A Great Little Life

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The other day, after my mother had watched our son while my wife and I ran some errands, she offered to help me pick up my beloved beater car, which had been in the shop for repairs. As I backed her car out of my driveway, she let out a positive sigh from the passenger seat as her eyes fell on our “new” house — a 2 bedroom red brick house built in the ‘60s — our “weigh station” on our road to homeownership.

“What a great little house,” she tacked to the end of her sigh. 

“I know. I like it.” 

“And a great little family.” 

“I like them, too.” 

After a few beats, she turned to look at me as I drove her car down my street. 

“You seem to just have a great little life.” 

“I like to think so.” 

Most people want to live a great big life — whatever that means. 

Not me. 

Don’t get me wrong — I like that great part. But making it “big”? Big already comes with living.
It’s hard to define the what and why of “big.” 

What does it mean to live a big life? 

Does that mean to accomplish monumental feats—whatever the hell “monumental” means? To make lots of money and earn prestige or status? To be famous? 

Why would someone want to live a big life?

Does this mean that the status and the money earned can grant you the freedom to do what you want? To live lavishly wherever you’d like? 

I’ll take a little life over a big life. 

What does it mean to live a little life? 

Living little means a simpler existence.
Fewer plates to spin.
Fewer people to impress.
Less to lose.
Shorter heights from which to fall.
Less time worrying about things that, in the end, don’t really matter. 

Why would someone want to live a little life?

The motivations of others aren’t as regularly called into question.
Your belongings are few and simple but aren’t intended to impress strangers and acquaintances.
 You have fewer, but higher quality friends. 

Where does greatness come into play? 

I don’t want only a little life, but rather a great little life.
Accomplishing what I want to accomplish — never only what is expected of me.
Perpetually sharpening myself — as a husband, father, friend, mensch, and artist.
Enjoying a higher quality of time with the people that matter the most to me. 

It is my prayer that when the wrinkled fingers of my exceedingly aged hand turn the pages of personal photo albums — drawing out memories from the deepest recesses of my hopefully-still-accessible memory — that upon closing the book, I can happily sigh — just as my mom did in the car that day — and say to myself, 

“I sure have lived a great little life.”


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I Talk Too Much (And What I’m Doing About It)

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I talk too much. 

Though amidst a pandemic, this means that I send an average of four unnecessary sentences per email, two unnecessary sentences per chat, two unnecessary follow-up text messages, and many Tweets that should have remained thoughts. It still falls under the category of over-communication. 

Firstly, I’d like to apologize to those whom I’ve word-vomited upon without their consent. 

Secondly, this piece is my attempt to examine what is necessary for correction. 

You’re Actually Interesting

There’s a good chance that you’re actually a tremendously interesting and mysterious person. The problem is that your lack of undisciplined conversation etiquette is forcing others to pan for gold in the verbal spaghetti you dish up with every communicative interaction. By simply doing the pre-panning yourself, you can actually make your words worthy of someone’s attention. 

Why You Shouldn’t Talk Too Much 

  • You won’t annoy people by wasting their time and effort.
  • Each word you say has more weight, thus making you seem more interesting. 
  • As a byproduct, you’ll become a better listener, and thus, a better responder.
  • By leaving people wanting more, they may even seek your opinion.

But don’t be bummed if they don’t.

How You Can Keep From Talking Too Much

  • Practice active listening. While listening, do not use up mental bandwidth constructing your response. Just…listen.
  • Just as you wouldn’t swallow before you’ve adequately chewed a mouthful of food, do not reply until you’ve fully processed not only what you’ve heard or read, but also what you intend to say in response.
  • Weigh how valuable your comments will be to your recipient. If the comments serve you more than they’ll serve your intended recipient, they are likely superfluous.
  • Say more with what you choose not to say.

So…

  • Listen more.
  • Process inbound and outbound messages.
  • Remember: just because you’re talking more doesn’t mean you’re saying more. 

As Miles Davis would say—

“It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.” 


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The Broken Autopilot

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Let me know if this sounds familiar:

You’ve been actively doing something — work, a chore, making dinner — and now you’re done. For a moment, the drive of your mind peters out like a small plane engine that has just stalled. The momentum of that task, much like a spinning propeller in front of your face, suddenly flutters and stops with a clunk. What once was the sound of a some-odd-stroke engine buzzing through the skies has been replaced with whistling wind as you begin to feel the loss of altitude in your guts. 

