This image was taken from the whiteboard in my home office/bedroom. This is the list of my essential activities. Anything outside this scope is not serving me, and is not a productive or helpful use of my time.
I have always been a big consumer of the news, especially political news. This election cycle has been so negative and toxic, yet I struggled pulling away. There were times during my commute on the train where I was reading the negative news on my tablet, while a personal development book sat unread in my bag. While driving, I have been listening to NPR instead of personal development books on Audible (my favorite app ever). The last couple days since the election I feel the same futility, anxiety, anger, shock, etc. that half the country has been feeling. I have been consuming poison.
CNN = Constant Negative News
You know what? Consuming news such as postmortem analyses of the election, our political future, and random racial violence only makes me feel anxious, angry and helpless. I accomplish nothing in that state. I must disengage from negative information that inspires negative feelings. Today my friend Dave Daley posted a video on FB with the following caption:
Elections Are Over... Did They Distract You From Your Destination?
Yes Dave, they sure as hell did. I have been badly distracted, focusing on negative things. Things that do not serve my growth, my family, my business or profession. I can scarcely look at my FB feed without seeing videos of beatings, shared articles of doom and gloom, and angry vitriolic posts from people across the political spectrum. Fortunately, I also see people posting conciliatory, positive messages, and they are a breath of fresh air. Thank you for that. Here is one repeated phrase I find empowering:
Be the change you wish to see.
Right on. We can't control what other people do, we can only control ourselves. One way to make the world a better place is to make yourself a better person. I love that.
With the election hangover slowly subsiding, I need to focus on my essential activities. I put them on my whiteboard for a reason. Here is what I need to focus on:
None of these activities are furthered by reading Constant Negative News, mindlessly scrolling negative social media feeds, and engaging in political arguments in comment threads. They are a waste of time. They are damaging.
I asked my wife to proofread this post, as I always do. She rattled off other positive/productive activities I could add to the list above, but this wasn't meant to be exhaustive. Those activities are tailored for me. Your list would be totally different from mine. Would it kill you to create a list of positive, productive activities you should focus on? Could you place them prominently in your home, to remind yourself when you are wasting your time?
The more I focus on negative news, the less I'm focused on preserving life stories. My main priority right now is recording life stories, and sharing the mission of preserving life stories. Junk food news doesn't make the cut!
Today I saw something in the surf that is instructive about life. I have a lengthy commute to the law office from North County San Diego to Downtown. In lieu of sitting in traffic on a southbound freeway, I drive out to Carlsbad and take the Coaster Downtown. The first third of the ride hugs the coastline, and I get to check the surf throughout North County.
This morning I saw something I've experienced many times, but its meaning struck me. A swell was hitting the region today, and the waves had some size, about head high. Just south of 15th Street in Del Mar, I saw a surfer unsuccessfully paddle for a wave, and it passed him by. It was an easily catchable wave, and I could tell the surfer's paddle attempt was lacking. Maybe the wave was too big for him or maybe he lacked confidence in his ability, but he could and should have caught that wave.
I'll be very transparent here - I've been that guy when I was younger. Catchable waves have come my way, and I made a show of attempting to catch them, but didn't really paddle hard enough and the waves passed by. Sometimes the conditions were too hairy and sometimes I just lacked confidence in my ability to make the takeoff. I recall surf sessions during my youth, when I had friends out in the lineup and there was a big swell, and I would find myself in perfect position for a rogue set wave that I wanted no part of. Maybe it was too big, maybe I knew there was a bigger wave behind it, maybe the face was too steep (I've never been a fan of late takeoffs), or maybe I was struggling that day, but there have been times where I made a show of "trying" to catch the wave, but self-sabotaged the attempt. Sometimes I only made the faux effort because my peers were watching, and I gave an outward appearance of fighting for the wave, feigning frustration at missing the wave, even angrily splashing the water for show. Sad, right? Why am I even out in the water if I'm only pretending to try to catch waves? Why go through the effort of driving to the coast, parking, donning a wetsuit, facing the cold and paddling out, only to NOT surf? From my vantage point on the train this morning, on the sandstone bluff, I saw someone wimp out on a fun looking wave. I had empathy because I've done it.
