(and, what do we really want? )
‘What is enough?’ might be the most important question there is. Our neglect of it has caused spectacular damage. Half the world languishes in poverty, while the rest of us relentlessly pursue the inessential. And want is everywhere.A recent tweet, lightly edited
Why the somber start?
Here are a few reasons:
- In the non-writing side of my life I’ve started working with some clients in the agroecology and climate-change sectors. The issues they work with every day bring this question home in worrying ways. (If you’d like to dig into this topic a little further, just Google ‘climate change in <my country>.’ And many of us have already experienced the alarming reality that all those grey statistics describe. For example, in South Africa, droughts and water shortages continue to cause hungry seasons for subsistence farmers, and foment crises in urban areas. And, in the wider region, violent storms have killed hundreds in the past year. We’re not living in a system without limits. It can only take so much before we suffer serious consequences. (Or someone else suffers them on our behalf).
- On a much more micro- and personal scale: I’ve cut back on the amount of paid work I do in a bid to make more space for writing. So, the ‘enoughness’ of my bank balance is more of an issue than it once was. The wolf isn’t yet at the door, but he’s lolling about the garden. I don’t like the way he grins toothily at me as I scurry out to client meetings, then furtively return, concealing unwise purchases.
- I’ve been spending a lot more time on social media trying to learn how book marketing without a budget works (circa 2019). In the process, I’ve become unhealthily obsessed with ‘likes’ and ‘follows.’ (I wonder, does a healthy form of obsession exist?)
These three points might look a bit disconnected, but I don’t think they are. Here’s my theory…
It’s a civilizational question
“What is enough?” is a civilizational question, not just a personal one.
Millions live in poverty, while a few drown in plenty. And most of us with a smidgen of self-awareness are prey to gnawing anxiety: it’s not enough; we’re not enough; something is wrong.
And so we pursue the endless goal of gathering enough – hunting down more…
- ‘love’ (or just likes)…
- you name it…
… to achieve our goals, to be happy, to feel satisfied, to achieve a modicum of security – which on some level we know will always elude us. (Because, security, at least, is an inside job.)
We live on a treadmill of want, in a miasma of mild desperation. Am I doing the right things? Sucking up to the right people? Putting in enough effort? Why am I always so tired? And so on.
Of course, it’s interesting to ask why things are this way. Some simplistic answers probably include:
- the system of global capitalism and the info-tsunami that comes with it;
- intentional injustice and manipulation for the profit of a few;
- the global push back against this, and with it the latest wave of industrialisation in the South, reliving the cycle that got us here in the first place;
- mass unconsciousness, relentless short-termism and our love of ‘quick-fixes’; and
- the awesome randomness of creation.
But this little article has a more modest goal than answering that big ‘why.’ For now, I’d just like to spend a little less time on the treadmill…
Clarity is powerful
Getting off that treadmill would require focusing on and committing to what I really need and want – on what matters most.
I don’t really buy into the pseudo-scientific Law of Attraction (though, here’s a link if you do), but I do know that clarity is powerful. Knowing what we most deeply want – and cutting through all the little sub-wants, wishes and flights of fancy (a.k.a. distractions) – frees up energy and inspiration.
Committed Actions instead of Outcomes
Most every goal-setting guru will tell you to define your desired outcomes with crystal clarity, and then work backwards to line up the short-term objectives, activities and inputs. And that’s okay if you’re planning a project, but isn’t as helpful if you’re trying to live a good life.
Life isn’t a project. It’s an outgrowth of who we are and who we might become; the intersection of relationships and forces too complex to map, and of synchronicities too wild to predict.
The idea that we can predetermine and control (or even, adroitly manage towards) very specific outcomes feels a bit crazy to me.
Sure, I’d like to sell 10,000 copies of my book (anyone in the market for 1,000, please drop me a line today!). And having 1,000,000 of any currency (barring old Zim’ dollars) in the bank would be nice. But there are no obvious and direct ways of getting to these kinds of goals, short of developing a facility for crime or learning how to run a hedge fund (in a spirit of fair-mindedness, I’ll assume that these are two different things).
These outcomes are so far beyond what I can realistically attain in the short-term, with the limited resources I have, that they’re merely demoralising.
Better to define some broad goals for the kind of life we want and some of the actions we can take to manifest that now. The seeds of any possible future have to be planted now, so how do we live that life today, with what we already have?
Start with what you value
And keep it simple enough to remember. Right now, I’d value:
- Having enough money. (I’m not going to get too specific here, but it’s not Trumpesque.)
- Having enough time and space for reflection, dreaming and writing. The kind of quality time that is unbroken by looming fears of penury or self-obsessed fixations with social media performance. (For me that means about 3-hours per day, without having to compromise the quality of my client work, or wrecking relationships with family and friends.)
- Having enough stability, predictability and peace (but not too much boredom!) to establish a rhythm that works for me and the ones I love.
- Making a positive contribution to society. This used to be the big one for me… But the older I get the more I think that this contribution has to come from who and how we are, as much as from our efforts at social change. For now, I aim to help where I can, through paid work and some volunteering, and to do as little harm as possible.
And, if that’s all I really want – as opposed to instant fame, mammoth sales or the illusion of long-term financial security – I can have it now. In fact, I already do.
Once the values are clear, some kind of commitment follows…
My commitment to action
For now, this is very simple indeed:
- Write every day for 2-3 hours – just stick to that knitting!
- Use what I make to feed social media (not the other way around – it’s a platform, not a reason!). Prioritise passion, excitement and quality over volume or analytics. Building an audience is a long-term game. Forget short-term wins and the desire to pander to (for example) what I imagine might work on Instagram.
- To this end: check social media and email a lot less! (I’m trying for about twice a day.)
- Find a rhythm that works for me, and clients, and the rest of my life, and choose the work that I accept, and the projects I take on, with care. In the long term, doing the right things well is probably more valuable than doing many things poorly.
That last one is trickier than the others, and more complex. But I’m working on it!
In the end, it seems to come down to this:
No one can sell you the path you need.
No one is ultimately in control of outcomes.
And success is as much a process as an outcome – it looks quite different at different times, and for different people.
Right now, I ask myself: Where am I today? And, what’s the next right thing? And then, mostly, I do it, whether it’s writing a post, or working on my novel, or helping a client, or listening to a friend. I’m not getting it right all the time, but maybe more than 50+% is enough.
And with that, back to the novel I go, with a bit more clarity, and a bit less angst. 😅
P.S. My next post – coming Saturday – will focus on my novel (progress, learning, etc.). I’m trying for: one weekly post that’s more general and reflective (like this one); and one that’s more focused on Work In Progress (WIP). And feedback and/or shares would be very welcome!