For the last year or 18 months I’ve tried a radical self-experiment where I try to be useful to people. The idea being if I was responsive to people’s needs, they’d be happy, then they’d care about me.
This has not worked out that way. At least, I don’t believe it has. I don’t think there are somehow more people who care more or less about me. Some of the things I’ve done this last 12 months either quietly or publicly include:
- Writing a book
- Starting another book that is in second draft
- Establishing a goal of 10% body fat
- Finishing my bachelor’s degree from 14 years ago (I finished August 8th)
- Running for office and other political activities
- Growing my business to maximum capacity
Much of this idea was a variant on the popular “don’t say no” strategy of relationship and activity-building. If someone asks you to do something, say yes. Maybe something fun will come of it. Except in rare circumstances, that has not been my case this year.
In fact, midway through writing this piece someone called to ask me to travel two hours away to speak to a group of people for 30 minutes. Not only do I not want to do that, I don’t have the time and it’s not particularly valuable.
The problem I’ve encountered, aside from the emotional impact, is I am not a multi-threaded human being. No one is, really. People who are adept at moving between tasks and jobs probably come about that way either only in appearance or by some kind of mental disorder, like bipolar disorder or by being a sociopath. Theodore Roosevelt’s many adventures come to mind. Not only would we consider him a genius by today’s standards, many historians believe he also probably suffered some kind of bipolar disorder to make him swing between manic activity and disregard for life and calmer times to do things like writing.
Humans are not multi-threaded machines, and last I checked I am human. We know this from decades of research, but the human brain is too messy to be able to switch from one task to another without the first task lingering. This gets more complicated as you add stress, anxiety, and other tension like relationships to the mix.
The more I’ve done this year the more convinced I become I’m better suited to slow thinking. I’ve often told people off-handedly “I’m a slow thinker about these things”. The reality is I’m much more inclined to do a few things with more attention than many things with a little attention. I’m also much more inclined to do things I actually have a shot at winning. Much of my time this year has been spent on tasks that deserve more time than I can give and are, generally, unwinnable or unachievable.
And therein lies the nugget of this post: there is nothing more satisfying than accomplishment. And I don’t have many accomplishments this year.
You may look at that list and see fine things. I look at it and see projects that haven’t succeeded, gone far, or weren’t all that hard (undergraduate classes by and large are not that hard, for instance).
The strategy for next year is different: fewer pursuits of new clients, saying “no” more, focusing on projects to the extent they can become something, and being a more single-threaded, slow thinker.