Random Notes

The public notebook of writer and essayist Scott Nesbitt

It's as old as ... well, you can come up with your own metaphor. Someone touting their way of doing things as being the best way or the only way to do something.

Often, their saying that to sell a product or a service. Sometimes, though, they're convinced that it really is their way or the highway. The web seems to be packed with those people.

Sadly, that approach appeals to a majority of people. Many of whom should know better.

The problem isn't the people pushing a method or a product. The problem is that folks are looking for a one-size-fits-all solution to what they need to do. They want all the answers in a neat little package.

That expectation, that desire doesn't take into account individual variations. Variations like people with different needs, different circumstance, different abilities, different ways of learning, and more.

Whether you're learning a language, getting fit, building a tiny house, writing a book, learning to code, cooking dinner, or anything there's one universal truth: there's no one way to do everything. Period.

Do what works for you. Don't be afraid to tweak the way in which you do things. Don't be afraid to incorporate new techniques or ideas. But don't feel obliged to shoehorn your way of doing things into someone else's system. In the end, it's probably not worth the time or effort.

A few years ago, a younger friend and I were discussing a trip I took ... well, quite a few years ago. That person hadn't travelled much, and said that the time I'd spent in Japan (and travelling elsewhere) must have been an amazing and unique experience.

I replied that those journeys had been interesting. But amazing and unique? Hardly. So many people had done what I'd done (and sometimes more) that my experiences seemed a bit generic.

Then it struck me out of nowhere. I realized at that moment that I hadn't really appreciated my experiences as much as I should have at the time. They were amazing and unique, in that the particular experiences were mine and mine alone. They were different from those of other people.

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Humans have an amazing ability for deception. Often, that ability for deception gets turned upon ourselves. To our failings. To our weaknesses.

We fool ourselves into believing that we're better or more skilled at something that we really are. We fool ourselves into thinking there's nothing wrong with our lives or the way that we work. We fool ourselves into believing that the blame for our problems lies elsewhere.

If you're not improving, if you're not moving forward then you need to look in the mirror. You need to accept responsibility for who you are and what's happening to you.

You need to stop fooling yourself.

Once you do that, once you take a cold, hard, and objective (or objective as possible) look at what the problem or problems that you face are. Then you can take steps to analyze those problems and come up with a plan to solve them.

It's never an easy fix. You might need help. Unless you take the first step, self deception will retain its grip on you and you'll keep spinning your wheels.

Never.

Yes, you read that correctly. Your writing will never be perfect. Whatever perfect means when it comes to writing.

Why? Perfection is impossible. Full stop. So stop arguing with me, kids.

It's rare for what you write to come out the way you originally envisioned it. There will always be deviations, deficiencies, small flaws due to deadline pressures or your inexperience or any number of other factors.

And there's nothing wrong with that. Just as jewelers don't reject diamonds with flaws, you shouldn't stress about flawed writing.

Don't let the demon of perfectionism hold you back. If you keep waiting to submit or publish your writing in the vain hope of making it perfect, you'll never submit or publish anything. If you let perfectionism paralysis take hold, you'll never finish writing anything.

Writing and rewriting in an endless cycle, trying to make your work perfect, will lead you to never finishing what you're trying to write. It could reach a point where perfectionism paralysis stops you from starting anything.

That's no way to improve your writing. That's no way to pick up the skills and experience you that you want to pick up.

Instead, make what you write as good as you can get it. Then, click Send or click the Publish button. Yes, there will be people who will heap criticism on you and what you've written — some of that criticism could be quite cruel or personal. But you might also get some positive feedback, which will help you improve and grow.

If you're ever on the fence, ask yourself this question: What's the worst that could happen if I submit or publish my writing? Chances are you won't become a social pariah or be branded an abject failure. Rejection or criticism might be setbacks, but they're setbacks you can, and should, learn from.

Contrary to what a few people might tell you, I'm all for people trying to learn more and improve themselves.

My view of self improvement and continuous education is this:

  • Do it if it will truly benefit you in some way and you're not just jumping on a bandwagon or following a trend.
  • Keep it up only if you enjoy it. If you don't enjoy it, what you're doing will become a chore and you won't be engaged and won't work at it with the intensity you started with.
  • Jump in because you want to, not because some expert or guru says you should.

