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

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.

YouTube and chill

Happy Friday!

Most every Friday I like to unwind after work with a nice playlist of what I missed this week on YouTube.

This Friday, I’ve crafted just for you a playlist of something the most interesting, ill-advised and/or hilarious things I’ve seen on the Tube lately. Videos range from astrophysics to a DIY Simpsons makeup gun.

Hope you enjoy!

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.

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.

Cool Tool Spotlight: How Big Is Space?

Hello hello and happy Friday!

I wanted to close out the week by putting the spotlight on another of my favorite tools from our Someplace Awesome menu – a guided tour of space called How Big Is Space?

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This cool offering from the BBC lets users scroll a spaceship through the universe, keeping track of your trajectory at warp 1 and pointing out milestones in distance traveled. It’s just the bee’s knees! The¬†space bee’s knees!

We hope you’ll head on over to the homepage and check out this and other cool sites from our Someplace Awesome tab, designed to be a one click shop to somewhere that helps you remember how great things are. If you have any suggestions for links, drop them in the comments, or you can head on over to the Contact/Submit page, where you can submit any content or ideas for future posts on I Won’t Commit.

Hope you have a great day!