Late last month an advertising executive (a real life Mad Man) named Linds Redding died of esophageal cancer. After being diagnosed in 2011, he would regularly write about the disease, his treatments and his thoughts on life at his blog.
Earlier this year he wrote a post called A Short Lesson in Perspective in which he reflected on how wholeheartedly he had thrown himself into his career over the years. As he rapidly approached the premature end of his life, he wondered aloud if it was worth it.
His insights and conclusions were so raw and honest that I wanted to excerpt a small portion of his post below so that you and I could reflect on our own priorities as we live life and plan for retirement. One day (hopefully not soon) we will be where Linds was when he wrote that essay. How great would it be if we could heed his words of warning so we could look back on our life with pride, satisfaction and few regrets?
A quick note: Linds refers to something called “The Overnight Test.” When creating advertising campaigns, he and his team would often let ideas simmer overnight. If it still seemed like a good idea the next day, they would say that it passed “The Overnight Test.”
From A Short Lesson in Perspective:
“Countless late nights and weekends, holidays, birthdays, school recitals and anniversary dinners were willingly sacrificed at the altar of some intangible but infinitely worthy higher cause. It would all be worth it in the long run…
This was the con. Convincing myself that there was nowhere I’d rather be was just a coping mechanism. I can see that now. It wasn’t really important. Or of any consequence at all really. How could it be? We were just shifting product. Our product, and the clients. Just meeting the quota. Feeding the beast as I called it on my more cynical days.
So was it worth it?
Well of course not. It turns out it was just advertising. There was no higher calling. No ultimate prize. Just a lot of faded, yellowing newsprint, and old video cassettes in an obsolete format I can’t even play any more even if I were interested. Oh yes, and a lot of framed certificates and little gold statuettes. A shit-load of empty Prozac boxes, wine bottles, a lot of grey hair and a tumor of indeterminate dimensions.
It sounds like I’m feeling sorry for myself again. I’m not. It was fun for quite a lot of the time. I was pretty good at it. I met a lot of funny, talented and clever people, got to become an overnight expert in everything from shower-heads to sheep-dip, got to scratch my creative itch on a daily basis, and earned enough money to raise the family which I love, and even see them occasionally.
But what I didn’t do, with the benefit of perspective, is anything of any lasting importance. At least creatively speaking. Economically I probably helped shift some merchandise. Enhanced a few companies bottom lines. Helped make one or two wealthy men a bit wealthier than they already were.
As a life, it all seemed like such a good idea at the time.
But I’m not really sure it passes The Overnight Test.”
Before talking about discipline and motivation, I want to give you a quick update on the most recent 30 Day Challenge. As many of you know I do periodic learning challenges in life and then write about them here at the site. So far I’ve learned all the countries of the world, gotten SCUBA certified (followed by some amazing diving in Anguilla) and learned to make croissants with my wife.
My next challenge was to learn how to use a new presentation software called Prezi. I’ve spent some time teaching myself to use it, with mixed results. I have the basics down, but the presentations I have created so far are less than mind blowing. Not only that, but my typical 30 day window has grown to about 90. In today’s post, I go into a few of the reasons why this challenge has been less than successful so far and what key lesson we can learn from my struggles that will apply to any big goals we set in life.
Discipline vs. Motivation
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
As I thought about my struggles with the most recent challenge, I realized that there was a significant difference between it and the first three: I actually wanted to do the first three! For example, I had a desire to learn to SCUBA dive. I practically skipped to the classes each week. The same is true for the countries and croissants. They were fun, interesting and things I wanted to do. On the other hand, Prezi was something that I felt like I should learn so that I could communicate my ideas more effectively when presenting, but it wasn’t really something that I had a burning desire to do. At the core it came down to a difference between discipline and motivation.
In my mind, discipline is consistently doing what you don’t really want to do, but know that you should. Motivation is being impelled to do something that you actually want to do. One is forced and the other is natural.
Not surprisingly, I feel like we will all have more success in life if we actually focus on the things that we’re motivated to do rather than trying to find the discipline needed to overcome our lack of interest or desire. Sure, there will always be a place for discipline. It will help us eat right and get to the gym. It will help us set aside for the future. But we will be much more effective if we can actually focus our time and efforts on things that we’re already motivated to do.
The more motivation you have, the less discipline you need. The less discipline you need, the more likely it is that you’ll actually stick with it and accomplish what you’re trying to do. So as you think about your own life, don’t litter your day with things that you’re not already motivated to do. Focus on those things that you’re excited about. And if you come across something that you need to do, but you’re not excited about, try to come up with ways to inject motivation instead of just discipline. Find some friends to do it with you. Make it into a contest. Promise yourself some sort of reward. Do that, and you’ll achieve more than if you just rely on willpower alone.
