night – and then you still have three hours left. You could watch a whole movie and still read for an hour before turning off the lights.

When you leave work at 6, you’ll likely cut the relaxing. You’ll scramble to do your chores and make dinner in time, as a result of which you’ll bring your kids to bed late. By the time you finally fall down on the couch at 9, you’ll still have two hours left – but now, given you didn’t have any time to relax before, that doesn’t feel like enough. You were running around all day! You deserve more than two hours! As a result, you’ll either stay up way too late (“I’m taking what is mine!”) or go to bed angry.

When you leave work at 7, you’ll barely have time to make dinner, let alone eat in peace. All hopes of the kids sleeping early go out the window. Whatever time for recovery is left feels like a taunt more so than a break. “Really? I get 10 minutes of downtime?” You’ll still be angry about the lack of time, but you’ll also be disappointed with yourself. “I’m a terrible adult. I have let myself and my family down.”

Somewhere between 5 and 7 PM, there is a sound barrier for “leaving work on time.” As long as you go home before crossing it, you’ll feel anything from great to okay about your day. Once you blow past it, however, nothing can save the day. The only question is how bad you’ll feel by the end of it.

A similar sound barrier lies between 1 and 3 AM. It is the one for “leaving the club to save the next day.” Go to bed between 1 and 2, and you can get in eight hours by 10 AM. Not too bad. Go to bed at 3 or 4, and you might as well sleep till 3.

There are many sound barriers in life, falling into the most varied places for each of us. Like the real sound barrier, you can never see them, but you’ll always feel it when you smash through. Despite being invisible, sound barriers are something you can look for – if only by accidentally crossing their lines.

Wherever you feel your contentment short-shifted, or your happiness falling short of its potential, find the sound barrier. Learn to observe the hidden boundaries in your life, for treating them with respect means nothing more than giving yourself the appreciation and dignity you deserve.

Passion vs. Fear

When we think about finding our passion, we tend to believe that once we discover the thing that sets us on fire, we’ll never be afraid again. We’ll plow into our challenges fearlessly, like Captain Ahab plunging his boat headfirst into every next crushing wave. That’s not the case.

Passion gets you to act despite fear, not without it. “Find a passion as large as your fear,” Matt Haig recommends. I think you should find one that’s slightly larger. Just enough to get you to write your book anyway, publish your album anyway, take the interesting but lower-paying job anyway.

Passion is not the antidote to fear. It is the bigger sister that keeps fear in check. “Enough of your nagging. We’re doing this. Keep walking.”

Build a passion until it is big enough to boss your fear around. You’ll never be fearless to the point of heroic delusion, but you also won’t just stare at the iceberg while crushing right into it.

Just Before the Rain

Yesterday, a rain cloud finally alleviated some of the past week’s scorching heat. My studio has a big glass wall facing south. In the summer, it gets about ten hours of sun. The result is a greenhouse in which you could probably grow tomatoes at twice the speed, but where humans can’t sleep very well. Ergo, thank you Jupiter.

Better yet, it kept raining. Right until I left the house this morning to go to work. I didn’t need a jacket. I didn’t have to fumble with my umbrella. I walked for 15 minutes, and as soon as I sat down at my desk, boom – more rain. Sometimes, I do look for the hidden cameras. You can’t make this stuff up.

Whenever I make it somewhere just before the rain, I write it down in my gratitude journal. The same applies when the sun shows up for my walk, when the wind decides to blow in through my open window, or when the snow melts in just the right places for me to walk without slipping. Always thank twice.

The best miracles are the ones we take for granted. You can’t measure the value of getting home dry when the odds are against you, but you can acknowledge it. When you do, you might realize it’s worth a lot – and that realization itself is worth even more. Turn your for-granteds into grateful-fors. It’s not every day that you make it home just before the rain.

You Don’t Need to Think to Exist

That’s a key lesson I learned from meditation.

You are not your thoughts. You are merely their thinker.

What happens if the thinker stops thinking? Not much, actually. Your mind goes quiet, but you don’t cease to exist. You just…sit there. Or lie there, because in fact, you exist without thinking every day – we call it sleeping.

Every morning, you wake up, and you realize: You’re still here. You powered down the infinite thought fountain for a bit, and it was fine. The machine is happy to turn back on anytime. Though not the main point of the exercise, meditation, too, will give you glimpses of what it is like to exist without thinking.

It’s a powerful realization to have, this separation of thought and aliveness. Usually, we equate “being alive” to being 100% immersed in thought. We don’t naturally grasp that you can have one without the other. It really makes you wonder: “If I can exist without thinking, how much of my thinking is even necessary?”

Regardless of what you believe the answer to this question may be, one thing I think is okay and even necessary is spending some portion of our lives just existing. There’s a reason one third of our hours goes to sleep, and we know recovery shouldn’t stop there. Sometimes, I even use “existing” as an official excuse for saying no to my friends: “I’m sorry, I can’t. I need some time to exist.”

I’m sure there are many ways to “exist” beyond meditation and sleeping. Maybe all flow experiences qualify. Whatever you find to be the vehicle that works for you, I hope you’ll make time for the “being” part in “human being.”

You are more than just a thinker, and your worth is not tied to your thoughts.

Your Job Is Not to Judge the Work

Your job is to make more of it. You don’t have to make more of the same if you don’t feel like it. You don’t have to give the crowd more of what it wants. All you have to do is ship more honest, creative, daring art.

The Lost City is an adventure comedy about a washed-up writer of cheesy adventure romance novels. Finding herself trapped in a real adventure with the not-exactly-bright cover model of her books, Loretta Sage claims her “schlock” writing is meaningless, to which said model, Alan, responds:

“I was so embarrassed that one of my friends might see me in that wig on the cover of your book that I avoided talking to them for months. And then one day, I’m walking home, and I hear this lady yell, ‘Dash!’ She runs up, and she is so happy. Then I thought, ‘How could I be this embarrassed about something that makes people this happy?'”

