In light of the NSA surveillance news, let's not forget what the Internet represents for humanity: an equal right to human progress for all.
When I was younger, I thought that my future held my circle of friends; we seemed inseparable. When I owned a house, I put my heart and soul into its maintenance, sweating and struggling to hold onto it because I was so sure that it was in my future.
I thought the same thing about my job, that my future held a high-paying career as a computer programmer, or a security consultant. At one point I was certain that my future held a position in the military. I was sure it held my ex-girlfriend.
But I was wrong, about all of it.
I learned that by telling ourselves day in and day out that we know what the future holds, that it must hold this thing or that person just because we always thought that it would, we lock ourselves into self-limiting and self-destructive patterns.
We hold onto these expectations because it’s safer that way, because our primal instinct wants to feel secure, because it wants to know that we’ve been somewhere and that we’ve done something and that all of this must mean we’re going somewhere, with someone, or with a specific group of someones.
We want to see ourselves making tangible progress, moving laterally from one direction to another, swimming toward a specific destination and making specific, measurable progress. We don’t want to think three-dimensionally, to look down into a dark abyss and imagine sinking to a undefinable place that holds so much unknown, to a place that has no certain depth and no measurable end, a place where anything can happen.
We don’t want to imagine that, but that’s exactly what the future holds, a dark unknown. We have no light to shine on the future. We have no map to lead us through. There is no rulebook that determines what happens and what doesn’t, who lives and who dies, who comes, and who goes. Life isn’t a two-dimensional surface with birth and death clearly marked on either end. It’s dynamic. It’s unpredictable. It’s raw.
You are not who you were yesterday and tomorrow, you won’t be who you are right now. But who you are right now is real. It’s tangible, and the only thing holding you back from blossoming is what you take with you into tomorrow, and what you expect to find when you get there. Your vision of the future is flawed. It’s a mirage. It’s an island that you’re swimming toward that doesn’t even exist.
Every heartbeat is a heartbeat you’ve never experienced. Every breath is a breath you’ve never taken.
Envision a future that is so unwritten, a future that is so strange that you have trouble holding it in your imagination. Envision a future so blank, so pure and unencumbered by the past or the present, so savage and wild and deep that it remains unrestrained by preconceptions of yesterday and unchained from expectations of today.
Envision a future that is so impossibly unimaginable that it creates an abyss of nothingness, and then, allow yourself to float into that unknown, leaving behind everything to embrace a future you that is flawless and free.
I tell myself that I don’t sweat the little things, that I’m really good at letting things go, but if I’m frank with myself and I take a hard look at the evidence, it’s clear that I do hold on to lots of little things. Many small, rather insignificant things that prevent me from growing and moving forward.
I came across a column article called How We Get Better, written by Steven Pressfield. Steven tells the story of his friend Paul who recently had a writing breakthrough and accidentally discovered his writing voice.
Steven explains how we get better by sharing the observations he made of his friend’s breakthrough. The observation that I found most interesting was number four: “This new voice was not the ‘real’ Paul; it was the artistic Paul.”
When I read any of my old writing, especially the writing that I feel is good, it never sounds like me. It’s as if there was someone else writing it. Was it because I was writing with my artistic voice and not my normal voice (i.e., the voice that I identify with)?
And if there was an artistic voice within me, what was holding it back when I wanted to write? Where was the resistance coming from?
Intrigued, I started scanning my collection of old unpublished drafts. I don’t know why I started there, but intuitively something told me that’s where I should go next, so I listened.
Within a few seconds I came across something that I had written nearly two years ago about not sweating the little things. The draft included two incomplete stories of events that caused me to start writing the draft.
While the stories were incomplete, I immediately remembered the events in great detail and recalled the importance and impact of their lessons.
In both events I had run into situations that seemed impassable. There seemed to be no possible resolution that did not come with repercussions.
But instead of stressing out, worrying, and taking premature action, I took a deep breath and released the situation to the universe.
Almost immediately the situation changed in ways that I never thought possible and both problems were resolved, like a magical missing piece to a jigsaw puzzle falling into a place that I didn’t know existed.
As I read this old draft and recalled the story and the lessons I learned, I realized that the resistance I most often experience actually comes from getting in the way of the natural flow of things.
The problem isn’t that I’m incapable of making more money, producing better writing, improving my social skills, or learning how to cook. It’s that I’m holding myself back from progressing forward by spending valuable time sweating the little things.
When I’m trying to learn how to cook, for example, I hold myself back by giving credence to thoughts of insufficiency.
Instead of looking up recipes online, buying ingredients, and then experimenting, I choose to worry about making something that won’t taste good, or wasting ingredients, or that my being too analytical isn’t compatible with cooking.
(In the past few weeks I’ve overcome a lot of this resistance and discovered that I love cooking, but more on that another time.)
When I’m trying to write, I resist forward progress by holding myself back by giving attention to needless thoughts.
“What if people don’t understand what I’m trying to say? What if I don’t know what I’m trying to say? What if my point is missed and my writing is criticized? What if I do more harm than good in my haste to publish?”
These thoughts, these unrelenting doubts and worries and questions, never seem to let up. They appear to be waiting for one thing and one thing only: for me to give up.
I’m realizing that the key isn’t to challenge these things that present resistance but instead to ignore them, like a raging river ignoring a large rock and flowing around it.
We get better by not sweating the little things but by letting them go and moving on to the next step with fearless bravado. It’s only when we try to take on the whole world, to shoulder responsibility for getting every single thing perfect, that we hold ourselves back from getting better.