I’ll cue up the next challenge soon, but for now I want to finish up with Prezi. My wife actually just learned to use it for a presentation that she needed to give. I told her that if she teaches me everything she knows I’ll finally get around to that guest bedroom remodeling project I’ve been promising. Hopefully, that will be all the motivation she needs.
How about you? Are you running into roadblocks with your to-do list? That could be a sign that you’re spending too much time focusing on things that you don’t actually want to do. Life is too short for that.
For the past year or so, I’ve noticed a disconcerting trend. Each time I step on the scale, the number gets larger. Has there been some sort of change in the gravitational pull of the earth or am I putting on weight?
In 2003 I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. I weighed about 185 pounds and could run 10 miles without breaking a sweat. Now I weigh 215 pounds and get winded chasing my daughter around the park. If that trend continues, in 10 years I’ll weigh 245 pounds and will be pricing mobility scooters.
In life, there are certain problems that are easier to solve sooner rather than later (more on that below). I turn 40 in December and getting into shape is not getting any easier. Not only is my body clinging to calories like a tiger clings to its kill, but finding the motivation is getting harder as I get busier and take on more responsibilities. If I want to be around for another 40 years, however, I need to put the excuses aside and reacquaint myself with physical activity.
Fit by 40
And so, about a month and a half ago I started going to a personal trainer. I had been lamenting to my boss that I wanted to get in shape, but 1) I needed some accountability and 2) I needed to workout during the day because mornings and evenings were too busy with work and family.
As luck would have it, his son (who plays college football) had gone to a trainer for years. My boss had recently started going as well and he invited me to come along. Not only that, but he told me to take off work early three days a week and he would pay for it. Hard to argue with that.
My first day at the “gym” was pretty humbling. First off, it was not a gym, but a converted warehouse. Imagine that barn in the middle of Russia where Rocky trained in Rocky IV and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what I’m talking about. Lifting rocks—check. Chopping wood—check. Pulling Paulie on a sled through a snowstorm—well, you get the idea.
The people training there were serious: Elite high school, college and professional athletes; ultimate fighters (all wearing oxygen depravation masks to simulate altitude); and…me.
So far my time there has been great. My mantra is “Fit by 40.” The pounds have started to come off. I have more energy. Most of all, I feel good that I’m actually being proactive about a problem that I (and millions of other Americans) struggle with.
Why am I mentioning this? Two reasons:
First, I don’t want to publicly fail in front of hundreds of readers who I respect and admire. Thanks for the motivation! 🙂
Second, and more importantly, I wanted to get you thinking about issues or problems in your own life that need some sort of solution. Too often we sweep our problems under the rug because we’re too busy or scared to deal with them. Then someday, when we shed the competing tasks and responsibilities that used to drown out our problems (a.k.a. retirement) those problems come bubbling to the surface.
Rather than enjoying a meaningful, rewarding retirement we spend our time trying to salvage our marriage, get in shape, recover from a preventable illness, mend neglected relationships or figure out what we really want out of life. Don’t ignore your problems. They’re only going to get worse.
Is there something you need to fix? Start down that path today. If I can help, just let me know how.
Photo by Laura Gilmore. Used under Creative Commons License.
When the Pope asked Michelangelo how he knew what to cut away when he was sculpting the statue of David, Michelangelo reportedly answered “Simple. I just chipped away everything that didn’t look like David.”
There are two kinds of processes that artists use when making their art. The first, used by Michelangelo when sculpting David, was a Subtractive Process. You start with something—a block of marble or a hunk of wood—and you slowly chisel, carve and otherwise remove bits of that something until what you’re left with is the finished product.
The other process is an Additive Process. There you start with nothing—a blank canvas, a hunk of clay, an empty lot—and then you paint, shape, mold or build until you have the finished product. Think Van Gogh, Alberto Giacometti or Frank Lloyd Wright.
To create the life you want in retirement you need to use both the Additive and Subtractive Processes.
You need to channel your inner Michelangelo and remove everything that doesn’t look like the life you want. You need to make the “Stop Doing” list that I’ve talked about here many times before and then begin to chip away, purge, streamline and simplify.
At the same time, you need to figure out what you really want out of this life and start adding, shaping and building. What will you do? How will you pay for it? Who needs to be there? What skills do you need? You have a blank canvas. Paint a Rembrandt. You have an empty lot. Build Fallingwater.
“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” ~Michelangelo
Photo by Scott Ableman. Used under Creative Commons License.