On focus

Hello hello and happy Friday!

Do you still not know what you want to be ‘when you grow up’? Do you ever get the feeling that your focus is being pulled in a thousand directions – possibly by everyone but yourself? Are you worried that recording your new EP might interfere with your latest batch of Kombucha?

I’m not making fun. As usual on this site, I am pretty much describing myself and inferring I’m not the only one.

It struck me recently that our generation (millennials, or whatever garbage thing you want to call us) is characterized in large part by Jacks of all trades. Everybody is a slash and/or a multi-hyphenate.

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Miranda Sings is a modern quintuple threat.

Performance artists Colleen Ballinger (aka Miranda Sings) listing her 5-threat talents is my favorite absurd example, but there’s a real chance that virtually everyone you know has a similar list.

Here’s mine: I’m a Russianist/polyglot/writer/editor/visual artist/communications professional/drag queen/singer-songwriter/electronic musician/YouTuber/postmodern gender theorist, and, oh yeah, anti-suicide blogger (welcome!).

But am I?

Yes and no. And what I’m going to argue for today is the power of no (or no more).

I am or have been all of those things up there, but – well, since I’m talking about myself, I’ll be honest – I only actually do a few of those things well, or with any distinction.

Do you have to be good at something to do it? No. In fact, you shouldn’t be good when you start out.

But unless you are a rara avis indeed, you are not going to become a master of all those domains. And in fact, I would argue, the attempt makes it even less likely that you will succeed.

Why am I not a rich and famous Russianist/polyglot/writer/editor/visual artist/communications professional/drag queen/singer-songwriter/electronic musician/YouTuber/postmodern gender theorist, and, oh yeah, anti-suicide blogger?

Because that’s several lifetimes worth of passions, and I’m not even that passionate about all of them. Some of them are just things I saw other people being successful at, and reasoned I could, too.

My internet history is littered with the abandoned shells of Tumblrs, Twitters, podcasts and other attempts at riding the latest wave. I tried in earnest for a couple of years to take off on YouTube (which for me meant getting more than 300 views on a video lol), and yet, challenge video after challenge video and makeup haul after tutorial, my subscriber account always hovered around ‘meh,’ and I never even had to learn how to draw on my AdSense account.

Surely inadequate equipment and inconsistency played their parts, but I personally believe I failed because I was trying to squat in someone else’ corner of the internet several years too late.

Or put even more simply: I didn’t actually care about what I was talking about. I got the formula backwards: trendy challenge and tag videos were lazy things for existing popular personalities to do on a busy day, not an entr√©e into internet stardom. These people had been cultivating their audiences since the inception of YouTube, and I thought I could just slide in after the fact and do b.s. on camera for ad money.

I’m saying this because, in the meantime, the things I actually cared about atrophied. While I was busy trying to be YouTube-iest drag star that I could, I went years without publishing a story. Distracted by what was hot – and what seemed to offer easy fame – on the internet, I substituted by own interests for the ad-sponsored center constantly splashing across our vision.

In part we have become multi-hyphenates because good careers in our chosen fields aren’t just falling out of the sky. Millions of people just like me graduated with the old-fashioned degrees we were always told we needed, only to find ourselves in the midst of the 2009 recession, and nearly a decade on, many of us are still in arrested career development. We are adapting to the (frankly shitty – sorry to editorialize haha) gig economy, and using every skill we can think of to help us get the next gig.

But we are also surrounded by a crushing din of oddball success, confronted every day by ads for the latest expensive DIY hobby, and our own friends’ (or, let’s be real, one-time fellow party-goers’) own ventures in Pinning/Etsying/indie touring/TED talking. Everyone on the internet is more interesting and accomplished than you, so the answer must be doing everything they’re doing.

Except that’s ludicrous. Almost everyone who finds real success in their field has done so at the expense of other interests.

I am never going to be a rich and famous Russianist/polyglot/writer/editor/visual artist/communications professional/drag queen/singer-songwriter/electronic musician/YouTuber/postmodern gender theorist, and, oh yeah, anti-suicide blogger, and realizing that means making some serious choices.

I am extremely lucky to already know the thing I love doing the most: writing short stories. Identifying that as the thing I could not live without was the first important step.

So what does that mean? It means I can’t learn every language I want to or master every makeup technique or get on the YouTube home page or hit number one (hundred and eighty-five) on the Billboard indie charts. I can’t make sourdough bread from scratch every day or remodel tiny houses or crowdfund my own charity backpacking trip.

