There are days where I can’t decide between DOING EVERYTHING or DOING NOTHING. Saturday started out this way, again, as it has many many times before. However, this is the first time I framed the dilemma so succinctly, and thus I was compelled to make a Rory Gilmore-style PRO/CON list to see if any interesting patterns revealed themselves:
DO EVERYTHING PRO LIST
- Well, everything would be done! EVERYTHING. That seems like a big relief.
- Presumably I would be reaping the rewards of done-ness, since this list is about creating shareable resources or skills that are benefit to me.
- I would feel like a badass!
DO EVERYTHING CON LIST
- Realistically, these are hard projects that I can’t finish in a day, and that sucks right now.
- There are a lot of things I would need to learn to do, and I will feel stupid or get angry looking through terrible references on the Internet. Slow and frustrating.
- I have to do all these things by myself, and that seems lonely and sad.
DO NOTHING PRO LIST
- Whatever I choose, whether it is a nap or watching TV or playing a video game, rewards me right away! I deserve it right? I AM ONLY HUMAN.
- And if I feel like going out, I can do whatever I want! No boundaries! No limits!
- I might see something interesting outside that gives me more ideas, or informs my understanding of something that I’ve been thinking about! Stop and smell the roses!
DO NOTHING CON LIST
- Everything on the Everything List is still there. Progress remains stagnant. Death awaits in the shadows.
- Ultimately, I know that these momentary bursts of excitment are hollow and meaningless.
- Whatever insights I derive are interesting but amount to nothing in themselves without additional effort to structure them into something tangible.
As I look through these lists, I’m reminded of the various “brains” that are facets of my personality, much like the characters in the Pixar animated film Inside Out. I characterize my set of “brains” as having the following motivations:
- My monkey brain wants immediate gratification and reward for little effort.
- My lizard brain wants guaranteed reward and refuses to budge for anything less.
- My strategic brain wants to plan the best possible future, check off those boxes, and be prepared.
- My feeling brain wants to feel joy, freedom, and authentic, making connections with other like people.
- My analytic brain observes the other brains and tries to reconcile their actions with the greater universe (ed note: this is the brain writing this blog post).
But back to the choice of DO EVERYTHING or DO NOTHING…each of these brains has some say in how I choose to act and they get paralyzed on days like today. I would say the decision chain starts with The Monkey Brain, as it tends to be the loudest and jumpiest in the way that Wait But Why’s Procrastination article describes so well. The Monkey Brain hates tasks that I know is going to be lonely, tedious, possibly boring, or just “stupid” for some reason unrelated to the task. The only reliable way to break me out of this funk, as I mentioned last week, is including other people in the startup process. I might livestream what I’m doing, which helps focus me. I might ask my development partner Ben to listen to me talk through a problem get build some momentum. I sometimes find talking with people in the Virtual Coworking Chat Room sufficient. What’s in common is that there’s a sense of connection to even start the work; it’s like I need to verify it is really there.
It struck me that when I’m operating in the above mode, I’m fundamentally looking for activation energy to start, after which I work solo for a chunk of time. What’s interesting is that I’m a different person when I’m with other people solving problems in the same room. What was once tedious by itself becomes an exciting group challenge. I love the feeling of being with other people trying to figure something out together, and then acting together. I’ve only had this experience twice in any sustained manner: once back in high school with my two best computer nerd pals, and then later in 2001, with very special people. Every day brought a new challenge and a new solution, together. We were always WORKING TOWARD SOMETHING together. When my friend Bevan passed away in 2003, I tried to keep the spirit going but eventually I gave up. I commited myself to developing my own Independent Way of Dave (now Sri). I sought to become a creatively-independent solopreneur, self-sufficient and complete in myself, that had the integrity and strength to live or die by my word. I pursued this course because I believed that the Universe doesn’t give me what I desire unless I can put that energy out in the first place. I believed I had to learn to justify my convictions and then be strong enough to act on them, because no one else would do it for me.
I don’t think it’s enough anymore. While I got pretty far developing conviction, skills, and strengths, I also know I’ve been really lucky to have the friends I do. I’ve been really luck to have the business friendship I do also that pay the bills and don’t drain my soul. I’m scared to admit that I need more, because I still haven’t found the magic powers in myself I need to grow independently. I’m also scared because MAYBE I never HAD that magic, and I never will. And I’m scared that if I try reaching for more, I will somehow lose what I have or compromise my values too much. Or even worse, find that it wasn’t worth it reaching for because no one cares…
Yeesh. What a downer. But now that I’ve put the feeling into words, my various brains (which tend to be positive overall) have something to say:
- Analytical Brain: “We don’t have enough data to draw those conclusions. Only through action can we get the data to know for sure. These fears are unlikely to lead to terminal embarrassment. Let’s continue to push for more data. Surely there are people like us out there; we have already found some, so it is probably that we will meet more.”
- Monkey Brain: “Other people are a source of random interestingness, so that sounds fun!”
- Feeling Brain: “What matters too is that WE CARE, and demonstrating this to others creates a virtuous feedback loop. It’s important to keep doing it, because it’s good! Just make sure we don’t overdo it with the energy output, because we need plenty of time to process our feelings.”
- Lizard Brain: “Doesn’t sound terrible, so long as I get enough sleep and people don’t invade my personal space.”
- Strategic Brain: “If other people help us get things done, that’s a win. Other people make the work go faster. That’s another win. We can learn better ways of achieving our goals and benefit from the experience of others. That’s yet another win. We may even be able to take on challenging profits with a higher profit margin by working together as a finely-tuned group, once we are able to develop one. That is a great long-term win. I’m in.”
With all brains weighing in, I think maybe there is a solution worth pursuing.
A Fundamental Statement
Let me start by hypothesizing this truth:
I like tackling problems with a group of value-sharing but diversely-talented people, each person commited to making something interesting happen. Being part of a group like this is the best feeling!
What I think I need to do actively form and lead groups, reshaping my so-called WAY OF DAVE so it’s suitable for a group. As it is, I’ve been already helping manage a variety of groups as a volunteer, but I’ve stopped short of really advocating a particular way. Perhaps I can communicate my ideals and recruit people to support them directly? The very thought is kind of scary, but I’m pretty sure it’s the next stage of personal growth even as thoughts like WHAT IF NO ONE CARES? WHAT IF I’M WRONG? echo in my head.
I’m going to pondering what this all means for a while to get comfortable with the idea, and think of strategies on how to implement some kind of experiment. It’s uncomfortable thinking of myself as being a leader or being in any kind of self-proclaimed spotlight, but there is no reason I can think of NOT to try it. If I remember the point isn’t to gratify my own capability but instead is to develop shared group capability, then it feels less hubristic. I’d like to see more of us prosper and grow. I’d like more of us to experience joy, freedom, and authentic friendship with people who are positive-minded, generous, conscientious, curious, and kind. I really want us to find our each individual Ways and walk them independently-but-together. Perhaps THIS time, I have enough experience to see it through.