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  • Toby Sinclair

Summary: Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman

Updated: May 10


📚 Should You Read This?


👋 Hey - I'm Toby. This summary wasn't written by AI. I'm a real leader, managing teams in large organisations. I read to solve tough problems. I share book summaries weekly to help other leaders tackle scary challenges.

I'm a producivity addict. I try to squeeze as much as I can into my working day. I take pride in ticking off the To-Do list. The problem: where is all this busyness taking me? Instead of mastering life, I’ve mastered the art of staying busy. Reading more books. Writing more blogs. Getting more sh*t done. Four Thousand Weeks has radically shifted how I think about "being productive".


💡 3 Big Ideas from Four Thousand Weeks


Big Idea 1 - The real problem isn’t our limited time. The real problem is that we’ve inherited, and feel pressured to live by, a troublesome set of ideas about how to use our limited time. We assume this will help optimize our short time on earth. Instead, the opposite happens. These time management ideals are pretty much guaranteed to make things worse.


Big Idea 2- We inherit this belief: prioritize future benefits over current enjoyments. This ultimately backfires. It wrenches us out of the present, leading to a life spent leaning into the future, worrying about whether things will work out, experiencing everything in terms of some later, hoped-for benefit, so that peace of mind never quite arrives. And it makes it all but impossible to experience ‘deep time’, that sense of timeless time that depends on forgetting the abstract yardstick and plunging back into the vividness of reality instead.


Big Idea 3 - You get to spend your finite time focused on a few things that matter to you, in themselves, right now, in this moment. Find the very few critical things that bring the most meaning to your life. Say no to everything else. Then invest your whole self into every moment doing the things that matter.



  💬 2 Best Quotes from Four Thousand Weeks


The trouble with attempting to master your time, it turns out, is that time ends up mastering you.

So getting better at processing your email is like getting faster and faster at climbing up an infinitely tall ladder: you’ll feel more rushed, but no matter how quickly you go, you’ll never reach the top.


 Toby's Top Takeaway


I was drastically wrong about time. In fact, I was wrong in many ways.


The catalyst.


Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman.


Several times, I had to pause. Gather my thoughts. Oliver's words challenged the core of what I thought was true


I’ve been a productivity addict for years. Mastering the art of “getting sh*t done”. I thought this was a superpower.


Until now.


Time feels like an unstoppable conveyor belt, bringing us new tasks as fast as we can dispatch the old ones; and becoming ‘more productive’ just seems to cause the belt to speed up.

Edward T. Hall


I’ve been investing in this addiction for many years. Hoping that if I get the right system, I’ll get more done and get time back to focus on what matters most. Even more, being productive is the key to success and happiness.


But it hasn't.


Our days are spent trying to ‘get through’ tasks, in order to get them ‘out of the way’, with the result that we live mentally in the future, waiting for when we’ll finally get round to what really matters – and worrying, in the meantime, that we don’t measure up, that we might lack the drive or stamina to keep pace with the speed at which life now seems to move.

Instead, I’ve mastered the art of staying busy. Reading more books. Writing more blogs. Getting more sh*t done.


One can waste years this way, systematically postponing precisely the things one cares about the most.

To make matters worse, I’ve been living mentally in the future. Laying the groundwork for some future goal.

  • When I get more newsletter subscribers, I’ll be able to…..

  • When I become a better writer, I’ll be able to…..

  • When I save enough money, I’ll be able to….


This ultimately it backfires. It wrenches us out of the present, leading to a life spent leaning into the future, worrying about whether things will work out, experiencing everything in terms of some later, hoped-for benefit, so that peace of mind never quite arrives. And it makes it all but impossible to experience ‘deep time’, that sense of timeless time that depends on forgetting the abstract yardstick and plunging back into the vividness of reality instead.

Oliver Burkeman, humbly accepts he doesn’t have all the answers. He wrote Four Thousand Weeks to help with his productivity addiction. I felt the rush to write this summary. But in an attempt to put into practice, its advice, I slowed down. I’ve been sitting on this for a few days. Lingering on the words. Several long walks later, this is what I take away.


Stop focusing on getting sh*t done, to achieve a future goal. Stop being productive.


Instead, let the moment be.


Can you have an experience you don’t experience? The finest meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant might as well be a plate of instant noodles if your mind is elsewhere; and a friendship to which you never actually give a moment’s thought is a friendship in name only.

To that, I will:


  • Stop rushing to complete the to-do list.

  • Stop treating moments in life as transactions to get done.

  • Stop, pause, and be patient more.

