Keep Two Thoughts

Personal essays

Choosing what to do - Essay from Newsletter 12

Are you doing the things you say are most important to you?

Now what

Until recently, I spent most of my time traveling to teach at conferences or in private classes.

Well, more accurately, I probably spent 1/3 of my time doing this, 1/3 of my time preparing materials, and the remaining time was split among recovering from travel, learning new things, meeting friends for coffee, …

So, I’ve been looking at what I should do next.

This isn’t just about the Corona virus. I do this regularly. “Videos” has been on my list for years (along with losing weight and flossing more).

If you ask someone for advice on this, they always ask some version of, “well, what are you passionate about?”

Passion isn’t enough

They are trying to be helpful so I try not to roll my eyes when they follow that up with putting their hand on my arm and looking in my eyes and saying, “no, really, you should do what you’re passionate about.”

Quick guide to getting along with me - I don’t like it when someone I’m talking to things they need to follow up a platitude with essentially a repetition of what they’ve just said. I don’t need their hand on my arm, and looking deep in my eyes when you are saying something like that doesn’t make it more true.

But that’s just another way of saying I’m a crabby old man.

The “do” in that advice

Nick Lockwood’s tweet helped me identify what it was that I object to in that advice.

He wrote, “I sure wish I could figure out why I can’t motivate myself to work on the things I’m ostensibly most passionate about”

Yeah. That. Exactly that.

There are many things I think I am passionate about, but we vote with how we spend our time - and I’m not doing them.

I think we find out some of the things we’re passionate about by observing what we spend time on.

But other things require that we carve out time, energy, and space to accomplish them. The motivation that Nick is talking about isn’t, for me, in the doing - it’s in the preparing to do or in the allowing to do.

Choose change

This Big Think article describes a study on how people make big life decisions.

I had a friend who would say, “flip a coin”. If you find yourself disappointed at the outcome then you know you want to make the opposite choice.

But that doesn’t address the issue being examined in this study. It turns out, we have a bias towards inaction.

This study investigated people faced with a major life choice and suggested they always choose the direction of change over inaction.

Deciding what to do

Another tweet helped clarify how I decide what to do.

John Winokur’s @advicetowriters quoted Chuck Palahniuk “Write the #book you want to read.”

That’s a big part of how I choose my next writing project. I look to see if the book I’m thinking of writing exists - because then I’ll read it. It’s something I’m interested enough to spend a ton of time on and reading is way easier than writing.

I can often find books on the same topic - but they aren’t the sort of book I was looking for. I’ll buy them and read them. If I still feel, “no, there’s something more or something different I wish they said” then I’ll look at writing mine.

Years ago I wrote a book on programming the Mac for The Pragmatic Programmers. First, I looked for the book I wanted to exist. And then, because I was an editor there, I tried to recruit other writers to write this book. When that all failed I gave in and wrote the book.

It took a long time and I ended the project with more passion for the project than I’d begun.

So yes, do what you’re passionate about - but also what you’re passionate about you’ll do.

It doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot of work and commitment. Most writers know that it isn’t exactly motivation - it’s getting your behind in the seat day after day. Word after word.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 12. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

See also Dim Sum Thinking — Theme by @mattgraham — Subscribe with RSS