A user looking for an accountability partner posted this in a forum as their main problem. It resonated with me.
I’m a Master Planner. I can look at what needs to be done and plan it out backwards from that distant goal to the present day like a Greek god of planning. In fact, let us call this god: Planeidon.
I am Planeidon.
BUT, Planeidon’s skill of masterfully planning any project measly humanity foists upon him doesn’t mean that any of those plans will actually happen. In fact, the more Planeidon plans, sometimes the less of what he plans plays out.
So, as the ancient Greeks would say, “ποιο είναι το δίγαμμα?”
Translation: “What good are all these calendars and planners and to-do lists and project management apps, if even when I use them like the greek god I am, those plans don’t happen?”
Courtesy Sergey Brin and Larry Page
Breaking Down What Does Happen
So, what does actually happen?
Let’s take an example from my sometimes depressing, sometimes exhilarating life. As an actor (coincidentally, a profession Greek in origin), I’m a freelancer, or in capitalist terms, an “optimistic beggar.” This means I am responsible for my own day. This means I must plan everything.
Because I am Planeidon, this suits me and is fulfilling. On paper and online, I not only plan, I PLAN HARD, creating my perfect imagined life, an ideal Platonic form, existing in the ether, aka the cloud. It might look something like this:
7 AM – Wake up, 7:05 – Meditate, 7:25 – Eat my 30 grams of protein, 7:50 – Read – probably while “taking care of business”, 8:05 – Practice Mandarin, 8:15 – Do my kettlebell workout, etc…
If Socrates could’ve read, he would’ve been proud. Aside from creating philosophy, democracy, medicine and paedophilia, the Greeks were never this productive.
I AM my tasks. According to my calendar I am: clean, lean, fit, professional, intelligent, never hungry, up to date on my taxes, networked up the ὂνος, and fluent in Mandarin. I am Tim Ferriss. I am Tony Robbins. I am Elon Musk. And if I Lean In a little more, I am even Sheryl Sandberg.
Until I look in the mirror. Or at my reflection in the clock face, which reads 12:05 pm. I look tired. When I look down I’m still in a tank top and lounge pants from Ross Dress for Less. But it’s best not to look down, for a variety of reasons.
While I do hit some of these tasks, Michael’s actual life looks only fleetingly like Planeidon’s one.
9:05 AM – Wake up , 9:05 – Check email and read google news in bed, 9:45 – Jump out of bed, scream “oh shit, How’d it get to be that late”, 9:47 – Groggily make coffee, sloth-like make breakfast, 10:30 – thanks to coffee read
probably while “taking care of business,” etc…
If Planeidon’s life is an ocean of positive activity, Michael’s is merely the crest of the waves. Apparently, rather than living that Platonic idealized life, that life of a god, I’m living my real one. On earth. In my apartment. As a human.
This chasm between my ideal self and my actual self leads to a shitload of suffering. As we can see, I attach my identity to my calendar and to do list, and daily I look in the mirror and try to match up my imagination with reality. It’s like viewing life with only one eye that got Lasik. It’s frustrating and exhausting, because you aren’t sure where or who you actually are.
Fortunately, We’re Not Kevin Costner
Unlike Kevin Costner in the movie No Way Out, happily we do have a Way Out. It’s actually quite simple, but also quite profound.
1) Accept we’re human.
It seems obvious, but we spend most of our time ignoring or even denying that we’re human. We think we need to be as productive as computers, as “perfect” as the Greek sculptures in the Met, or as “successful” as our Facebook Fracquaintances. But these things are neither alive nor human. They are machines and museum exhibits. People look at sculptures, then walk away; we use a computer only until a more efficient one comes out. If we try to compete with dead things, we will lose. (Until we ourselves are dead, at which point the competition will be a draw).
Also, being human is fantastic! How lucky are we? We are part animal and part magic (a.k.a. consciousness). Animals are messy (watch a dog eat or a cat step out of a litter box), and our magic exists in our full awareness of our own messiness. Therefore, we are magical animals!
In 1486 Pico della Mirandola wrote Oration on the Dignity of Man, which argues that a human being has the capacity to be any creature in the hierarchy of creation – from a messy animal that shits on the carpet to a Cherubic angel, who floats off the earth and only contemplates heavenly things, such as “how extraordinary is it that animals can shit on carpets?” (Interestingly, Cherubs began as man-animal creatures.)
The dignity of being human is the ability to choose.
Today, I can be Planeidon, then tomorrow I can be Michael – and that’s OK! That’s what it is to be alive. Some days I’m closer to Planeidon, other days I’m closer to the single celled organism in my bathtub – welcome to humanity!
2) Just Say “No.”
Nancy Reagan spearheaded the “Just Say No” campaign to drugs. Today, the opium of the masses is our phone, news sites, blogs Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. “Tweeters” sounds like “Tweakers,” I’m just sayin’. While it’s beyond difficult to stay immune and not feel like the asshole friend who “doesn’t use facebook,” (e.g. me), we must wage a war to reclaim our attention. We must accept we live in an environment determined to claim our precious attention, and do everything in our power to safeguard it.
3) Find a Buddy, a Co-Conspirator.
Like the French Resistance we have to band together to fight the massive forces trying to overtake our landscape of attention.
The more important something is the more we need others to help us accomplish it. Batman had Robin, The Avengers had – the Avengers, even Einstein had Michele Besso.
But what if we’re not fighting crime or exploring the nature of gravity and light, but working on personal goals such as: writing a novel, creating a business, losing weight to become healthy, completing schoolwork, or simply becoming more sociable? What if these are our priorities?
A prime technique to help people stay on tasks is to find a buddy for that task, an accountability partner. We must cultivate our own NSA (Navy Seals of Attention), who protect our mental homeland. A buddy is that physical, human reminder, in your virtual face, that this is what you’re working towards, and that you are human.
Planting Our Flags
In this era of mass distraction and increased self-responsibility, we must claim our mental space for ourselves. When we’re working on the things that are vividly important to us, the process is usually hard. Often, the difficulty is precisely what makes it important to us. We need as much help as we can get to remind us to embrace our humanity, and get positively reinforced for making the harder, better choices.
Who Can Help Us?
We must align ourselves with a person or people who are there for us, on the journey with us, who will have our back when it gets difficult. With each step towards the promised land – each laborious, hot sand-covered step – we expand our sense of self, our identity.
In fact, we become closer to a god…