In January, on the eve of what I called my new life, I set out a list of goals. I called them important. In fact, I called them lots of things. I set dates, and I said I would follow through with them. And it’s only now, on April Fool’s Day, ironically, that I realize that everything I said was total bullshit.
Because now that it’s April, I’m supposed to be like 12 weeks into all bettering myself and all that crap, and I realize that I’ve hardly moved any closer to the goals that I set in January. Which means that I’m right on track to having a crappy fucking year. And that’s why goals suck.
I’m not saying that goals suck for everybody (but they do), because for a few (very few) people goals are extremely (kind of) positive motivators.
For the rest of us, they are a reminder that we absolutely suck. We’re lazy, we’re incompetent, and we will never get any of this stuff done that we set for ourselves. Wait, you want to write a book AND a screenplay? Are you nuts? It takes people years to do either one. You want a 6-pack? Try losing the beer gut first. You want to make a million dollars? Well, that senior salary you got kind of sucks in comparison, doesn’t it? Your goal is to do 40 pull-ups? Have you told your muscles that? Because they can give you about 3 on a good day. Loser.
Again, I’ll say it. No matter who you are (except for those of you super people out there), Goals. Suck. Screw goals. They’re not worth it.
So, goals are out. Habits are in.
Habits, you say? Yes, habits. The same as picking your nose or biting your nails or whatever. They are learned routines that you perform without thinking.
Think about it. Track your food. Go to the gym every day. Practice your music 30 minutes each day. Go running every morning. Pick a time block everyday that you write. Treat it like any other class you have. Because it’s not about the goal you have for doing the thing you’re doing, it’s about doing it.
2 hours a day or 2 pages a day, it’s about doing something religiously so the action becomes muscle memory. Your muscles honestly don’t give a fuck about your goals. They care whether or not they’re attuned to the action you’re performing.
You’re not going to bang out 100 pushups if your muscles aren’t religiously used to banging out 10. You’re not going to write a novel in a year if it takes you six months to write a paragraph. And you can’t get your fingers to play Mozart if they’re not used to scales.
So here’s what I say, against the advice of just about everyone else out there:
Fuck goals. Create a habit. You create a goal, you may or may not succeed. You create a habit, you cannot fail.
Amazing. Thanks to @RossCarey for this.
My God, Disney knows their shit.
They took a depressed, fat, probably diseased 34 year old and turned him into a child. Yes, a child. A giggling, skipping 12- year old. For a few days, I was a stupid kid again, and it was… dare I say… magical.
Maybe it’s the smell of home-baked cookies on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. Or the way Animal Kingdom feels like you’ve been ported out of Florida and into the villages of Africa. Or hell, maybe it’s the fact there’s a parade every five minutes. Or maybe it’s the fact that it’s physically impossible to be unhappy in the happiest damn place on Earth.
Engineering imagination. Creating. Executing. Producing. Experiencing. What a great fucking word. I’m taking it.
What did you want to be when you grow up?
In setting up this exploration of happiness, I said this:
I have a good job, but it’s not what I want to do in life, and the better I get at it, the further away my dreams seem. I need a vacation.
Vacation: check. Job: check. And an added bonus: Filling up the creative tank.
I was tapped out. What Cameron calls my “Artist Child” was hiding in the corner of the closet with a blanket over it’s head for fear of the big bad monsters. My “Creative Self” that requires nurturing and hand-holding has spent the last few months being flogged with a cat o’ nine tails. You know what I wanted to be when I grew up? The fucking Lion King. The Little Merman. I wanted to be that song at the end of every Disney musical’s first act.
Remember your first trip to Disney World? I barely do, but I did get to witness my 4- year old niece experience it for a day, and it was awesome. The castle, the Mickeys, Buzz Lightyear, Mr. Incredible- It was all very, very real to her. What happened to that innocence? That ability to suspend belief and blur the lines between costume heads and tights? When you could walk into Disney World and ignore the parking lots and the prices and simply enjoy the magic? What happened to that time when you actually could do anything– be anything– you want?
“Looking around here, you think /
sure, she’s got everything /
But who cares? No big deal. I want more /
I want to be where the people are /
I want to see them dancing /
Walking around on those–/
what do you call ‘em?– oh, feet /
When’s it my turn? Wouldn’t I love /
to explore the shore up above? /
Wish I could see, wish I could be part of that world.”
You damn right, Ariel. You damn right.
“Happiness is an elusive thing that you will never reach.”
