Wind Your Watch, Dude.

There’s plenty that Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure can teach us beyond the importance of being excellent to each other.

At one point, Future Ted reminds his past self to wind his watch. Future Ted forgot to take care of this task when it was his turn, so he’s hoping this message will correct his/their mistake.

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Later, Bill & Ted use a similar technique to remind themselves to set up the conditions they need to escape from a police station, lending assistance to themselves across time.

But it doesn’t take a technologically advanced phone booth or the mentorship of George Carlin to do the same for yourself.

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I’ve started pausing before I leave a place that I return to frequently, like my home or my office at work, and ask the question “How can I help my future self?”

Maybe it’s printing out some paperwork I’ll need for my next day of classes. If I wash out this French press now, it’ll be ready when I want it tomorrow. If I start this writing project, even if I don’t have time to finish it, my future self will have a foothold to use when it’s their time to take over.

Taking a pause and asking that question can lead you to see that even a small action now might be helpful later.

Try it, and see if you don’t wind up thanking yourself.

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Stop Saying You’re A Bad Writer

Stop it. Right now.

That voice telling anyone who’ll listen that you’re a bad writer? The one that needs to put down anything you’ve written before somebody gets a chance to make up their own mind about it? That one that stops you from moving forward on the work you need to do?

Separate it from yourself. Call it the voice of Insecurity.

Yes, with a capital I. Insecurity is its own being, like a parasite or a demon that needs to be exorcised.

Insecurity loves to waste your time. And it loves to make other people think they’re wasting their time with you. Insecurity will flat out tell people that your work isn’t worth their attention.

Insecurity will try to tell people that you aren’t worth their time.

But Insecurity isn’t you, and it doesn’t need to be permanent. You can quiet that voice. You can find confidence to supplant it.

Confidence starts when you stop using the passive voice to speak about yourself. Stop thinking “I am a bad writer.” like it’s a constant.

You build confidence through action, so adjust your thinking accordingly.

Look at what you did, not just at what you produced: I wrote today. I edited this. I found a different way to say this. I asked for help.

If you say “I am a bad writer,” you commit to that idea. You choose to accept it. You make it so.

Practice builds confidence. Write. Write a lot, but don’t only write. Immersing yourself in the written word, critiquing other writing, and listening openly and deeply to those who offer to critique your work are all part of the practice.

You focus on the practice, because some days leave you disappointed; so the good days come more often. But no matter the outcome, the effort remains the same. The momentum of actively working carries you through.

Focus on the practice to remind yourself that the writing and the writer both keep changing.

Practice until you stop saying “I’m a bad writer.” Practice until you learn to say “I write.” Then keep practicing.

What we write about when we write think pieces about doing what we love

I’ve been in a running dialogue with a friend and fellow writer about articles on the topic of doing what you love. Articles talking about how to stoke your passion, about questioning whether you’re actually doing what you love, and so on. There are a lot of people writing a lot of words about doing what you love and knowing what that is.

And it gets me thinking back to a line from Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated.

“I am doing something I hate for you. This is what it means to be in love.”

Love is not synonymous with joy.

Doing what you love does not mean living in a state of bliss. Neither does it mean constant suffering for your craft. Fetishizing some ideal or imagined state of being gets in the way of The Work and getting The Work done.

You make compromises for love. You prioritize for love. You sacrifice for love. Love is messy and imperfect.

So if you ever doubt if what you’re doing is something you love, look at what you’ve set aside for it. Look at the list of things that you said no to in order to say yes to this.

Love is the repetition of yes.

Trying

My daughter isn’t two weeks old yet, so sometimes she doesn’t want to sleep at night. When I go take my turn trying to console the angry little tomato while my wife gets an hour or three of rest, I know that there is one thing I cannot do that would calm this child down: lactate.

She’s hungry, I can’t feed her, and there’s nothing I can do to stop the wailing and gnashing of gums.

But I have to try and calm her down.

Sometimes I get a moment where she stops crying to burp. Sometimes she’ll even sleep for minutes or (right now I can’t believe this is happening) an hour. Or sometimes she’ll still be bright red but will stop gasping and protesting long enough to take a few good breaths. All of those belong in the win column, even if they don’t mean I get to go to sleep quite yet.

When I sit down to work on yet another draft of something, I try not to think that this will be the time I fix all the problems. It probably won’t. I may not even fix a single problem, and actually create five new ones.

But I have to try and put words on the page.

If I go in with the enthusiasm that this time will be different, and this time will make everything perfect, I’m setting myself up for disappointment. But if I believe that I might not make any real progress and can still push ahead, that sets me up to feel like I at least accomplished the attempt. That I can mark off one more day in the chain of trying.

The Hagakure talks about how a retainer should go into battle believing they are already dead so that they do not act as if they fear death. This is maybe a little morbid of a working motto to attach oneself to.

Brian Eno has a more moderate line:

“The point about working is not to produce great stuff all the time, but to remain ready for when you can.”

It’s a quote I keep up on the wall to remind me that not every day will have an epiphany. Not every run will be a personal best. And now I need to remember that every silly song or diaper check will not necessarily be the thing that calms the ferocious infant.

But that shouldn’t stop me from trying.

Run in the Rain

Don’t check the weather to see if tomorrow might be nicer outside. Lace up your shoes. Cut through the grass and feel the soft, wet earth cushion your stride. Run through puddles. Hop over puddles. Let the rain cool you off as you push forward.

Don’t worry about not using your headphones or electronics. Listen to the sound of your feet against the pavement. See how quiet you can make yourself. Listen to the patter of droplets falling through the leaves above you. Smell the flowers.

So many things we want to do wind up not getting done because the conditions aren’t right, or we don’t think we’re prepared enough.

You can’t always change the environment to exactly suit your needs, but you are always capable of not caring if things are perfect.