SNAFU – snaˈfo͞o͞
Situation Normal, All Fucked Up
Last week I had a high school reunion at a local bar. I wasn’t planning on going, but after enough nagging from a friend of mine I decided to give it a shot. Most of the past alumni events that I’ve been to have been underwhelming, and this time I expected no different: “What do you do?” “Do you like your work?” “Yeah high school reunions are lame.” Wash, rinse, repeat a few dozen times until you’ve had your fill and go home, not to interact with those people for another five-plus years.
This time, though, I decided to take a different approach. Most of these people I’d spent my entire adolescence with, and I wasn’t going to accept that there wasn’t more to talk about with them outside of the mindless dribble that we’ve been spewing at each other for years. Seriously, it’s like everyone is ghost-walking through the night, eyes glazed over just trying to get through it. I wasn’t having it.
Finally we broke through the facade, and were talking. Each person has their speal — that pre-selected set of questions and answers that you give to appease the people you speak to so you can float by until the next reunion. Once you turn off the script, though, people suddenly become very real.
The “realest” part of all? Everyone is quietly shitting their pants.
The overwhelming majority of people I speak to in their mid-twenties is working with a similar set of internal, invisible scripts: “I need to present as if everything is going fine, not talk to anyone about the actual emotions that are bouncing around inside of me, and basically ignore my gut feeling as much as possible — because that is what everyone else is doing.” It’s toxic, because you get spit out of the other side of whatever institution you last came out of and are just expeted by society to hit the ground running, having never even learned what it means to walk.
It’s like the story of the hero riding on the back of a lion on top of a hill, majestically looking out over the horizon. From the outside, everyone admires the hero, thinking: “I wish I could be like that.” Take a peek inside the hero’s head, though, and you’ll hear “shit shit, what the fuck am I doing riding this lion?! How did I even get here I — oh, people are watching me… gotta stay cool.” Besides the obvious terror of riding on the back of an untamed lion, there is the added pressure of keeping your facade up: the last thing you want to do is look vulnerable in front of your peers. We’ve been taught by society, outrightly or implicitly, that showing emotion, struggling through tough times, being honest with how we are feeling, and even asking for help are signs of weakness. Instead of applauding each other for having the courage to open up, we as a culture have emotionally hamstrung ourselves — too scared to even look each other in the eye. So we sit frozen on our hilltop, emotionally estranged from those around us trying to ignore the fact that we are straddling some strange beast with no instruction manual, hoping it doesn’t eat our heads off when everyone is watching.
Except it isn’t just one person we look up at: everyone is on their own hill, trying to keep cool riding a crazy lion — including you. We all look around and immediately assume that the other person has got it together based on the pre-scripted lines we feed each other, trying to play off the whole lion thing and “fake it ’til you make it.” The hills are more like silos, though, isolating us from those around us and making real communication next-to-impossible.
It’s up to you to make that first step to bridging the gap.
“I didn’t have the time”
I’ve caught myself saying that phrase more times that I care to admit: going to get groceries, getting the oil changed, making it to the gym, we all have an endless list of checkboxes that never seem to get checked, waiting for Someday to roll around. But Someday keeps getting pushed back, because there is never a “good time” to do the things that you are avoiding getting done.
Parkinson’s Law is an old adage that states “”work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” No matter how hard you try to “find” the time to tackle the checklist, life will keep filling your plate and keeping you busy – and busy does not necessarily equal productive.
Instead of waiting for time to magically appear, make the time for the things that matter to you. There are countless different tricks online to try and get you to do what you need to do… but who are you trying to trick, anyways? Don’t you want these things? Aren’t you the one that will ultimately benefit? By letting yourself be convinced that the voice in your head is the enemy, it’s as if you’ve let the Trojan Horse into your fortress – not the ideal relationship to have with your brain. Flip the script: realize that the “voice” your hearing isn’t the one calling the shots, but some heckler in the crowd that gets off on you holding yourself back. Hit your brain’s Scan button and look for a frequency that empowers you to do the things you want to do. At first it will come in fuzzy, but start adjusting your brain’s antenna and it’ll come in clearer each time you tune in.
Once you stop looking for excuses and start committing to it – whatever “it” is – you won’t need any mind tricks or Top 10 Productivity Hacks: the results will be all the proof you’ll need.
One more thing: If you are comparing your success or progress by those around you, you’ve missed the point completely: make the time for yourself, you’re the only one that is watching.
