“Life is too short, or too long, for me to allow myself the luxury of living it so badly.” – Paulo Coelho
And so it is that I have discovered something new about myself – yet again. I’ve grown accustomed to living based on a sense of shortage, so much so that I have manufactured conditions to keep myself trapped within those limitations. I give myself deadlines that are incredibly unrealistic and stress inducing. I use automatic savings as a way to hide money from myself because I spend less when I feel broke. I am in constant pursuit of minimalism, so that I can target spending to ethical vendors (fair trade ain’t cheap) and I can stop accumulating things that clutter my limited space. In and of themselves, these are wonderful practices in restraint. But, I have never truly learned to be disciplined. Instead, I tame my environment, so that I don’t have to be.
Let me give some examples of how I have this all wrong. I am afraid that if I have $20 in cash, that money will burn a hole in my pocket and I’ll use it to buy something dumb. When I have lots of time to complete a paper, I will procrastinate until the last minute and then “bang it out.” This all has worked well in the past, but today it’s no longer serving me.
I think I’ve pinpointed where this limiting impulse comes from. This is going to sound weird, but I have always felt that I would die young. (I don’t know why and don’t try to make this into a “thing” – it’s not.) This feeling has been with me forever and it has always driven me to accomplish everything I want at the earliest possible opportunity. There’s been no waiting for later, no pause button, and certainly no ease in my sense of urgency. It makes sense that if you think you’ll die at 25, you’d ensure that every hour of every day is packed to the brim with experiences and accomplishments. Ok, so, the thing is that I’m in my thirties and life is a marathon, not a sprint. Going at breakneck speed for so long has got me winded.
The scarcity model has stopped working for me principally because my environment keeps changing. There’s no use in trying to use my Washington, DC cash-free logic in southern Africa where the internet is shaky (you never really know if the ATM or credit card reader is going to work). I have to learn to keep cash on hand and use it wisely. Similarly, I have to do better with managing my time – my planner does not have to be completely booked for me to feel productive. When I had a car, that felt like the right approach, but now that I’m taking Lyft to appointments, I realize the cost of being overbooked.
One benefit of moving is that I get to explore new places. But, one thing it has brought me is self-exploration. I don’t get to justify my actions on being coerced by daily circumstances. Eventually, those circumstances will change and I’m left with those same unsustainable bad habits, but no good excuse. In this case, I have to learn to function with discipline in times of abundance, rather than manufacturing opportunities to cry wolf on scarcity. It’s just not sustainable.
This year, I am intent to break the habit of telling myself that I don’t have enough – time, energy, love, money, knowledge – and I must overcompensate for the deficit. I want to be disciplined enough to build in time to be thoughtful about my actions and decisions and to celebrate the process along the way.
Sure, I could write a paper in one night, but WHY?! It’s just a bad idea. It’s always been a bad idea and an even worse experience. I have time to do it well, to not torture myself in the process, and to be proud of what I produced when its ready, rather than bullying myself with falsified pressure to do it the least enjoyable way in the shortest possible time period.
When I have $20 I have to think about how awesome it feels to have cash, to be able to buy something if I wanted. Better yet, I can be disciplined enough to see beyond the immediate consumerism conundrum and appreciate that I can use that money to buy something if I truly needed it and, thankfully, that’s a priceless privilege that comes with abundance.
Paulo Coelho’s quote reminds me that looking at this from the opposite lens can produce the same results. If I reframe my thoughts, I think I can control my approach rather than continuing to control the environment in which I operate.
Discipline is a craft I’m cultivating in a whole new way.