- Twitter Follower
Fuckin’ writers. Not a damn one of us are happy. Not one single one of us. And you know what? The happy ones? They aren’t any good. Why? Because there’s no pain there and they got nothing to say. Try to be an artist without pain. Wait, wait. Let me rephrase. Try to be a successful artist without pain. You can’t do it.
But here’s the thing bout pain: it’s painful. We might write crazy good shit but then we don’t make it out alive.
Ernest Hemingway? Shot himself in the head.
David Foster Wallace? Hung himself.
Jack London? Overdose.
Sylvia Plath? Stuck her head in the oven.
Patrick Kirkland? … Let’s begin, shall we?
There are two pieces of this project that I can break down to find that elusive “happy.”
1) The Person
2) The Artist
However, before I begin, I have to ask myself two questions:
1) Do I currently define myself as a Person or an Artist?
A) A Person.
2) Do I want to identify myself as a Person or an Artist?
A) An Artist.
So while I could break it down into 2 parts, I think it’s better to focus on the Artist, and then wrap the Person aspects into building a complete and realistic artist. Not, say, the guy from The Artist.
And to take a note from Downton Abbey:
1. Be your own master.
2. Cull your own journey.
So this is what helps us find the elusive ‘happy’.
After spending a day or two thinking about everything that I could possibly work on, I’ve narrowed it down to these focuses:
Energy- How many times have I declared, “I’m too tired,”? I’m too tired to work out. I’m too tired to clean. I’m too tired to write. I’m too tired to cook. I’m too tired to play guitar. All of these things that I tell myself I’m too tired to do– they’re all the good stuff. I’m too tired to do anything other than what I have to do, and frankly all I have to do in life is die. So if that’s my bar of standards, it seems like I can dredge up enough energy to actually do something in life.
Attitude- I am a grumpy little bastard most days. Cynical, negative, and like to beat myself up constantly. For things that I don’t even know that I do. In a typical stream of consciousness, my attitude becomes a series a of what Julia Cameron calls “blurts”- someone else’s criticism to what I do in my life. But instead of just being criticized on what I do in life, I’m pre-criticizing what I should do in life, starting at the time I wake up. My attitude, therefore, is that of a grumpy old man from the time I wake up to the time I go down. That’s gotta change.
Friends- I live on the island of Manhattan. A lot of my good friends live in Queens, Jersey or Brooklyn. Just because Manhattan is surrounded by water doesn’t mean I have to act like it’s a deserted island. It may not have a coconut tree, but it does have a trains. Any piece of research or science on happiness and self worth will tell you, Socialibility (I’m pretty sure that’s not a word, and that’s okay) is one of the key factors in this thing called ‘happy’.
Money- Every book in the world tells you that in order to be ‘happy’, you have to have your money under control. Okay, I’ll bite.
Play- I flat out do not play enough. During the day, during the weekend, during the summer. Why? Just because I’m an adult doesn’t mean that I can’t play. What makes play a four-letter word… besides the fact that it is a four-letter word? Maybe I should call this one ‘Fun’ instead…
Sense of Self- This is key. Because I want to be an artist, I have to identify myself as an artist. And along with that comes the safety to be an artist, the belief I can be, and the wherewithal to put that belief into practice. More than energy, more that money, more than friends, defining who I am and who I want to be is defining true north in this process.
Faith- God. You know, he shows up when you don’t want him to. In the past few years, I’ve had a relationship with God that starts around 10:45Am Easter Sunday, and ends about the time brunch is served on the same day. But time and time again, I have heard that when you “give it up to God”, that things just become easier. But not only that, but Faith has to do with believing in myself, trusting others, and so forth. So while I have no true vision of how this one will go, it seems like it’s an important piece to include.
Passion- Where is the passion? What is passion? How do I get passion? Is passion important? We know it is. You can’t write a 400 page book or a 110 page screenplay or paint a mural without starting with some sort of passion. And it’s tough to admit, but I’ve lost it. When everything feels like work, as it does now, you have to dig to find the passion that started you out.
Fuck It.- I remember when I was young that my carefree attitude about things worried my parents. So what happened? I have lost that ability to, in the words of Tom Cruise in Risky Business, say, “What the fuck?” This ability means that I know who I am, what I want, and have the faith, strength and sense of self to get there. It’s trust, it’s defiance, it’s a whole lot of things wrapped in one, but it’s mostly the ability to pursue something without knowing how it will end. For a ‘happy’ artist, if there is such a thing, I can think of nothing more important than the ability to say “Fuck it.”
All of this equals 9 pieces. Julia Cameron has 12 weeks in The Artist’s Way. Gretchen Rubin has 12 months in The Happiness Project. And there are 12 months in a year. Apparently, I’m allowing a summer… for something. We’ll figure it out when we get there.