Take control of your learning. Take control of your development. Go with your gut and your interests. Don't be afraid to move on if you find something's not right for you, that you're not making progress, or if you've learned everything that you needed to learn. And definitely don' shy away from learning something because it's not practical.

At the start of 2021, I told myself no new gadgets or electronics for the next 12 months. So far, I've managed to stick to that.

A few weeks later, I decided to extend that to include books — whether new or used, printed or electronic. Instead, I'm taking 2021 to do something I don't do enough of: rereading books that I haven't cracked open in 10, 20, or even 30 years.

Why? To reacquaint myself with works that I've enjoyed or which helped shape my thinking. To see if those books have held up after all this time. To again expose my brain to the ideas in those books. To find out how my thinking and perception have changed. To uncover ideas I might have missed the last time I read those books.

I might find myself asking Why did I get into this book? I might find myself wondering why I didn't reread a book earlier. Or I might have another reaction.

I'm looking forward to finding out what happens.

It's a waste of time

I've heard those words uttered so often in my life. Sometimes about what I wanted to do or was doing. Sometimes about what others wanted to do or were doing. And, to be honest, I'm sure I've said that more than a few times.

And they could be talking about anything. A hobby. A pursuit. A dream. Something you're reading or watching.

Think about the people say that. They most likely are people who don't understand the appeal of what you're doing. They're probably people who have fallen into the idle hands mindset (as in the devil makes work for ...). They're probably people who believe that everything you do, everything you pursue needs to be practical.

Guess what? They're wrong. Wrong about you. Wrong about what you're doing. And they're wrong to point it out.

Why? Because it's your time. What you do with it is no one's concern but your own. You can do with it what you will. If you enjoy doing something frivolous, if you're enriched by something, then it's not a waste of time.

Here's an example: on and off for the last few months, I've been picking up my daughter's acoustic guitar and learning some basic chords. I can strum maybe half a dozen of them. I definitely can't quickly shift between them, and I know I'll never be able to play a tune.

Some people have said I'm wasting my time. Why do that if you're not going to learn to play the guitar properly? they've asked. The point is that I'm having fun. I'm using my brain and body in a slightly different way than I normally do, and the 15 minutes I take to pick up that guitar offer a nice break during the day.

Don't jump on to the assembly line of productivity just for the sake of productivity. Don't believe that everything you do needs to be practical or useful or serious. Don't feel the need to get more done.

Instead, waste your time, as long as it doesn't affect other aspects of your life. You may not be more productive, but your life will be a little more well rounded and a lot more fun.

Some interesting posts I've discovered in these parts over the last while:

Sometimes, you run into an article or essay that strikes a chord with you. Sometimes, you run into one that leaves you shaking your head.

In the latter category is an article published in August of 2014 about a man who quantified all of the communications he had during 2013. Yes, all of them. Email, SMS, postal mail. And his in-person conversations. He:

pulled out his phone and tracked the occurrence, measuring the conversation's length, where it occurred, and, most bogglingly, all the subjects discussed.

Like what? How about:

  • 4,572 salutations and 2,833 pleasantries used
  • 3,108 conversations with non-verbal components
  • 1,670 conversations
  • 126,550 unique words recorded

But I really have to ask What was the point?

By analyzing all of the data that he collected, will he have better or more efficient and effective conversations in the future? Will he grow closer to others? Will he focus more on one channel of communication? Will he deepen his in-person conversations? Will he pull out pithy nuggets that he can use again, in some other form?

I can't see any of that happening.

What do those numbers that he derived mean in practical terms? I don't think the data that he collected and recorded can quantify the quality of the interactions that he had. I've had long conversations with people, conversations that led to nothing. But those conversations were enjoyable because I was communicating with interesting people who I liked and with whom I was at ease. I didn't come to any profound conclusion about the ethical structure of the universe, but I felt better after having had those conversations.

In practical terms, was all the time and effort that he spent collecting and collating and analyzing and visualizing that data worth it? Or could that time and effort have been channelled into something else that could potentially be more worthwhile?

Data can be useful. But it's not the be all, end all. So much lies beneath data that even best analysis and mining tools can't come close to touching it. What lies beneath is the human factor.

Do you want to live a better life? Then focus on your life. Do things. Make changes. Live. Don't become a slave to data. Don't expect the data to provide you with some truth or path. That lies within you.

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