  • Say no to more stuff, say yes, to the very few, critical things that matter.


What are the critical things that matter? It’s all pretty ordinary, by society's standards. Family, friends, a walk in nature. I will give my all in every moment. Be present in the now. Let the moment be. I’m still learning how. But something that’s started to help. When I catch myself out of the moment. I look up. At the sky. I take a breath. Then I’m back. In the moment. If only for a few seconds. But those seconds are what really matter.



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Big Ideas Expanded


Four Thousand Weeks Book Summary Image


The problem isn’t your limited time


The clock does not stop, of course, but we do not hear it ticking.

Gary Eberle


The real problem isn’t our limited time. The real problem is that we’ve inherited, and feel pressured to live by, a troublesome set of ideas about how to use our limited time. We assume this will help optimize our short time on earth. Instead, the opposite happens. These time management ideals are pretty much guaranteed to make things worse.


The trouble with attempting to master your time, it turns out, is that time ends up mastering you.

When you’re faced with too many demands, it’s easy to assume that the only answer must be to make better use of time, by becoming more efficient, driving yourself harder, or working for longer – as if you were a machine. Say no to these demands and you will be viewed as difficult and uncooperative.


Time management systems make you time poor


I’ve squandered countless hours – and a fair amount of money, spent mainly on fancy notebooks and felt-tip pens – in service to the belief that if I could only find the right time management system, build the right habits, and apply sufficient self-discipline, I might actually be able to win the struggle with time, once and for all. I was like an alcoholic conveniently employed as a wine expert.

You feel the frustration at having to work a day job in order to buy slivers of time for the work you love, and in the simple longing to spend more of your brief time on earth with your kids, in nature, or, at the very least, not commuting.


To overcome this frustration, you optimize your time. To get more done so that you can get time back to spend on better things.


The problem, is when you become more efficient with time, guess what happens? The demands increase. You get caught in an ‘efficiency trap’. You won’t generally get a feeling of having ‘enough time’, because, all else being equal, the demands will increase to offset any benefits.


To make matters worse. Hofstadters law, created by cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter means that any task you are planning to tackle will always take longer than you expect, ‘even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law’.


Optimizing your personal time will actually leave you unhappy


Most of us seek a specifically individualistic kind of mastery over time – our culture’s ideal is that you alone should control your schedule, doing whatever you prefer, whenever you want – because it’s scary to confront the truth that almost everything worth doing, from marriage and parenting to business or politics, depends on cooperating with others, and therefore on exposing yourself to the emotional uncertainties of relationships.


All of this illustrates what might be termed the paradox of limitation: the more you try to manage your time with the goal of achieving a feeling of total control, and freedom from the inevitable constraints of being human, the more stressful, empty and frustrating life gets.


The proper response to this situation, we’re often told today, is to render ourselves indistractable in the face of interruptions: to learn the secrets of ‘relentless focus’ – usually involving meditation, web-blocking apps, expensive noise-cancelling headphones, and more meditation – so as to win the attentional struggle once and for all. But this is a trap. When you aim for this degree of control over your attention, you’re making the mistake of addressing one truth about human limitation – your limited time, and the consequent need to use it well – by denying another truth about human limitation, which is that achieving total sovereignty over your attention is almost certainly impossible.


Inevitably, we become obsessed with ‘using it well’, whereupon we discover an unfortunate truth: the more you focus on using time well, the more each day begins to feel like something you have to get through, en route to some calmer, better, more fulfilling point in the future, which never actually arrives.


Technology doesn’t save you time.


‘Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,’

English humorist and historian C. Northcote Parkinson wrote in 1955


Consider all the technology intended to help us gain the upper hand over time: by any sane logic, in a world with dishwashers, microwaves and jet engines, time ought to feel more expansive and abundant, thanks to all the hours freed up. But this is nobody’s actual experience. Instead, life accelerates, and everyone grows more impatient. It’s somehow vastly more aggravating to wait two minutes for the microwave than two hours for the oven – or ten seconds for a slow-loading web page versus three days to receive the same information by post.


To make matters worse, these time-saving devices led to an increase in society's standards of cleanliness. Washing machines and vacuum cleaners led to an increased expectation of cleanliness. It’s not longer acceptable to wear dirty jeans or a few crumbs on the carpet.