Have I missed anything?
When I think ‘happy’, I think:
Julia Roberts Movie
A Tom Hanks Movie
A Julie Roberts or Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks Movie
Doing Things that I want to do
Happy. (Cheating, I know, but that’s what I think.)
It turns out, none of these things have hard returns. They are all feel-good- beautiful-day- sing-in-the-shower-sun-shines-on-my-back-and everything’s-going-to-be-alright things. So how does one go to from the realization of unhappy to achieving this thing everyone knows as ’happy’?
Elizabeth Gilbert cried on her bathroom floor, and then told her editor (already a full-time writer here) she needed a year away in 3 different countries. And then she wrote an amazing book and met the love of her life, and Eat Pray Love became one of the best books of 2007 and one of the worst movies of 2010. Gretchen Rubin began her Happiness Project, “Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun”. Of course, at that point Rubin was already a married Manhattan mom of 2, a full time writer, and according to Chapter 1 of her book, the proud owner of a dishwasher. Nick Hornby seemed to put his transition into fiction and the the character of DJ GoodNews in How to Be Good. Also, already a full-time writer.
And I have a blog. I’m not a full-time freelance writer a la Rubin, Gilbert, or Hornby, but this was a full-time writer’s blog. So, you know, I got that going for me.
In The Happiness Project, Rubin spends a decent amount of time describing the selling of her time to friends, and she (rightfully) notes, what does she possibly have to say as a full-time writer with not much wrong in her life? Why would people give a crap about an Upper East Side mom who’s lucky enough to have a dishwasher? But the book became a #1 New York Times Bestseller (it says so, right on the cover), so I guess that a lot of people gave a crap. Including a 34 year old Upper West Side cynic (yours truly).
But, last night, I was thinking that same question. Who gives two shits about what I have to say on the subject of happiness? And I came very close to talking myself out of it, because a 365-day journey to happiness could just be 365 days of bitching about my life. But you know what? I have a blog that needs to be updated, and frankly, no one reads it. So who gives two shits about whether or not someone gives two shits?
Even if I did have to justify myself, then I’d have to put it like this: I’m a thirty-something middle class male in Manhattan, without a dishwasher. In fact, I haven’t had a dishwasher in years, and it really sucks. I’m in a time when the middle class is being pushed out of Manhattan and a 2-bedroom in my neighborhood goes anywhere from $2400/mo to $8000/mo. I don’t have kids, but I want one, and I’m more than a little nervous about teaching my kid the facts of life when I have to tell him/ her that that the true fact is you can’t always get what you want (cue song). I constantly don’t feel like I have enough space. I don’t have enough money. I don’t have enough time in my day to do all the things I have to do. And even though I’ve tried implementing Inbox Zero and Omnifocus and Getting Things Done, my to-do list is a mile long and half the actions on it are overdue, and my inbox has almost 200 unread messages, and that’s amateur hour compared to most people I know.
I have a good job, but it’s not what I want to do in life, and the better I get at it, the further away my dreams seem. I need a vacation. I need a savings account. My 401K is pitiful and if I retired today, I could maybe live comfortably until this Saturday. I’ve been married for almost 10 years, and some days it feels like 1 and some days it feels like 20. I’m not a full-time writer, but I want to be. I’m jealous of other writers’ successes, and so I continuously beat myself up, call myself names, eat myself into oblivion, and wish that I could do more. And every day, I feel tired. So fucking tired.
And every day, I meet people just like me. With the same problems, and the same thoughts and the same hopes and dreams and they get the same advice and so I think that I probably can connect with people out there. The people that don’t have the job they want, they just have a job. The people who don’t have the savings they need for the future they want to have. The people who can’t get through their inboxes and todo lists even though they constantly find themselves in front of the self help section at Barnes and Noble seeing Elizabeth Gilbert, Gretchen Rubin, Andrew Weil, MD and more. How to Be Happy. How to Get Things Done. Stop Procrastination Forever. Love More. Smile More. Be Grateful. Be Thankful. Just Be Yourself.
I think there are a lot of us out there. I think we should have support groups. I think we should send out emails and motivate each other. I think most of us have found ourselves at one point or another in front of the TV, in front of the computer, in front of a bottle of bourbon or scotch or vodka or wine and thought, “I should be really happy right now. But I’m not.”
I have told my wife several times, “When I turn 35, I don’t want to be this person.” Well, that’s a year away. Actually a year, minus 2 days. I better get on it. Next stop, breaking down my actions to get there.