Friday, July 29, 2011

What Are We Waiting For?

I believe way too many of us live our lives in the conditional mood. This is another one of my core principles. To illustrate what I mean, I want to talk about computer programming. No, I know, but it'll make sense. Sorta. I promise.

Back when I was a wee little tot, they brought a bunch of Commodore PET computers into my tiny Catholic school. We were the first class in the history of Corpus Christi to be learn computer programming, the wave of the future!(TM)

Once a week, we learned to do simple problems and animations in BASIC (we saved our work to cassette tapes, that's how old school I am - none of your fancy floppy diskettes here!), and to be honest I only remember two things. Every line of code must begin with a multiple of 10, and how to construct an "if/then" statement.
Life before USB
photo by Toni Saarikko

Simply put, you told the computer that "if" the result of a certain line of code was X, "then" the computer should do Y. Like, "if" the answer to a math problem was input correctly, "then" the screen should display my crudely animated fireworks. Hey, math was not my strong suit, so every right answer was cause for celebration.

So. What do DOS computers and their antiquated programming languages have do with better living? Simple. Too many of us (including me way more often than I'd like) go through life shackled to "If/Then" thinking.

  • If I get a promotion, then I'll be able to work on that project/issue/area I really care about.
    If you care so much, why don't you try to work on that project/issue/area now, promotion be damned? Seriously, you're going to spend AT LEAST 25% of your entire time on this planet engaged in "work." And if you drop dead of work or stress related ailments, that number only goes up. Maybe you should think about how you could be happier there, rather than dreading it.

  • If I make $X-thousand a year, then I'll think about having kids.
     I know kids are expensive. I really do get it. And I would never in a million years want to raise a kid the way I was, in poverty and worse. But life is crazy. And uncertain. And no time is the right time, no reason is the right reason. If you want something as demanding and fulfilling as children in your life, and you feel like you're psychologically and emotionally as ready as you can be, just freaking do it. The money, the house, the vacations - that stuff will come or it won't, but you'll always have your kids and you'll always be their parent. Trying to put a financial metric on jumping off a cliff is crazy-talk.

  • If I could just get a chunk of time off, then I could write that book I've always talked about.
    This one is particularly debilitating, and really, fill in the fulfilling pursuit of your choice: painting, acting, learning Japanese, building custom hot rods. It's one of those lies that feels true. I know, because I clung to it for a long time. Too long. Life is short. We all have to make choices about what to do with our time. Choose your choice. If what you're doing is more important than what you say you want to do, great. Awesome. Own that and stop arguing with reality. But if the other thing, the thing you keep putting off, if that is really what you want to be in the world, then for the love of all that's holy, do it. And not when someone hands you the time; when you TAKE the time with your bare hands, like some sort of creative Viking marauder. You'll feel better, you'll live better, and you'll love better. Trust me on this.

  • If I get married, then I'll think about where I want to live and in what kind of home.
    I know that this may sound skewed towards women, but I have known a number of men who used the same logic to live in miserable squalor. Contrary to stereotypes, they didn't revel in it, either - it dragged them down, body and soul. But I've also known women who put off seeking their highest ambitions because quote-I don't know where my husband's job might take us-unquote. Some of these women were married. Some of them weren't even seeing anyone. The mind, it boggles. This life, this is the one you have. The only one. Planning is good. I love to plan. But planning will only take you so far. Sometimes, you have to plunge or you risk being carried away on someone else's current. Create the life you want now, and when change comes, you won't have to mourn that you never had it.
Creative Vikings Unite!

You can see how destructive this kind of thinking is. But it's so a part of us, so crucial to the ways we justify putting off our own happiness, that most of the time we shy away from it, like a horse wearing blinders.

The second half of each of those statements is a thing you could actually have, if you just stopped fiddle-farting around and got out of your own way. The first half? Sure, those would all be nice. But what do they all have in common? They are things that, to one degree or another, are NOT within your control. So what you've done is ceded your heart's desire to outside circumstances. And when you don't get the promotion, or the time off, or meet the perfect partner tomorrow, you haven't just lost out on one life-enriching thing; you've lost part of your deepest dream. And that, my friends, is corrosive. It eats away at all the good things in your life. You know that spiel about a dream deferred? Turns out he wasn't kidding.


  1. Hi Angelle. Remember me? Awesome post, as always. As a fellow writer, I know all about the if-I-only-had-more-time argument. Truth is, if I'd only stop wasting time, the book, the stories, whatever, would be done. Done! By the way, as a kid who also learned to program BASIC on a Commodore, I adored my C64!
    And I do love your blog!
    --Scott Royal