I became philosophical as the train turned inland at Torrey Pines, where the ocean goes out of view. If you really want something in life, especially something important, you need to commit and fight for it. In the photo posted above, the surfer is really fighting for that wave. In order to succeed you have to be totally focused and give it your all. The wave will pass by if you give a nominal effort. Even worse, you might catch the wave anyhow, but you'll go over the falls because you weren't committed.
In life we will pursue goals that are frightening. The bigger and scarier your goal, the harder you have to commit and fight. If you half-heartedly go through the motions and let that wave/opportunity pass by, you didn't really want it in the first place. Or maybe you'll set small goals because they inspire less fear. If you are only going to make a nominal effort for something, and if you allow fear to hold you back, you are wasting your time.
This expression recently came to life for me. Not about this project at large, but in the moment.
A few weeks ago I was an exhibitor at the Successful Aging Expo in San Diego. It was a great experience and fun opportunity to share Eternal Roots with the public, showing how I preserve life stories through recorded interviews. I had sign-in sheets on the table for people seeking more information. I emailed everyone on the list, and did a round of follow up calls last weekend. I set up at the table in my back yard, where the reception is better, plugged in my earpiece and got to work. Midway through the list my 8-year old daughter Julia joined me outside, curious to watch. She sat on the table before me and quietly observed.
After several successive voicemails, a gentleman answered. I remembered him from the Expo, as I had an asterisk beside his name on the list. He wore a leather vest bearing several patches indicating he was a veteran. He approached our table and my wife Nicole, who manned the booth with me, extended her hand and thanked him for his service. He asked about our project, and as I explained the Eternal Roots concept, I flipped through the transcribed book of my grandfather that was on display. I turned to a page of my grandfather in his Air Force uniform, at age 21, and said he shared some experiences from serving in WWII. Our visitor responded that he lost his entire platoon in Vietnam, then his voice broke off and he looked to the side to compose himself. It was obvious that he never discusses Vietnam, especially with total strangers. This was the most emotionally intense moment of the day, among several. I responded that during the interview process I would never inquire into combat experience, and he would have complete control over the subject matter discussed. While I am not a veteran myself, I have enough sense to never directly inquire about combat experience. He submitted his info on the sign-in sheet, took a brochure, and moved on.
This exchange really affected me. The intensity of this man's response, and his sudden recall of the horrors he witnessed in Vietnam, drove home the importance and gravity of this project. This is real. I'm recording real experiences of real people and their stories can be uncomfortable at times. One minute this man was strolling through an expo, collecting brochures and swag from financial and estate planners, dentists and funeral homes, then he encounters me and has sudden recall of losing his platoon 40 years ago. I had to step back and process all this for a moment.
Fast forward to follow up calls in my backyard, with Julia silently observing. I was acutely aware of her presence, and wanted to demonstrate a strong work ethic. The veteran answered the phone, I reminded him of how we met, and asked if he received my email. He said he was unavailable to talk at the moment, but that he did receive my email, and he did not respond because he was not interested. He wasn't rude, just matter of fact. I thanked him for his candor and ended the call. I have experience in direct sales and have received more than my share of No's. I understand rejection is seldom personal. However, he was my most salient memory from the Expo, and I wanted to record his story. I was prepared to offer my service pro bono.
For a moment I felt deflated and dejected. Eternal Roots is my baby, so it can be hard to separate myself at times. I suddenly felt inclined to wrap it up, rationalizing that I had done enough, even though I had more people to call. Then I looked up and locked eyes with Julia. She asked what happened, and this had to become a teachable moment. I can't let her watch me quit after facing some adversity. I explained to Julia that my service isn't for everyone. Some people don't want to share their story and it can be painful for people to remember some experiences. Some people say No, and I have to move on to the next person because there are people out there who want to preserve their life stories.
With Julia observing, I had to silence the excuses being manufactured in my mind and demonstrate resiliency. The next person on my list answered and received my call favorably. She said she was "very much interested" in having me interview her husband. Had I stopped calling after getting that No, this husband's story might have gone untold, and my daughter would have absorbed an unhealthy message.
The parallels between this experience and the meme above require no explanation. This event has become part of Julia's life story, and I hope the lesson stays with her.
About the Blog
Here I write about the evolution of this project, the act of preserving life stories and personal development. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.