In an enlightened moment, Alan explains Loretta can do whatever she wants – but she should never diminish her audience based on which parts of her work they like or don’t like.

You are not the critic. You are the creator. Afford your work – and the people engaging with it – the same courtesy with which you hope we will approach your art: Never judge a book by its cover.

Polarized Glasses

I have a pair of polarized sunglasses. As soon as I put them on, everything looks crisper. When I’m walking through a forest, the leaves seem greener. When I look at a car, its paint job feels brighter. It’s like an Instagram filter for real life: You crank up the sharpness and saturation, and suddenly, the whole world is covered in a coat of shiny lipgloss.

It’s fun to wear polarized sunglasses – but when the sun sets, it’s time to take them off again. Your eyes will need some time to get used to reality again, and even if it’s not quite as glamorous, that is the place we live in. It is important to, most of the time, see that place as it is, not only as it could be. Otherwise, how can we help it get from one state to the other?

The same applies to other, less literal filters, like Instagram’s desire-maximizing algorithm, an extravagant night out, or a well-off friend taking us for a spin in their car. Like wearing polarized sunglasses, such joyous occasions are, of course, part of life, but they are joyous only if they remain the dots on our “i”s.

When we view life only through our best experiences, it loses all its color. Don’t numb your taste buds by overstimulating them. Deep down, we all know there’s a lot to be seen and felt, even on the days when we forgot our sunglasses at home – maybe especially on those.

False Alarms

I’ve lived in my building for four years, and we’ve had around ten fire alarms in that time. Whenever the siren rings, all tenants must go down into the lobby or wait outside the building for the fire brigade to arrive.

Sometimes, we find out the reason for the alarm, and most of the times when we do, it is either a test or something trivial, like someone smoking in their room. Naturally, everyone rolls their eyes and wants to go back to bed.

Not too long ago, we had three fire alarms in a single week. Eventually, the concierge confirmed the alarm itself was faulty. That’s not good, because it makes people go from rolling their eyes to losing faith in the alarm altogether – but the last thing you want is folks staying in their rooms when the building is actually on fire.

It’s hard to keep playing by the rules when you know the rules are flawed, but when it comes to “better safe than sorry,” we should try our best to keep doing it.

More importantly, however, we should only sound our alarms when we need them. Do you have to call an all-hands meeting over one team’s mistake? Did you try calming down the client before panicking in your boss’s office? Is it really the last chance you’ll afford your friend to make up for being late?

Be careful what you yell about. You can only trigger so many false alarms before the bell stops working.

10,000 Days

July 4th, 2018, was my 10,000th day on this Earth. Independence Day. How fitting. I was 27 years, 4 months, and 18 days old.

There was nothing special about the day. In fact, I don’t even remember it. And yet…10,000 sunrises. 10,000 times I went to bed. 10,000 times I woke up. Nearly 10,000 times I brushed my teeth. Nearly 10,000 showers. And a lot of living that happened in-between.

Of course, nowadays, most people live not just to 27-and-a-half, but to 30 and then some. Yet, just 150 years ago – which is only a little more than 10,000 days times 5 – most people didn’t. In 1870, the global average life expectancy was 29.7 years. Having turned 31 this year, I would already be an outlier by those standards.

And why not use those standards? Sometimes, looking back is more useful than looking forward. It is the kinder option, usually, so use it when we need kindness we shall.

It’s true that average is for losers, and I’m sure in your career, you have no problem giving yourself a hard time about this. The race towards our place in the sky, however, is rarely won by being a little bit faster. It is by stepping out of the race altogether – refusing to let ourselves be measured with any kind of stick that dons an “average” marker – that we’ll find both our pace and our place.

If celebrating our 10,000th day as something a little more special than a regular birthday or even the independence of a nation is the kind of ritual that helps us do that, then I think in that case, using (an old) average to our advantage is more than fair game.

Here’s to the next 10,000 days.

Forgetting the Basics

To enter a WeWork building, you need a card. The card opens the front door outside of business hours, which, in my building, start at 9 AM. It also opens the back door and, really, any door inside the building, many of which you’ll have to pass throughout the day to go to the toilet, the printer, the phone cabins, and so on.

Given how essential the card is to the WeWork experience, you’d think everyone would have theirs on themselves at all times, and yet, one of the most commonly overheard lines is “I forgot my card.” Sometimes, I see someone waving at me from the front door before 9 AM. I open it and hear: “I forgot my card.” I see people crossing the hallway, talking to each other. “Can you open this for me? I forgot my card.”

Now, cards can absolutely be forgotten. It happens. We all misplace things on occasion. But if you can find a different case of someone forgetting the very key to the building they work in on a daily basis, the only logical explanation is that not everyone is just occasionally forgetful. Some are forgetful by default – and when it comes to the basics, that’s not a good thing.

When a student showed up one hour late to his first class of the semester, Professor Scott Galloway from NYU’s Stern School of Business asked them to leave and come back the next class. The student later complained, explaining they were sampling three simultaneously occurring classes. Galloway’s email response went viral not only for its biting humor but also for its profound life advice: Get the easy stuff right.

Being creative, leading others, making a difference; these things are hard. Showing up on time, being respectful, keeping your key card in your wallet; these are easy in comparison. The basics aren’t enough to succeed – that’s why they’re basic – but without them, we don’t have a baseline to start from. You can’t do a triple somersault if you don’t set up the trampoline.

Don’t forget the basics.