How we spend our time, and by extension our lives, is one of my favorite subjects. Tim Urban’s essay, The Tail End, changed how I think about time. He makes visual charts of a 90-year human life in years, months, weeks, and days. Then he walks through how many more ocean swims he’ll likely have, how many more slices of pizza.
Two things got my attention:
You’ll read a finite number of books in your lifetime. For some reason, this had never occurred to me. Reading an average of twelve books a year, I have 688 books left. It sounds like a lot, and also not enough.
If your kids don’t live near you as adults, by the time they move out you’ve spent 90 percent of the time you’ll have with them. Aaaaaaag! Urban concludes that it’s key to build a life near the people you love. Truth.
Anyway, go read this. It will give you that self-helpy kick where you savor things more acutely for a few weeks afterward. And then maybe read it again.
Some excerpts from my favorite Esquire interview series What I’ve Learned. This month’s magazine is one of their annual editions that contains several interviews.
Kevin Hart, Comedian
I was in my house the other day. I just started laughing. I couldn’t believe it was my home. Literally, it was an emotional moment.
I saw Chapelle’s latest hour. He’s fucking good! So fucking good! I’m thinking, How do I get to be that good? How does that happen? Ball this shit up that you have? Throw it out. You’ve gotta start over. That’s what pushes me.
Danger Mouse, Musician
I don’t want to know the rules. I’ll just do what I do and I can always pay people who know the rules to come in and tidy up.
On overlooking the music of Pink Floyd because it didn’t seem cool: … A thought hit me, How many other things have I been missing because it wouldn’t have fit in with me socially? That moment changed the way I saw the world. What food had I not eaten because it looked a certain way? What people had I not hung out with because they dressed differently?
Ron Johnson, Captain, Missouri State Highway Patrol
Policemen are saying, “Judge us as individuals. Don’t judge us on that bad encounter you had with a policeman.” On the other side, we’ve got young black men saying, “If I’m walking down the street, judge me based on me and not what a hundred other guys may have done the day before.” We’re both asking for the same thing.
If you don’t know someone black, you need to meet someone black. If you don’t know someone white, you need to meet someone white. If youdon’t know someone Hispanic, if you don’t know someone who’s gay or lesbian… You need to go meet somebody that’s different than you. ‘Cause it’s those differences that are driving us apart.
Comic by Nathaniel Russell, who sells cool stuff here.
Gretchen Rubin outlined her upcoming book on habit formation, Better Than Before, in 21 sentences, and I’ve been mulling a few of the concepts.
Adopting new habits, making choices automatic, is theoretically the simplest way to improve your life. I know this. But theory is so much more straightforward than practice. Theoretically all of us are lean, patient, well-rested people with flossing habits that would shame Sofia Vergara. (That woman flosses. Look at her.)
A few of the concepts I found appealing:
• Monitoring, “You manage what you monitor, so find a way to monitor whatever matters.”
• Identity, “Your habits reflect your identity, so if you struggle to change a particular habit, re-think your identity.”
• Scheduling, “If it’s on the calendar, it happens.”
Are you trying to change any habits? Or do you think you are who you are, and fighting it is just chugging uphill Sisyphus-style?
“I just feel like, overwhelmed by not knowing who I am now or what my Identity is or what my Core Me–tools are to come back to when I feel sad. Going back to what used to be myself just pulls me into a lot of painfully bittersweet memories, so I’ve been talking less and drifting more and actively testing a theory that reincarnation can happen to live bodies by trying to turn myself into a blank slate. It leaves me both terrified that I could become an actual monster, as well as thrilled that I could become the exact person I ought to be, WE CAN BE HEROES Bowie-style.” –Tavi Gevinson from her July 2014 Rookie Mag editor’s letter.
Read this book. I’ve mentioned Martha Beck several times over the years, she’s a career development specialist and a columnist in O Magazine. I’ve reread this book twice over the last few years, and it introduced me to a couple of concepts that come up a lot when I’m considering what I want to do next.
First, the Generalized Other, which is the people we’re actually referring to when we say “Everyone will think I’m dumb.” Ms. Beck posits that we often pull a handful of terrible people together to make up our “Everybodies,” because of the natural instinct to avoid danger and preserve social access. She has a whole chapter on how to replace your Generalized Other with people who support you. Useful.