This whole painful irony is especially striking in the case of email, that ingenious twentieth-century invention whereby any random person on the planet can pester you, at any time they like, and at almost no cost to themselves, by means of a digital window that sits inches from your nose, or in your pocket, throughout your working day, and often at weekends, too. The ‘input’ side of this arrangement – the number of emails that you could, in principle, receive – is essentially infinite. But the ‘output’ side – the number of messages you’ll have time to read properly, reply to, or just make a considered decision to delete – is strictly finite. To resolve this issue, “inbox zero” was a popular trend a few years back. The idea, that ensuring no unread emails in your inbox would lead to better time management. What happens is you get more email.


So getting better at processing your email is like getting faster and faster at climbing up an infinitely tall ladder: you’ll feel more rushed, but no matter how quickly you go, you’ll never reach the top.

You cannot beat the system. Machines will always win.


None of this is how the future was supposed to feel. In 1930, in a speech titled ‘Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren’, the economist John Maynard Keynes made a famous prediction: within a century, thanks to the growth of wealth and the advance of technology, no one would have to work more than about fifteen hours a week. The challenge would be how to fill all our new-found leisure time without going crazy. But Keynes was wrong. It turns out that when people make enough money to meet their needs, they just find new things to need and new lifestyles to aspire to. Social media now amplifies this problem. Influencers promote their luxury lifestyles. Exotic holidays and fast cars. Suddenly a local walk and bicycle are no longer good enough. To achieve this ideal lifestyle, you work harder to become successful. The problem. Success always seems just out of touch. You commit to working harder. To get more done. To use your time better. You download the latest productivity tool from the appstore to help you.


Living in the future is losing you time.


Where is my mind?

Pixies


Success we are told lies in the future. Work hard to build a career that will give you a great life. The key to achieving success is to make the most of your limited time. Those who master their time will win. Those who don’t will be labelled as lazy and lacking ambition.


We inherit this belief: prioritise future benefits over current enjoyments.


This ultimately backfires. It wrenches us out of the present, leading to a life spent leaning into the future, worrying about whether things will work out, experiencing everything in terms of some later, hoped-for benefit, so that peace of mind never quite arrives. And it makes it all but impossible to experience ‘deep time’, that sense of timeless time that depends on forgetting the abstract yardstick and plunging back into the vividness of reality instead.


Our days are spent trying to ‘get through’ tasks, in order to get them ‘out of the way’, with the result that we live mentally in the future, waiting for when we’ll finally get round to what really matters – and worrying, in the meantime, that we don’t measure up, that we might lack the drive or stamina to keep pace with the speed at which life now seems to move.


We treat everything we’re doing – life itself, in other words – as valuable only insofar as it lays the groundwork for something else.


By staying on top of everything we become ideal citizens within the economic machine. Working longer hours – and using any extra income to buy more consumer goods. The UK government recently announced a scheme to encourage those over 50 back to work. Turns out that the hard-earned future of playing golf and relaxing by the pool isn’t so ideal, in the eyes of the government.


We strive for a ‘work-life’ balance but nobody in the history of humanity has ever achieved it, whatever that might be. You certainly won’t get there by copying the instagram reel you watched this morning about the ‘six things successful people do before 7 a.m’.


As the Yale University law professor Daniel Markovits has shown, even the winners in our achievement-obsessed culture – the ones who make it to the elite universities, then reap the highest salaries – find that their reward is the unending pressure to work with ‘crushing intensity’ in order to maintain the income and status that have come to seem like prerequisites for the lives they want to lead.


To focus exclusively on where you’re headed, you do this at the expense of focusing on where you are. The result is you find yourself living mentally in the future, locating the ‘real’ value of your life at some time that you haven’t yet reached, and never will.


This kind of future thinking is not isolated to work. It bleeds into everything. Take parenting. There are countless books, articles, and courses on how to be a great parent. The advice varies widely but there is one common thread. All of this advice focuses on the future. Laying the groundwork for some ideal future human. The goal is to produce the happiest or most successful or economically productive older children and adults later on. If you don’t follow the advice, your child will be sick and stupid.


‘Because children grow up, we think a child’s purpose is to grow up, But a child’s purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn’t disdain what only lives for a day. It pours the whole of itself into each moment … Life’s bounty is in its flow. Later is too late.’

Herzen


Future thinking even shows up in how we exercise. You probably know a friend who’s infected. You suggest a gentle job on a Sunday morning, but they are incapable of a gentle jog. They must keep to their usual pace and regular route. They are convinced that running is a meaningful thing to do only insofar as it might lead toward a future accomplishment.


