Random Notes

The public notebook of writer and essayist Scott Nesbitt

That question is Why?

It's a question that many people don't ask themselves. They don't ask it because strikes at the heart of their reasons and motivations for doing something or learning something. And if they do ask Why?, often the answer is half hearted at best, or an answer which provides a feeble justification for doing something or taking a particular path.

Why? is such a difficult question that we fool ourselves into believing the trite or stock answers, or feeble justifications, that we come up with. We tend to follow along with the crowd because it's the easiest thing to do. We continue on because that's what is expected of us.

If you can't come up with a compelling answer to the question, then you need to reconsider the reason you're doing something or the reason you're trying to learn something. If you can't, chances are you're not having fun, you're not as engaged as you want to be, and you're not learning or progressing at the pace you're capable of.

Take the example of a friend of mine. A couple or three years back, she took up CrossFit. When she talked about CrossFit, she didn't sound very enthusiastic. Partly because she wasn't having fun, partly because of the gung ho no pain, no gain attitude that seems to part of modern fitness culture, and partly because she has been plagued by a number of minor injuries since starting.

I asked her why, in light of all those factors, she keeps it up. Her answer was a weak justification based on CrossFit being the so-called latest and greatest, and because it's good training for me. The problem is that she really wasn't training for any kind of athletic event.

Asking why got her to think about her motivation more clearly and with more depth. So much so that she gave up on CrossFit and started learning aikido. She's having more fun, learning more, and isn't walking around hurt.

Whether it's adopting a fitness program, learning a language, learning to code, or adopting a new device or tool you need to ask yourself Why. Not just ask the question, but deeply ponder it. When you do that, you'll really know whether a course of action is right for you.

All of us, at one time or another, feel the need to jump on the latest bandwagon or to follow the latest trend. It could be using the trendy new software or web app or social network. It could be learning to code or studying another language. It could be buying that new gadget or device. It could be taking part in the newest fitness craze.

But how many actually stick with any of that once the initial glow and excitement wears off? Hard to say, but I'd guess not many.

While you might be experiencing something new, you're also wasting time and energy pursuing something that you wind up dropping after a few days or weeks.

You could save yourself a lot of time, energy, and hassle by asking yourself a simple question before you jump into something. That question?

Do I really need to?

If you can't immediately answer that question, chances are you don't.

Take a friend of mine, for example. He aspires to be a writer. But he also has a major tool fetish. Over the years, he's jumped from one writing tool to the next — on the web, on the desktop, and for mobile devices. Why? With each new tool he tried, he was convinced that he'd achieve writing nirvana (his words, not mine) and become more a more productive writer.

He didn't.

Instead, my friend found himself back using an app called iAWriter. He's more productive with it than with any other tool. And he's spending more time writing than jumping from tool to tool.

And if say that you need to do something, you also need to be able to explain why. Not just half-hearted justifications — like Everyone's doing it or It's new and fresh or It's better than x — but well-thought out reasons. Reasons that you form with deep thinking and by doing research. Once you start digging deeper, you might find that you don't need to change, that you don't need to jump on the latest bandwagon.

You can save yourself a lot of time, energy, and grief by asking the question Do I really need to? The question is simple, but the answer that you come up with can be profound.

We all know people who are frustrated with or bitter about aspects of their lives. Sometimes, with life in general.

You know the type of person I mean. Someone who spends a lot of time nitpicking. Someone who spends a lot of time complaining about anything and anyone.

You might, from time to time, be one of those people.

You could be disappointed with something that happened in the past — a job you didn't get, a school or course you didn't get into, a relationship that failed. It could be an accumulation of things that haven't gone well in your life.

There have been several times when the universe decided to squat down and defecate on my life. When that happened, I was bitter. I was angry. But I realized that the bitterness and anger weren't making my life better. They weren't making the situation better. In fact, that bitterness and anger were making things worse. Not just for me but for the people around me, too.

Instead of embracing your bitterness and frustration, you need to let go of it all. Here's some advice which can help you do that.


It's not all or nothing. It's not a matter of being with you or against you. It's not your way or the highway.

There are more than two points of view. There are more than two ways of doing things.

Once we all start to understand that, we'll understand more about others, about the world around us, and about ourselves.

Many times, you find it in the places you least expect. A sunset or a view. A uniquely designed building. A finely-crafted sentence. A lone flower growing in a vacant lot. A genuine smile.

Beauty can stick with us throughout our lives. Or, it could be something fleeting that brightens our moods for a few moments.

We all have things that we want to achieve in our careers. There are things we want to do in life. But most of us don't achieve all of that. Not even close.

There's nothing wrong with that.

In our hyper-competitive world, it seems that anyone who hasn't made millions on an IPO, hasn't done everything on their bucket list, hasn't mastered 42 skills or six languages by the time they're 30 is deemed a failure. It's a sad commentary on life today.

But it's OK not to achieve everything. It doesn't mean you didn't try. Life is funny. Things get in the way. Family, health, a career, contentment. There are curve balls a plenty thrown our way, numerous obstacles dropped in our paths. There are only so many hours in the day, so many days in the year. It's not surprise that most of us don't achieve everything we aspire to.

Look closely at all those uber-competitive people out there. Have all of them achieved everything? You can be sure that there's at least one aspect of their lives lacking.

Regardless, do you want to spend all your your waking hours working? Do you want to be constantly glued to your smartphone or your laptop? Or do you want more balance in your life?

I hope you'd choose the latter.

And what about not achieving everything? Don't stress about it. Remember that life is meant to be lived, not just filled with a constant stream or work or with dubious experiences. Instead, try to achieve the most important goals in your life. Strive for balance.

Try to spend your life living and not at the assembly line of productivity and career. You might not achieve everything, but you'll definitely have a life worth living.

We're living in a culture where we need to be connected. Always. We're constantly glancing at the little screens we carry with us. We constantly tweet, stream, check in.

We're overcome with an anxiety over missing out. We need to bask in the glow of our smartphones, tablets, monitors 24/7. Or so it seems.

But do we really need to? Are any going to miss something monumentally important? Is something life changing going to happen if we avert our gazes for a few minutes (or longer)? Probably not.

But few of us don't try to turn off. We stay connected. We lose out on the power and joys of turning off. We don't spend enough time looking at the world around us, which is far bigger and more interesting than that four or five inch screen we carry around.

Turning off gives you distance. It lets you gain a bit of perspective. It clears your mind. It eases your anxiety.

When you go back to the digital world after a period of turning off, you're fresher. You're more focused. You appreciate what's around you more.

You realize there's more to life than being connected. That the stream of information you wade into isn't the be all, end all of your existence. You learn to be the rock in the middle of the stream, around which the information flows.

Turning off isn't a rejection of the modern world. It's not a backlash against technology. It's you affirming that while technology has a place in your life, it's not the most important part of that life.

Turning off is you realizing that maybe, just maybe, you can find some sort of balance. And isn't that what living is all about?

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