Being Present Pays the Bills

I'm broke. Not in a cute, quiet weekend, waiting-for-my-paycheck broke. Like zero dollars broke. Turns out small savings, big bills, and chillin' out max and relaxin' all cool in California is a formula for me to find a job.

Coming to terms with my financial situation one day this past week paralyzed me. Wanting to crawl myself out of the struggle and knowing it wouldn't be delivered on a silver platter just laid me out. I didn't even want to try. Just the vision of the future was enough to cloud my appreciation for anything of the present. I was imagining all the great things that would come with a new job: a new bike, a trip home to see my new baby niece, and some dinner for me and my friends. I was laying on my bed waiting for the future to happen. 

Writer Sarah Peck had a conversation with author Mathias Jakobsen about this longing. She called it - Are You Chasing Productivity At The Expense of Your Soul? Jakobsen agreed that there is a disconnect between the stillness of being present, grateful and appreciative, and the clawing and climbing of achieving future dreams. "But the problem is not that it’s dreams and future. The problem is that we implicitly think that only by making these dreams come true can we feel whole and complete and successful and happy," Jakobsen said. He continues, "The mistake is the implicit belief that these dreams are only valuable when turned it into goals and plans and actualized."

My situation was a bit different. When your future is in the hands of someone else - an employer deciding your fate - you're left waiting as patiently as possible. And there is this burning desire for it to go faster. Jet engine fast. 

The problem, as Getting Things Done author David Allen puts it, is "the future never shows up". The present is everything we have and David Allen would know better than most. The productivity guru built the Getting Things Done system to help thousands of people prioritize the ever-increasing demands on our attention while staying grounded in the present. Allen explains it much like Jakobsen, "The value of goals is not in the future they describe, but the change in perception of reality they foster."

We need to learn to shift. Our world has teased us with the speed of urgent notifications that we're starting to think everything should be microwaveable and ready to eat. 

By now you've certainly heard of the dangers and distractions of the modern era. I don't need to repeat them. Notifications are anchoring us to a present that's shared with everyone else. Our minds are so scattered we can't focus, relax, or sleep like we did before. 

Why not just accept that this is the New Present? Why not find a new balance? No one is going to turn off the Notification Cycle, just like no one can turn off the Internet switch, but there are still moments when your remote or your smartphone can deliver the answers slow enough.

Founder of CDBaby, Derek Sivers found this out the hard way riding his bike. Redlining to finish a regular 15-mile track, Sivers would always clock in at 43 minutes. Then, one day, when giving everything he had was a bit too exhausting, he took a chill pill and a calmer pace instead of zipping around other cyclists. Do you know how long it took then? 45 minutes.

All the effort and pushing and pain for two measly minutes. Of his relaxed ride, Sivers recalled, "I saw two dolphins in the water. A pelican flew right over me in Marina del Ray. When I looked up to say “wow!”, he shit in my mouth. I can still remember that taste of digested shellfish. I had to laugh at the novelty of it."

You never know if you're pushing too hard until you slow down enough to get shit on. Ok, maybe, that's not the best way to put it. Think of it this way: You don't want to be speeding in the far left lane when your GPS tells you your exit ramp is coming up.

Like the highway, this is not only a personal quest. The world of instant gratification and notification means we've entered into an agreement that we will bother one another, build with one another, exist with one another more than ever before. It is contradictory by nature. We're sharing this world and we all want to control it for our own good.

Remember Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory? "Don't care how I want it now?" Fuck her. What about everything you miss pressing fast-forward to your wildest dreams. The How can be even more fascinating than the Now. We expect quick money and quick love. We want to rush financial stability and pizza delivery. But that's not yet the case for everything. Some things are slow and might always be. And even when you're broke or tired or even heartbroken, there may be a time you long for that single laugh or stubbed toe. Why speed past it?