Here are two competing, intertwined questions rolling around the free spaces of my life lately like a driverless steamroller.
Success, Pursuit or Arrival: Which Satisfies?
Question One: What does a successful life look like?
A few years ago a friend said to me, “You live at a rare intersection where you love what you do, you’re good at what you love, and what you love pays you well.” And while I could banter and argue that this isn’t always true or that it’d be great to make a little more or work a little less or I’m more in the pursuit of what I love than working inside of what I love… the friend was right. Very few people have the opportunity to live at this intersection.
I’m fortunate man. My privilege is not lost.
But, like all ambitious people, I’m always wanting a little bit more of those three things. And, because I’m the poster child for a liberal arts education, there’s about 200 other things I’d really like to explore and get good at… maybe fall in love with the same way.
So some could look at me and assume that I see myself as somewhat successful [whatever that means] and yet I only look at myself and see areas I’d like to see more satisfaction and if there’s success is muted by day-to-day realities. The truth is I sometimes feel much more unsuccessful and dissatisfied than I am overcome by an awareness that things are going well.
Add to this a long-held observation from Kristen. She says I’m happiest when I have too many things to do… that I’m kind of miserable when I’ve only got one thing to do for too long, that I get bored easily.
And so that leaves me left to wonder: What does success really look like? Is success (for me) constantly chasing something new, 500 plates spinning. Or do I find success and satisfaction in enjoying the benefits of “right now“?
Is success found “out there” in the future or is it found “right here” in the present? Or both? Or neither?
Question Two: Because I can be accessible 224/7/365 do I want to be?
Earlier this month I did something I’d never done on an international trip. I didn’t turn on international data for my phone. Admittedly, this was driven by the ridiculousness of AT&T charging more and more for less and less international data through their plan. I just couldn’t bring myself to pay $100 for 5 days of bad internet just so I could post to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and text with my wife.
So I didn’t.
And it was great.
I turned my phone to Airplane Mode as the plane roared down the tarmac in Miami and four days later I turned it back on. And no one cared. It made no difference. The earth still spun. Stuff still got done. Stuff still happened. And the world didn’t need me, my opinion, permission, or even knowledge.
It wasn’t just great. It was delightful.
But I already knew this because it wasn’t the first time I wasn’t accessible by choice.
You see, over the last year or so I’ve been experimenting with something forbidden in our day. Even though I have a device that allows me to be accessible 24/7/365 virtually anywhere I go in the world— it has an off button.
Just because you can call or text or email or Facebook message me any time you want doesn’t mean I have to answer. I own an iPhone 6, it doesn’t own me.
And the fact that this seems somehow revolutionary as a concept is exactly why it’s so important.
The economy is driven by distraction. Facebook’s stock skyrocketed this week, not just because of ad revenue, but because users are giving the app more and more of their attention. Each day millions of dollars are spent by companies trying to learn how to best divide your attention. Maybe make the app more crass? Maybe make it 3D? Maybe entice you to turn on devilish notifications? Maybe tell users the screen dims just a little so they’ll take it to bed with them? Maybe make it more playful so you’ll say, “Hey Alexa…”
In order to get more and more of your attention these devices are tapping into more and more subconscious, primal instincts. The devices goal is to own you! I need more information. I need to know something sooner than everyone else. I need friends to know I’m paying attention to them. I need to check my bank account, did I turn off the lights at work, did Jay-Z cheat on Beyoncé? I need to know these things and this device is going to tell me all of that.
Your economy is driven by attention. If the economy of today and tomorrow is defined by companies ability to sub-divide your time… your greatest access to success is to control your attention. To do this you’ll need to fight primal instincts to know stuff.
Here is where question one and question two meet: I have decided that success to me— at least right now– looks like the freedom to disconnect. If I’m successful I can turn work on and I can turn work off. Kristen and I can take the dogs to the beach and leave our phones in the car. I can turn everything off and play board games with my kids. If my phone vibrates or buzzes or whatever while we’re having dinner with the kids, I can ignore it. I don’t care if a bomb went off or a presidential candidate said that or even a good friend just wants to chat. To be successful is to pick your spots of disconnection.
Conversely, if I’m unsuccessful, that means that I can’t disconnect. I don’t have the time to recreate. I don’t have the time to concentrate on the work box when I’m at work, it instead bleeds into other things.
And so I’ll leave with two weekend challenges…
Challenge #1: Intentionally disconnect for 3 hours.
I don’t care where you go, what you do, or when you do it. But give yourself 3 hours to do something with your phone off this weekend. (Don’t fall asleep. And movies don’t count…) The world will wait. No one will actually care if you don’t like their picture on Instagram fast enough. You can text back “lol” later.
Challenge #2: Identify one sacred space
For me it’s the dinner table. If I can disconnect from everything and just have dinner with my family, that’s a sacred distraction free space. But I don’t know what that might be for you. I do know, however, that identifying that thing and making it sacred– a no phone zone– will make a deep impact on you because it’s made a deep impact on me.