Once you’ve cleared the decks, you tell yourself; or once you’ve implemented a better system of personal organization, or got your degree, or invested a sufficient number of years in honing your craft, or once you’ve found your soulmate or had kids, or once the kids have left home, or once the revolution comes and social justice is established – that’s when you’ll feel in control at last, you’ll be able to relax a bit, and true meaningfulness will be found. Until then, life necessarily feels like a struggle: sometimes an exciting one, sometimes exhausting, but always in the service of some moment of truth that’s still in the future.


Instead, not knowing what’s coming next – which is the situation you’re always in, with regard to the future – presents an ideal opportunity for choosing curiosity (wondering what might happen next) over worry (hoping that a certain specific thing will happen next, and fearing it might not) whenever you can.


Missing out is inevitable


FOMO is seen as something bad. You must avoid missing out on the new great experience. Instead, missing out is the point. It’s what makes choices meaningful. By saying no to something you are saying yes to something.


We don’t see this side of the situation. We would be forced to acknowledge that there are hard choices to be made: which balls to let drop, which people to disappoint, which cherished ambitions to abandon, and which roles to fail at. Maybe you can’t keep your current job while also seeing enough of your children; maybe making sufficient time in the week for your creative calling means you’ll never have an especially tidy home, or get quite as much exercise as you should, and so on. Instead, in an attempt to avoid these unpleasant truths, we deploy the strategy that dominates most conventional advice on how to deal with busyness: we tell ourselves we’ll just have to find a way to do more – to try to address our busyness, you could say, by making ourselves busier still.


The Internet makes this all much more agonizing because it promises to help you make better use of your time, while simultaneously exposing you to vastly more potential uses for your time – so that the very tool you’re using to get the most out of life makes you feel as though you’re missing out on even more of it. The technologies we use to try to ‘get on top of everything’ always fail us, in the end, because they increase the size of the ‘everything’ of which we’re trying to get on top.


Convenience culture seduces us into imagining that we might find room for everything important by eliminating only life’s tedious tasks. But it’s a lie. You have to choose a few things, sacrifice everything else, and deal with the inevitable sense of loss that results.


One can waste years this way, systematically postponing precisely the things one cares about the most.

Stop chasing time, let yourself be present


Can you have an experience you don’t experience? The finest meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant might as well be a plate of instant noodles if your mind is elsewhere, and a friendship to which you never actually give a moment’s thought is a friendship in name only.

To be more present, you must embrace the inevitability of discomfort. Instead of resisting boredom by staying busy, focus your attention on it. Stay bored, see where it leads you.


Some Zen Buddhists hold that the entirety of human suffering can be boiled down to this effort to resist paying full attention to the way things are going because we wish they were going differently.


But the version of this thought that has always resonated the most for me comes from the modern-day spiritual teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti, who expressed it, in a characteristically direct manner, in a lecture delivered in California in the late 1970s. ‘Partway through this particular talk,’ recalls the writer Jim Dreaver, who was in attendance, ‘Krishnamurti suddenly paused, leaned forward, and said, almost conspiratorially, “Do you want to know what my secret is?”9 Almost as though we were one body, we sat up … I could see people all around me lean forward, their ears straining, their mouths slowly opening in hushed anticipation.’ Then Krishnamurti ‘said in a soft, almost shy voice, “You see, I don’t mind what happens.”’ I don’t mind what happens. Perhaps these words need a little unpacking; I don’t think Krishnamurti means to say that we shouldn’t feel sorrow, compassion or anger when bad things happen to ourselves or others, nor that we should give up on our efforts to prevent bad things from happening in the future. Rather, a life spent ‘not minding what happens’ is one lived without the inner demand to know that the future will conform to your desires for it – and thus without having to be constantly on edge as you wait to discover whether or not things will unfold as expected.


Take another example. Your favorite band is playing. It’s been years since they came to your town. Even better, you managed to get a babysitter. It’s been many months since you and your partner could spend quality time together. You’d imagine, given these circumstances, a joyful evening. But what happens? You video your favorite song to enjoy again at some point in the future. You scroll through Instagram in the breaks between songs, sharing with friends photos of the concert as it happens. You are physically present but mentally distant in another time and place.


This chasing of time seems to stem from our education system. You are indoctrinated to always be living for the next milestone, rather than living today. As a child, you are sent to nursery school. In nursery school, they say you are getting ready to go on to kindergarten. And then the first grade is coming up and second grade and third grade … In high school, they tell you you’re getting ready for college. And in college you’re getting ready to go out into the business world … [People are] like donkeys running after carrots that are hanging in front of their faces from sticks attached to their own collars. They are never here. They never get there. They are never alive.