Recently, my friend talked me into getting back into cycling. I used to ride as part of my triathlon training, but an injury and an extended trip to Southeast Asia threw me off of my routine and I never picked it up again. After some gentle pestering, he finally convinced me to come out for a group ride that rides up and down the coast a few times a week. He explained to me that “It’s a huge group, so the draft will be great”, which is exactly what I needed because I knew that I was very much not in biking shape. A few days later found myself at a local park in a crowd of dozens of fit, shave-legged, and undeniably fast riders. I looked down at my legs – pasty, undefined, and hairy – and quickly realized that I was in for a trip.
10 seconds in I come into the frame wearing red. My friend, Mathias, is sporting a blue and orange zebra kit. That is the last time you’ll see me before I get dropped.
Off we go, a herd of cyclists riding up the coast at sunset. If you’ve never ridden bike in a big group, it’s like being a member of a parade: flashing lights, colorful outfits, and funky body odor moving en masse as one cohesive unit – it’s exhilarating and frightening all at the same time. For the first seven or so miles I was holding my own, keeping in the middle of the pack benefitting from the draft from the riders up ahead. A stoplight up ahead flipped to red, and the group rolled to a stop. I looked around, pretty content with my performance thus far – I’m not necessarily out of shape, but it has been a long while since I did any serious cardio. As I’m waiting at the light deep in my daydream, the group lurched forward – I snap back and see that the light is back to green. I scrambled to clip back into my pedals and keep my spot in the crowd. As I fumbled to get my second foot secured, I had fallen to the back of the pack, and was frantically pedaling to get back into the middle where the draft was the strongest. Unfortunately for me, however, that stoplight is the light where the group “drops the hammer” and takes off into a full sprint.
I was fighting a losing battle, holding on with all of my might as the mass of cyclists slowly pulled away from me. By the eighth mile I was watching from a distance as the group led by my friend disappeared into the sunset. Not long after, I turned around and finished my 25-mile ride home with a strong headwind and mild sunburn.
Strangely enough, despite effectively failing to ride with the group, I actually enjoyed that workout. After I got dropped, I felt a wave of relief and pride wash over me and give me a second wind to fight the headwind: I knew the moment I showed up that I was more than probably in a little over my head… but I showed up – and that’s what counts. This morning, as I nursed my sore legs, I thought about endurance sports and how they are an apt metaphor to living “The Good Life.” The Good Life means different things to different people; still, regardless of what your goals are many of the personal struggles are the same.
It doesn’t matter if you are training to run an Iron Man, starting your own company, or even stepping out of what is your normal comfort zone, there will be seen and unforeseen challenges and failures along the way. It takes immense courage to attempt something new, and even more so after you have failed. Still, the people that fully realize their version of The Good Life are those that continually push through the discomfort and fear – because it is the life they chose to live.
Take ownership of your experience here: no one is going to care more about your Life than you, so make the commitment – no matter how seemingly small – to go that extra mile. You’ll be surprised how quickly those miles add up.
When’s the last time you took ten minutes and did nothing. No texting, no scrolling through Instagram, no building your to-do list, just you with your stream of thoughts. Up until recently, I would have said never – and why would I? I have a million and one things that need to get done ASAP, and barely even enough time for myself. How can I justify taking any of my precious time out to do nothing? It is contrary to the very productivity I’m constantly striving for.
That was the basic line of reasoning that I was following, and I had all but convinced myself that meditation was something that only hippies and monks did – it had no place in the modern, fast-paced society I was participating in. I was physically fit, moving in the right direction for the career I wanted, and was generally in a good mood overall.
That was, until I stopped running.
Jim Carey’s powerful 2014 Commencement Speech from the Maharishi University of Management. My words pale in comparison to the impact this speech has — do yourself a favor and give it a watch.
We are all finding our way along the path, it’s nice to know that we are doing it together.
Sometimes, even despite positive momentum, something can psychologically ‘trip’ you: you were going to the gym regularly but your group fitness class schedule changed, your diet was going great until you went on that vacation, your side project was gaining traction but you got distracted by Life.
“… the present tense of regret is indecision”
Earlier we mused about figuring out where to start, which is simultaneously one of the easiest and hardest roadblocks to overcome. But we never got into why it is such a hurdle in the first place.
We spend a considerable amount of energy reminiscing on our pasts, but at what point does that begin to work against us?