It's a Thursday night and I'm on a plane flying from SFO to SLC, painstaking making a list of things I need to accomplish after attending a conference. In this process, I look over other lists I've created in the past month and realize I need to centralize my lists and come up with a better system to follow up and track goals I've created. I closed my laptop and decided I needed to take a break. My mind floods with a sense of inadequacy and incompleteness as if I had spent the last 2 years of my life doing nothing at all. I start by going through all the things I said I would do this year and take an accounting of it. Not everything has worked out. I haven't taken photos in months, my book is behind schedule and I haven't exactly learned a new programming language. I have successfully kept blogging, continued to produce my newsletter, done well in graduate school and a million other things.
The accounting continues. I’m still not my target weight, I’m averaging the same high scores in golf, I haven’t logged enough miles on my road bike, I haven’t gotten any better at the piano, I haven’t dusted and it goes on and on in my head. Finally, the flight attendant comes by and asks me If I want something to drink, I opt for water remembering I still want to lose weight. I’m stressed out and I want to make more lists, make a better system and that’s precisely what I start doing. I make lists and processes until I land an hour later in SLC and head home for the night.
I’ve had some time to reflect on this night of crazed list making and goal follow-up. What I realize about myself is that I have this burning sense that anything I'm doing is not enough. I need more, I need to write more open source code, I need to read more, I need to donate more money, I need to get more meaning out of work, I need to understand distributed systems, I need to be that much better. Most of this “need” comes from what I call the “anti-statistic” doctrine I’ve told myself since I was 14 years old. The doctrine goes: under all circumstances don’t do things to become a statistic. Don’t get arrested, don’t have illegitimate children, do well in school, get a good job, be financially responsible, don’t mess up, don’t be like your deadbeat father! That simple and practical advice has turned into “do everything, because no one single thing is enough.”
The pleasure I get out of overcoming a busy schedule and long check list is a pleasure I can find nowhere else. The constant feeling of boredom I endure unless I’m fully engaged in some or multiple activities is a side effect. This is not to say I don’t’ get joy out of the unscheduled conversation with a friend, or taking a detour home. The challenges I’ve faced in life shaped me, and made me more disciplined. They also make me fear idleness. One on my new lists is about how to overcome that fear, and to no longer be afraid of an empty checklist or empty block on a calendar.