The deeper I go into the nature of things, the more I see paradox.
Where there is light, there is darkness. Where there is good, there is bad. There’s a reason that the Yin/Yang symbol has withstood the test of time. It’s a map of reality. I’m learning there is no such thing as Good or Bad, really. It’s perspectival, in that one man’s food is another man’s poison (I think that’s how the Bible puts it), or one being’s poop is another being’s fertilizer, if you like. It’s also a blend, in that everything good has within it something bad, and everything bad has a redeeming aspect within.
As deep as I can dig, this seems to be always true. There is nothing purely good, or purely evil. Purely light, or dark.
I have done things that, depending on who you are, may make you think I’m a downright bad person. Probably many people I happened upon in college, during the throes of my drinking days. We won’t go into specifics on this post, but suffice it to say I didn’t much care about other people, except in as much as they could help me get what I wanted. I sometimes do that even now, but people who know me now can (I hope) attest that at least I’m not PURELY an asshole. Most people who know me now, I think, think I’m quite a good person. This would no doubt shock some people in my earlier lives.
Depending on which part of me you are familiar with, you think I’m mostly good or mostly bad, but either way it’s nuanced. Which brings me to today.
Today I was confronted with how one of the things I like most about myself, the aspect of my personality which has gotten me so much, which I’ve always found so positive, also has a dark side.
And it’s because of that dark side that, after publishing a post every weekday for some time now, I’ve decided to ratchet down the pace of this blog to 2x/week.
One of the things I know about myself is that I keep my word. When I say I’m going to do something, I do it. End of story. It took a lot of work to develop that relationship, a lot of trying to keep my word, failing, confronting that failure, trying again, pushing past whatever is in the way, succeeding, trying again, etc., but for the last 10 years or so I’ve been enjoying a relationship with my word which is essentially iron clad. When I tell myself that I’m going to do something, then I will move heaven and earth to do it. It’s even more effective when I tell someone else, because then there’s the social pressure of letting them down as well. Can’t chance looking bad in someone’s eyes, so better hustle and get it done.
This is probably the single biggest character trait responsible for whatever success I’ve had in business. Once I say I’m going to do something, it doesn’t matter what life looks like, that thing gets done. I’ve tried to pass that trait down to our employees because it’s been so valuable to me, and for the most part I think we do a great job, and our business has flourished on our collective commitment to DWYSYWD (do what you said you would do). From my experience, developing a habit of giving and keeping your word is among the most powerful things you can do for your career and life, hands down.
It’s from this framework of unquestioning DWYSYWD that I started writing a month ago. I didn’t really know if there was a point to the writing, as I had nothing to accomplish by being open online. I didn’t have a goal, and in fact resisted the idea of a goal out of principle. I just liked to write, and something deep inside me made me feel like now was the time, after 10+ years, to finally get back on the horse. So there was really no outside reason for me to write so much, but it didn’t matter. I had told myself I was going to write every day, so everything else beyond that was immaterial. I would simply write every day, and life could work its way around that fact.
And, as per usual, I did. Every damn day, including many inconvenient days waking up earlier than 4 in the morning. And now I have a bunch of writing, some of which might be ok, and more importantly than that I have gotten back into the swing of the writing, which in retrospect was probably the point.
But like everything, there’s a Yang to this Yin. There’s a downside. And for me, I have recently learned that one of the reasons I’m so black-and-white about my relationship with my word is tied up very deeply in my habit of measuring my self-worth based on my accomplishments (which I’ve written about here and here). As I’ve peeled back the layers of my thinking, I’ve seen that in the same way I valued myself by the success of my business, I also valued myself based on my ability to stick to my word. In the case of this blog that manifested in the belief that I was somehow unworthy if I missed a day.
Ah crap, I thought when I recognized it. That’s that same pattern again.
As effective as I know that framework to be as a means of getting shit done, I have over time become unwilling to consciously anchor my mental, emotional and spiritual well-being to my accomplishments. It’s not worth it, because I know the end of that story. You do and get a lot, but there is never, and can never be, enough accomplishment to satisfy that craving. So you chase gold stars your whole life and die feeling unworthy. No thanks. Self worth can only come from inside, not from any amount of gold stars (even though America would have you believe otherwise).
So, as I’ve started doing when I notice my mental machinery in action, I am letting go. I still very much like writing, and imagine I’ll continue to do it a lot. I still very much like that it’s normal for me to keep my commitments to others and myself, and I imagine I’ll continue to do that as well. But it’s become unavoidable to me that the framework of “I will write every day,” while effective, has become toxic for me at this point in my journey.
So I’m letting go.
What does this mean? Well, due to my nature to overachieve I’m already writing weeks ahead of the present date, so I’ll let those run their course coming out every Tuesday and Thursday, instead of every day. Or maybe Monday and Wednesday. Who knows. And we’ll try the 2x/week pacing and see if it works. Or maybe three times per week, or one. We’ll see. I can feel a weight being lifted in writing that.
I’ll continue writing, and my hope is I find myself in a spot where I do so not because I’m committed through a structure that has become a proxy for my sense of self, but because writing is simply an expressive action that I am called to do.
That’s why I started writing a month ago, after 10 years letting the habit languish. To express things, not to get somewhere. And I think that’s where the work I’m meant to do–maybe even the words I’m meant to write–will come from as well. There’s no end to a life built on achieving, despite what media tells us. There is always someone with more.
As Thomas Merton put it, “the life of riches, ambition, pleasure, is in reality an intolerable servitude in which one lives for what is always out of reach.” I want off that treadmill, and that means giving my writing space to become something organic (again), even at the risk of “success.”
My word is my bond, I’ve always thought. And I’ve always been proud of that. But I’ve seen that my word can become my prison as well, every bit as much as the mental patterns through which I interpret the world.
More than any amount of success, I want to be free.
So henceforth, look for a post around twice a week from me. I’m guessing subscribers’ inboxes will be better for it anyway.