Left with nothing that needs to be immediately done, the need to be mentally stimulated begins to bounce around inside your head like ballpoint pens and paper coffee cups in a now-dropping cockpit. Rather than clutching the headliner of the cockpit in anticipation of impact, you’ve remembered that you have a default safety mechanism for aimless thought — a shining screen.

As soon as you’ve booted up that screen — whether it’s a phone screen, tablet, or television — you can feel your pulse begin to normalize and your palms begin to dry. The engine of your attention turns back over, the propeller sputters to life, and you begin to regain lost altitude. Whoa, that was close. 

After a time, though you’re relieved that you’re not likely to plummet to the earth, you wake up from behind the controls. The auto-pilot had taken over and you’re now headed in the opposite direction. You’ve been down the rabbit hole of social media vanity metrics, social comparison, paparazzi voyeurism, and sensationalist news for a while and are now even further from your destination. Due to your original panic, you left control of your attention to the auto-pilot. Once control was happily handed off, it took you further away from your destination of contentment than had you made an emergency landing once you lost engine power. 

Here’s the interesting thing about where the airplane analogy differs from your attention: there’s not actually any ground below. You could kill the engine, prop your feet up on the instrument panel, and lean back with your fingers gently interlocked behind your closed eyes, and never actually hit anything. The Cessna of your attention span will simply continue to fall toward…nothing — like a flight simulator whose developers forgot to write the code for mountains, oceans, trees, or even firm land.

The plane of our focus will stall out every day, likely hundreds of times a day. And that’s ok. Why? Because there’s no ground beneath that plane.

But if there’s no ground, what’s down there? 

The present moment — that’s all. And it’s really quite nice. And it’s especially nicer than an auto-pilot that is specifically designed to take us away from actually living.


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Let’s Stop Forcing Things

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This post is the first among my Short & Simple category—short realizations I’m come to almost always while journaling my own problems. 

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Rarely in life is force a necessity. Most executions of force eventually backfire.

Force within a relationship strains trust.

Force in the body often leads to injury.

Force within the mind saps the spirit of self-compassion.

What is the alternative remedy? A dismantling of the motivations for what was deemed necessary force. Assessing the reasoning for the failure of an intended outcome should always take precedence over force.

Why isn’t this relationship going the way you want it to?
Maybe it’s not supposed to happen in the way you want.
Maybe there is a lack of trust somewhere that needs to be addressed.

Why am I not losing weight or becoming free of a current ailment?
Maybe your force in this scenario is not in alignment with the long-term health and systemic balance within your body.

Why can’t I focus on the things that matter most in life enough to make time for them? Maybe your default modes of how you spend time have strayed from their optimal positions to sub-optimal behaviors with frictionless gratification.

Forcing any of these will rarely result in anything more than mental, social, or physical hemorrhoids.

Don’t Abandon the Tools You Forged in 2020

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Take a look before you close the book. 

Though we’d all love to shelf 2020 (or run it through the shredder), there’s no denying that we all learned a lot about ourselves throughout this year. It would be a shame to call 2020 an absolute waste—especially since it had so many lessons to impart. Yes, most of these lessons are how not to do certain things, but also how to lean into the storm of life to keep it from completely knocking us down. 

For some, the lessons they learned and skills developed were how to cope with physical obstacles—lost jobs, lost homes, lost connections, lost bodily health, and even sadly, the loss of loved ones. For others, the obstacles were more mental and emotional—anxiety, depression, isolation, a lack of motivation. The list is endless.

Despite these obstacles, when carefully studied, we can recall the strategies, remedies, and mindsets we used to endure. 

If the tools and emotional armor we developed worked as well as they did when we squared off directly with the travails of 2020, how much more effective could these approaches prove for positive growth and maintenance during times less fraught with adversity? 

Let’s say you were forced to become more frugal with your finances because a member of your family lost their job. Maybe you can take these newfound budgeting skills beyond when money is coming in to save toward your goals. 

Maybe, to better cope with the anxiety and depression of being away from friends and loved ones, you were forced to seek and cultivate new practices to maintain your mental health. These methods could have included meditation, exercise, therapy, spirituality, or new interests. Though developed under immense pressure, these beneficial coping methods should be treated like precious gems you can continue to keep with you.

Before you close the book on 2020 and abandon it entirely—writing it off as a painful memory— remember the tools you forged to help you make it through the storm. These tools can prove to be invaluable companions that will serve you for the rest of your life.