We are what we repeatedly do.
I used to just think about this quote in the positive way, such as “if I continue to write, then I am a writer.” It’s helped me get through many self-defeating ideas about what I can and can’t do, especially in regards to what I’ve been taught how to do and what I’ve learned on my own. In that sense, it’s very empowering.
But here recently I’ve started thinking about the dark side of that principle as it pertains to the activities that I say I do and the activities that I actually do. Let’s take email, for instance. Given the requirements of my full-time job, I spent a large portion of my days doing email correspondence. At the end of the day, I’d recount what I did that day and it was “push email.”
Other days, I licked envelopes and hung posters. You do these things to get a job done when you’re short-staffed and handed a messy project, but at the same time, a lot of what I’ve been doing does not match my job description.
(Sidebar: Part of the problem is that I’m filling a new position that really has at least three distinct components. My spidey-sense went off when I was interviewed and it became clear to me that they really didn’t know what all the job will entail.)
It’s not at all unusual for our job descriptions to be a lot different than what we actually do. That’s not the real point here. The real point is that when I talk with people about productivity, creativity, and goal actualization, there’s a large chasm between what they say they’re doing and what they’re actually doing.
Our Technological Time-Fillers
Let’s return to email. Many creatives are swamped in their Inbox and spend hours of their days checking, shuffling, categorizing, and monkeying around with email. When meetings are sandwiched between email and sandwiches, the net result is that, at the end of the day, the creative hasn’t actually created anything except for email messages.
There’s nothing wrong with email, and by now it’s a critical part of the way we work. But we have to realize at some point that if we’re spending our days shuffling email, we’re not writers, designers, artists, and such – we’re customer service agents.
Twitter is much the same way. I love Twitter, but at some point we all have to realize that if we’re spending our day tweeting, we’re not creatives – we’re Tweeters.
I can hear the resounding disagreement. Some of you are saying “But Twitter and email is how I network, market, build clients, and connect with friends!” I understand – I do the same thing. But we have to be honest with ourselves about this one. Sometimes we’re legitimately there marketing, networking, and connecting with people. A lot of times, though, we’re just there because we’re avoiding doing something else. (Or to show that we’re part of that elite group who has the type of position that we can hang out all day, but that’s a completely different post.)
The Relationship Between Time and Relationships
One of the things people are most often concerned about is their relationships with others. We want to be good parents, friends, lovers, and spouses and a good portion of what makes us who we are is made up by these very powerful bonds. Yet, when it comes to the time we actually invest in these relationships, it falls short of the other things we do (like work and play).
The answer is simple in theory and hard in practice. Meaningful relationships take time in one shape or the other, whether it’s in weekly emails, phone calls, bar meets, or soccer games. The hard part is making time for these things in our hectic, busy lives.
The main point here is that trying to hold your end of the relationship in thoughts and wishes is pointless – you must do things to uphold your end of relationships. Doing takes time. So rather than worrying and thinking about your relationship with someone, pick up the phone or shoot them an email. Go from there and invest time in the relationship.
The Present of the Present
Our histories only take us so far. Each day is a new day to reassert your being, not by intention and wishing, but by action. We create or reinforce habits that lead either to our thriving or not actualizing our potential each day.
I say this because many of us forget that, while we can only really mark progress through weeks and months, the trenches of our development and identity is in the minutes that make up each day. The hours that are lost on the activities that aren’t instrumental to becoming the person we want to be or gained by consciously redirecting those loose minutes into purposive motion make the difference between us treading water with our goals and us actually pushing the ball forward.
The historical fascination tends to point to men and women who, in a moment, defined themselves through virtue or folly. The reality is much more powerful: the great people, known and unknown, familiar and foreign, became great through momentary choices throughout a lifetime.
But the reality is also much more frightening, for:
What lies in our power to do, lies in our power not to do.
Through your actions, what are you becoming in this moment on this day?
You are onto something here. I’ve been rereading E.T. Hall’s The Dance of Life, one of my all-time favorite books. In his lingo, I’d say that we have some ability to choose which rhythms we dance to. But it takes energy to change, and when the driving beat is coming from a big or well-funded entity, or an employer, it’s not as easy as one would wish. You’re right though — to be conscious of habits and the possibilities of individual moments is to start seizing control.
@Kelly: I love the dance and rhythm metaphors because it’s those natural rhythms that we most often forget about when we march to the beat of someone else’s drum. When they stop the music, we’re left hanging, unsure of what to do next. But when we change the beat to our internal rhythm, and try to find where we can match that beat with others, synergistic possibilities abound.
But it’s really hard to get others to see it that way. I guess therein lies the rub.
Thanks so much for commenting – we need to do lunch soon!
Karl Staib - Work Happy Now says
“Actions speak louder than words.” comes to mind when I read this post. It’s our choices and the action behind them that creates the person.
I really needed this post today. I’m overcoming a cold and struggling to get back on the blogging horse. Thanks!
Karl Staib – Work Happy Nows last blog post..A Cold, My Focus, Shout Out to My Wife and Lucy
Jerry Kolber says
I know you wrote this post exactly a year ago and wanted to let you know I found my way to it today – Oct 4 2009.
You write beautifully and with “Vajra Clarity” about many different ideas here, all of which I needed to hear today, right now. Particularly “Time and Relationships”. You are profound.
@Jerry: This was an awesome comment on its own, but I actually had to do a google search on Vajra Clarity, and man, you nailed it. Both the good and the bad. I love learning something new – thanks for helping that process along!