Be present now, this moment won’t happen again


Our lives, thanks to their finitude, are inevitably full of activities that we’re doing for the very last time.


Just as there will be a final occasion on which I pick up my son – a thought that appalls me, but one that’s hard to deny, since I surely won’t be doing it when he’s thirty – there will be a last time that you visit your childhood home, or swim in the sea, or make love, or have a deep conversation with a certain close friend. Yet usually there’ll be no way to know, in the moment itself, that you’re doing it for the last time. Harris’s point is that we should therefore try to treat every such experience with the reverence we’d show if it were the final instance of it. And indeed there’s a sense in which every moment of life is a ‘last time’. It arrives; you’ll never get it again – and once it’s passed, your remaining supply of moments will be one smaller than before.


We’ll never get the upper hand in our relationship with the moments of our lives because we are nothing but those moments. To ‘master’ them would first entail getting outside of them, splitting off from them. But where would we go? ‘Time is the substance I am made of,’ writes Jorge Luis Borges. ‘Time is a river that sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.’


You get to spend your finite time focused on a few things that matter to you, in themselves, right now, in this moment.


Maybe it’s worth spelling out that none of this is an argument against long-term endeavors like marriage or parenting, building organizations or reforming political systems, and certainly not against tackling the climate crisis; these are among the things that matter most. But it’s an argument that even those things can only ever matter now, in each moment of the work involved, whether or not they’ve yet reached what the rest of the world defines as fruition. Because now is all you ever get.


Don’t master the moment, let it happen


Let it be

The Beatles


The more you try to be here now, to point at what’s happening in this moment and really see it, the more it seems like you aren’t here now – or alternatively that you are, but that the experience has been drained of all its flavor.


It’s all too easy to tell yourself that once you’ve taken a couple of seconds to look at a painting, you’ve thereby genuinely seen it.


To be present, you need to let it be. This means embracing discomfort. Sitting patiently. Not expecting it to happen, but paying attention to what is. If you’re willing to endure the discomfort of not knowing, to stay curious, the moment will often present itself.


To do this means dropping your expectations of how things should be. To stop rushing towards completion. To view moments, not as things to be achieved, obtained, or completed. Instead, to hold no expectations, to let it be.


Let problems linger, don’t rush to resolution.


The obstacle is the way.

Ryan Holiday


We’ve been made so uneasy by the experience of allowing reality to unfold at its own speed that when we’re faced with a problem, it feels better to race towards a resolution – any resolution, really, so long as we can tell ourselves we’re ‘dealing with’ the situation, thereby maintaining the feeling of being in control. So we snap at our partners, rather than hearing them out, because waiting and listening would make us feel – correctly – as though we weren’t in control of the situation. Or we abandon difficult creative projects, or nascent romantic relationships because there’s less uncertainty in just calling things off than in waiting to see how they might develop.


Because what is a ‘problem’, really? The most generic definition is simply that it’s something that demands that you address yourself to it – and if life contained no such demands, there’d be no point in anything. Once you give up on the unattainable goal of eradicating all your problems, it becomes possible to develop an appreciation for the fact that life just is a process of engaging with problem after problem, giving each one the time it requires – that the presence of problems in your life, in other words, isn’t an impediment to a meaningful existence but the very substance of one.


You won’t leave a legacy. Embrace ordinary.


A blunt but unexpectedly liberating truth: that what you do with your life doesn’t matter all that much – and when it comes to how you’re using your finite time, the universe absolutely could not care less.


Our tendency to want to leave a legacy results in an overvaluing of our existence and gives rise to an unrealistic definition of what it would mean to use your finite time well. It sets the bar much too high. It suggests that in order to count as having been well spent, your life needs to involve deeply impressive accomplishments, or that it should have a lasting impact on future generations – or at the very least that it must, in the words of the philosopher Iddo Landau, ‘transcend the common and the mundane’. Clearly, it can’t just be ordinary: after all, if your life is as significant in the scheme of things as you tend to believe, how could you not feel obliged to do something truly remarkable with it?


What we see amplified is the mindset of the Silicon Valley tycoon determined to ‘put a dent in the universe’, or the politician fixated on leaving a legacy, or the novelist who secretly thinks her work will count for nothing unless it reaches the heights, and the public acclaim, of Leo Tolstoy’s. Less obviously, though, it is also the implicit outlook of those who glumly conclude that their life is ultimately meaningless and that they’d better stop expecting it to feel otherwise. What they really mean is that they’ve adopted a standard of meaningfulness to which virtually nobody could ever measure up.