But I can write.

I can’t tell you how to find what that thing is for you, but I can say it’s probably a common element among many of your interests. When I look at all the things between my own slashes, the common element of the majority of them is putting words in order to deliver some kind of message – i.e., writing.

I then further refined this to the kind of writing I value the most. Unfortunately, writing short stories might never pay my bills, but it is what I would do if I had my druthers – and really, no one stands between you and your druthers.

This has been one of my key realizations, and something that’s brought me more peace than a lot of other attempts: you can do what you really want to do, even if no one is paying you.

Don’t know what you should do? Think your passion won’t pay the bills? Following other people’s lucrative passions won’t do you one bit of good. Without whatever drives them to their own unique success, you probably won’t succeed in someone else’s field, and you’ll probably let your own skills and passion go to waste in the meantime.

So here’s the good news:

You can stop doing shit you don’t care about at literally any time.

Oh sure, you still have to pay taxes, and you might have to do your insufferable job until the next one comes along. But there’s a lot more to you than taxes and your shitty job, and any number of other things we do primarily for someone else.

You can quit that religion that makes you feel bad. You can kick the drug habit you and your friends share. You can get off the self-improvement treadmill and stand still long enough to see what really needs attention.

TLDR: You can fake it, but that doesn’t mean you’ll make it. You can’t cultivate every skill and interest, and you’ll get in your own way trying. Your time is your own, and it is finite, at least in the observable world. And you can save a lot of it by checking in with yourself to see what you actually value.

Peace be with you,

Schlomo Steel, founder and editor, I Won’t Commit

Cool thing spotlight: Kurzgesagt

Hello hello and happy Friday!

Today I wanted to share some videos from one of my favorite uplifting/mind-blowing timesucks, the excellent YouTube channel Kurzgesagt, offering a slightly off-kilter but very informative look at the universe.

I was particularly inspired by their newest video, offering a look at their philosophy of ‘optimistic nihilism.’ (It’s more uplifting than it sounds haha.)

Hope you’re having a great week!

Dump Trump’s trans ban

Hello hello,

Sorry to subscribers for double-posting today, but I could not have foreseen something as colossally fucked-up as Donald Trump taking to Twitter to ban trans people from the US military this morning.

If you are as angry as I am, please consider making a donation of your time or money to The National Center for Transgender Equality.

Thank you, and on behalf of queer people and our allies everywhere:

FUCK. DONALD. TRUMP.

New music Monday

Hello hello and happy Monday!

I’m getting back to work after a week vacation, and I thought I’d share my new chill/relaxation track “Grey” to help us all get in the swing of a new week ūüėā.

Mostly over the course of my break from work I worked on queueing up new fiction posts on my personal website, schlomosteel.com. Head over today for my new story “Like Tar,” and subscribe to keep up with the approx. 20 stories I’ll be releasing over the rest of the year.

Happy Monday!

Bedrock

Hello hello and happy Tuesday!

I was thinking earlier today about something I had learned about mountains recently. All over the world, there seems to be an upper height limit on mountains that doesn’t seem to apply to the Himalayas, which are home to ten of the world’s fourteen 8000+-ft peaks.

Scientists aren’t quite sure why mountains here and the nearby¬†Karakoram range are able to be taller than other mountains around the world, but it is theorized that the bedrock they are on is just unusually strong, enabling it to support larger mountains than other ground across the world can.

Do you ever find yourself looking around at other people and wondering why they can hack it so easily? How they seem to slice through life like butter, all the while with grace and charm? Do you ever just a little bit hate their faces?

Why can other people be Everest when you feel like a hillock most days? Shouldn’t you be able to bear the weight?¬†We might all be mountains, but that doesn’t mean we have equal support structures.

Comparing ourself to others is one of the worst and unfortunately most natural things we can do. You can’t possibly know everything that brought a person to where they are, anymore than you can really understand how they feel about it. You can’t really know another person’s resources or challenges, what they’ve faced and what help they’ve had.

Consider comparing your life to the life of someone with a great deal of unfair advantage. Or indeed, consider comparing yourself to someone who never seems to complain no matter what befalls them. Do you feel sad? Helpless? Do you feel bereft of an explanation you deserve?

Instead of wondering why we can’t or don’t have the things that other people have, we should consider how they came by them. Instead of envying, we can query. How did you come by this?