Second, the idea that we’re perpetually cycling through four general life phases: 1. Death and Rebirth, where we lose our identity to a catalytic event like a death or, on the converse, winning the lottery. 2. Dreaming and Scheming, where we try on new plans for ourselves. 3. The Promised Land, where we work hard toward our goals. 3. The Hero’s Saga, where we achieve our aims and work on a daily basis to maintain our life until another catalytic event knocks us back to a new identity shift. She offers strategies for tackling each phase, because her theory is that all of us have trouble getting through at least one of the phases.
“Keeping your body still when it wants to recoil or rejoice creates the physical tension that locks sensation away from consciousness.”
“Even if you achieve things that seem outwardly fabulous, an unhealed emotional injury will make you experience them as empty and unappealing.”
“If you begin to face your fears, something bittersweet is going to happen to you: You’ll grow up. You’ll lose your dependency on the grownups of the world, because you’ll realize that there is no time, no age, at which fear suddenly fades and you become one of these impervious beings.”
“Describing what you want is probably the most important step in any confrontation.”
“I don’t believe in suffering for its own sake. Enduring a thankless, painful life doesn’t mean that you deserve happiness as a kind of recompense; it just means you’re enduring a thankless, painful life. If I’m going to suffer, it better be for a damn good reason. It better yield me more joy than it costs. If not, I will do anything I can to avoid it, and advise all my clients to do the same.”
“Your anger will cool into hardened passionate insight if you wait a day. Most of the things that make me angry, I try to let them sit. The heat that remains will be sufficient. The stuff that evaporates is the stuff that would have simply offended or made it histrionic.”
“Don’t assume that anybody above you actually knows what they’re doing. And if you find somebody who does, stick to them like glue. Because the further you go into our career, the more you will discover to your absolute horror that you are the adult.”
“Ultimately the reason privacy is so vital is it’s the realm in which we can do all the things that are valuable as human beings. It’s the place that uniquely enables us to explore limits, to test boundaries, to engage in novel and creative ways of thinking and being. Only if we feel free of the kind of judgmental eyes of others are we able to try different things out, to experiment, to evolve, to free ourselves of mores that are imposed on us or conventional orthodoxies about how we’re supposed to behave and think. And that, ultimately, is what is most valuable about being human: to be able to create new ways of thinking and being.”
“Surveillance breeds conformity.”
“There are different ways that kids who are gay take on the rejection and alienation they feel. The way I dealt with it was to say, You know what? You’re imposing judgments on me and condemnations, but I don’t accept them. I’m going to instead turn the light on you and see what your flaws are and impose the same judgmental standards on you.”
“If you’re gonna challenge people in power, you have to be ready to be attacked in effective ways. That’s the nature of power…”
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been doing a campaign for Gap that features profiles of other design bloggers. The interviews are an extension of Gap’s Born To… Campaign, which is about pursuing your passion. As you may have noticed, I’m into that. You can find out more about the campaign on the Facebook page here. For completists, the whole set of interviews is over here.
This week’s interview is with Jean Aw, designer and founder of NOTCOT, a network of collaborative design sites with an emphasis on smart ideas. She has a master’s in User Experience Design, so NOTCOT doubles as Jean’s design consultancy.
Jean and I met about a year ago at the CM Summit in San Francisco. As you can see from her self-styled photo above, she’s a little camera shy, but you may recognize her from a recent appearance in Lucky Magazine.
Jean grew up in Los Angeles, where she’s currently based, and her attraction to variety helped her shape a career that keeps her life flexible.
“The best thing about my life right now is that no day is typical,” she says. “Perhaps thats the reason I’ve been able to do this so long! I could be roadtripping for hours, flying off somewhere, tethered to my wifi, meeting people I’ve admired over drinks, shopping, looking silly photographing products on my pool table, bouncing between galleries… you get the idea.”
Jean says her fascination with design may be genetic. “I think it has just always been a part of my life,” she says. “Maybe I can blame my mom for impressing her good taste on me at such a young age.”