In the grand scheme of the universe, whatever legacy you leave, will be insignificant. This is likely a relief: it’s the feeling of realizing that you’d been holding yourself, all this time, to standards you couldn’t reasonably be expected to meet. And this realization isn’t merely calming but liberating, because once you’re no longer burdened by such an unrealistic definition of a ‘life well spent’, you’re freed to consider the possibility that a far wider variety of things might qualify as meaningful ways to use your finite time. You’re freed, too, to consider the possibility that many of the things you’re already doing with it are more meaningful than you’d supposed – and that until now, you’d subconsciously been devaluing them, on the grounds that they weren’t ‘significant’ enough. From this new perspective, it becomes possible to see that preparing nutritious meals for your children might matter as much as anything could ever matter, even if you won’t be winning any cooking awards; or


Cosmic insignificance therapy is an invitation to face the truth about your irrelevance in the grand scheme of things. Embrace it, to whatever extent you can. (Isn’t it hilarious, in hindsight, that you ever imagined things might be otherwise?) Truly doing justice to the astonishing gift of a few thousand weeks isn’t a matter of resolving to ‘do something remarkable’ with them. In fact, it entails precisely the opposite: refusing to hold them to an abstract and overdemanding standard of remarkableness, against which they can only ever be found wanting, and taking them instead on their own terms, dropping back down from godlike fantasies of cosmic significance into the experience of life as it concretely, finitely – and often enough, marvelously – really is.


You have to accept that there will always be too much to do; that you can’t avoid tough choices or make the world run at your preferred speed; that no experience, least of all close relationships with other human beings, can ever be guaranteed in advance to turn out painlessly and well – and that from a cosmic viewpoint, when it’s all over, it won’t have counted for very much anyway. And in exchange for accepting all that? You get to actually be here. You get to have some real purchase on life. You get to spend your finite time focused on a few things that matter to you, in themselves, right now, in this moment. Maybe it’s worth spelling out that none of this is an argument against long-term endeavours like marriage or parenting, building organisations or reforming political systems, and certainly not against tackling the climate crisis; these are among the things that matter most…


Questions to help you reflect:


Live the questions.

Rainer Maria Rilke


1. Where in your life or your work are you currently pursuing comfort when what’s called for is a little discomfort?


James Hollis recommends asking of every significant decision in life: ‘Does this choice diminish me, or enlarge me?’


If you’re trying to decide whether to leave a given job or relationship, say, or to redouble your commitment to it, asking what would make you happiest is likely to lure you towards the most comfortable option, or else leave you paralysed by indecision. But you usually know, intuitively, whether remaining in a relationship or job would present the kind of challenges that will help you grow as a person (enlargement) or the kind that will cause your soul to shrivel with every passing week (diminishment). Choose uncomfortable enlargement over comfortable diminishment whenever you can.


2. Are you holding yourself to, and judging yourself by, standards of productivity or performance that are impossible to meet?


The more humane approach is to drop such efforts as completely as you can. Let your impossible standards crash to the ground. Then pick a few meaningful tasks from the rubble and get started on them today.


3. In what ways have you yet to accept the fact that you are who you are, not the person you think you ought to be?


4. In which areas of life are you still holding back until you feel like you know what you’re doing?


It’s easy to spend years treating your life as a dress rehearsal on the rationale that what you’re doing, for the time being, is acquiring the skills and experience that will permit you to assume authoritative control of things later on.


It’s alarming to face the prospect that you might never truly feel as though you know what you’re doing, in work, marriage, parenting or anything else. But it’s liberating, too, because it removes a central reason for feeling self-conscious or inhibited about your performance in those domains in the present moment: if the feeling of total authority is never going to arrive, you might as well not wait any longer to give such activities your all – to put bold plans into practice, to stop erring on the side of caution. It is even more liberating to reflect that everyone else is in the same boat, whether they’re aware of it or not.


5. How would you spend your days differently if you didn’t care so much about seeing your actions reach fruition?


Yet there is a sense in which all work – including the work of parenting, community-building and everything else – has this quality of not being completable within our own lifetimes. All such activities always belong to a far bigger temporal context, with an ultimate value that will only be measurable long after we’re gone (or perhaps never, since time stretches on indefinitely). And so it’s worth asking: what actions – what acts of generosity or care for the world, what ambitious schemes or investments in the distant future – might it be meaningful to undertake today, if you could come to terms with never seeing the results?

1 Comment


Anna Myagkaya
Anna Myagkaya
Apr 26

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