If there are things we can take from this, then we should. But what we might ultimately take away is that that person’s fundamentally different life has made them a fundamentally different person, and wondering why we’re not that person is just stopping us from being ourselves.

Consider one more mountain: Olympus Mons on Mars is the biggest mountain among the planets and other rounded bodies of our solar system, clocking in at a height of 13.6 mi or 72,000 ft (!), two and half times the height of Everest, and with a base that would cover most of the country of France.

Despite its staggering dimensions, it would be possible to traverse and summit Olympus Mons and barely notice because its grade is so slight. Sure, eventually you’ll be nearly 14 miles above the surrounding surface, but you’d never have to climb a vertical rock face or…well, really do anything other than walk normally. Even a small child (in a spacesuit) could climb the tallest mountain in the solar system with ease, while experienced climbers still face harrowing difficulty on much smaller mountains back on Earth.

Both Mt. Wycheproof (486 ft) and Mt. Everest have gone through what they’ve gone through to become the mountains they’ve become, and neither could be the other. Don’t hate others for what they have, and don’t hate yourself for what you don’t. Invisible forces will continue to shape us all, but the one thing you can’t be is someone else.

Anxiety, and why I quit social media

Hello hello and happy Friday,

As part of my healing processes as a growing up human, I’ve become more attentive over time to when I need to cut things out of my life. The latest for me is social media.

Four days after I quit social media I went a whole day without having an anxiety attack for the first time in maybe 6 months. The transformation wasn’t instantaneous, but the results have been tremendous.

But let’s jump back. Hi, I’m Schlomo, and I was a compulsive social media user.

I can flat out say that I had a social media problem. I spent an inordinate amount of time looking at and thinking about social media, allowing it to interrupt and permeate every aspect of my life.

Even worse, since becoming involved in the online self-help community a couple of years ago, I have taken truly ridiculous strides to appear more knowledgable, centered and spiritual than I ever really was. I have ascribed to the fake it ’til you make it school of social media attention-grabbing, using at best insignificant parts of my identity as hashtags to increase awareness of the important issue of pictures of me being totally fucking zen.

For me, as a person with anxiety and who has experienced some setbacks in life, being on Facebook felt like being in a glaringly white room filled with people I kind of used to know in college who were all doing much better in life than me, which meant my life was basically shit.

It’s not pretty but it’s real, and that’s why I’m writing it. I didn’t start¬†I Won’t Commit to have another polite self-help blog. I started it because I’m mentally ill and my life is hard but sometimes writing it down makes things a little bit easier for me, and sometimes it even makes things easier for others.

The expectation of having always read that thing and taken that picture and having had my hot take while also repackaging my nostalgic memories as free ads for consumer goods was way too fucking much for my anxious mind to handle.

Not to mention:

Do you know how many amazing ideas¬†everyone has wasted as throwaway statuses on Facebook?¬†Don’t fucking spread amazing ideas around on the internet and write ‘lol’ at the end and never think about it again! If you come up with the best zombie movie plot ever, write it! If you come up with a way to better distribute aid resources, don’t just write ‘somebody oughtta’ on Facebook. YOU BEAUTIFUL HUMAN CREATURE, YOU ARE THE ONE WHO OUGHT TO.

I read¬†House of Leaves in like 4 days because I don’t check Facebook once every 35 seconds anymore.

Don’t believe me? I checked Facebook so compulsively that Facebook started generating its own notifications about how people were responding to my posts. ‘Hey Schlomo, wanna see how you can get more likes?’ I mean, sweet fuck.

Facebook was very clearly trying to get me to position myself as some kind of professional who needed their analytics,¬†which is nuts because I am an archetypal ‘just some guy’ with 200 acquaintances, and that’s when I finally noticed that Facebook and me had a bad, bad thing going on.

Trying to be Captain Social Media, His Enlightedness was like a neurotoxin, and living for an audience of really well and truly random people was holding back my real development as a person. Getting off social media has allowed me to reevaluate and listen for the voices in my life that really matter.

I want to make art, and I don’t want to care if you like or share it on social media. I want to go on my daily walk and not think about where’s the best lighting for my selfie. I want to say I go on a daily walk without positioning it to you as some kind of meaning of life thing that you’ve just got to try, but probably wouldn’t get anyway.

I’m just going on a fucking walk, you know? And you don’t need to know about it!

Anyway. I can’t tell you what’s what in your life, but I very seriously doubt the answer to the big questions in your life has anything to do with filters, brand deals, or subscriber counts. Shucks, I’m not even telling you to quit social media, but please remember your soul is not sponsored by Casper.

I feel significantly calmer day to day without worrying about what’s going on on Facebook. I work in the news~ish, so I’m always up to speed anyway, and my friends who count can get at me other ways.

Facebook and Instagram was almost like a double life for me, and I don’t have to live it anymore. Those resources have been rechanneled into my artistic and spiritual growth, and I am seeing the payoff.

There’s a lot of growth going on in my life right now, and I can’t attribute it all to kicking social media. But I¬†can say that the peace I got from quitting social media has meant that voice inside doesn’t have to shout as much!

How long do you think you could go without social media? Does social media play a role in your anxiety? Let us know in the comments!

 

New music Wednesday

 

Hello hello and happy Wednesday!

There’s been quite a few additions to my playlist of original ‘chill’ music over on Soundcloud:

I like to pop it on at work to help me maintain. What helps you keep your chill? Let us know in the comments!

Commit to yourself

Hello hello and happy Monday!

I appreciate the irony of the title of this piece given the name of this website, but here goes anyway.

I’ve talked here about the forgiveness and patience we need to have for ourselves when our efforts at self-improvement don’t go according to what are normally completely unrealistic schedules.

The flip side of this I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while (and for which I now forgive myself for the delay on haha) is that real change takes commitment. It means finding things that still seem meaningful to you even after they let you down the first time, or the first time you fail to follow through.

Things they don’t tell you or don’t tell you enough in self-improvement: you are going to fail. Your new outlook on the world is going to go out the window the first and third and fiftieth times you face an old trigger. You will wonder what the point of any of this is.

I think it’s safe to say that Buddhist monks are just about the non plus ultra¬†of self-improvement, at least in the contemporary West. But we’re not looking for the years of commitment. We’re looking for the easily translatable technique that will distill a religious tradition and a lifetime of devotion into a TED talk, scrolling past which on Facebook is supposed to change our lives forever.

In another piece I discussed finally being struck one day by the fact that it even took the Buddha 7 years of doing literally nothing else to reach enlightenment, and that’s how I finally understood I needed to forgive myself for not being instantly transformed by whatever meditation technique I had read about that day.

But also…think of what 7 years of¬†anything could get you. 7 years of playing an instrument or speaking a language or not constantly eroding your own self-esteem by judging yourself for your lack of growth.

You can make a different kind of commitment when you understand that you don’t have a performance review tomorrow. Or next week. Or next year. Despite all the Instagram tags we follow, it’s not now or never, and you are not doomed if you’re not crushing it.

The things we believe have to be big enough to let us down, and we have to be big enough to be let down by them. Most of all we have to be big enough to be let down by ourselves. I’m not here to tell anyone what to believe, but if your belief system isn’t big or bold enough to account for a bad day or even a bad five minutes, you’ve trapped yourself inside a new anxiety. You cannot be so good at meditation that your life will actually become perfect.¬†Here, let me say that again:

You cannot be so good at meditation that your life will actually become perfect.

Most people for most of their lives will experience challenges and they will also have reactions to those challenges. Finding it inside to try again is how you stop the cure from being worse than the symptom.

Don’t buy into ideas that say they’ll cure your anxiety or depression today, tomorrow or next week. They will use your guilt and sadness about them not working against you.

Instead, do those things that slowly, day by day, erode the rock of what is hurting you. And then do more of them. Make good habits, including the habit of seeing tomorrow as another day not to have bad habits. Anxiety is a habit that becomes a disease. Disrupt the habit. 

You have probably spent most of your life up until now building the habits that make up your anxiety, depression or other illness, so you have no reason to expect an instant turnabout. Your old school friend is wrong, and so is that guru: you can’t just stop being anxious or depressed. But you¬†can make every second a chance to change course.

TLDR: Long-term commitment to yourself is worth it. Identify the things that make you feel better without also asking you to feel bad about yourself and then make habits of them. Everything else is clutter that isn’t really contributing to your growth.

On hate

Happy Tuesday!

I haven’t had much time to write lately, but I wanted to leave you today with a thought I’ve been chewing on lately:

My ability to hate myself is intimately tied with my ability to hate others. Whichever one I’m working on at the moment, I find that levels of the other unexpectedly decrease, too. And that, conversely, whichever one is weighing me down can lead into worsening the other.

TLDR: breaking down hate is a multiplicative process that starts with you.