Just about every moment of your day can be quantified in some fashion with a list of boxes to be checked off.
Your morning routine, your priorities at work, the food you buy, the recipes for the meals you make, the vacation or travel itinerary, the plans you have for the weekend.
We are great at lists; we have them for just about everything. We excel at checking items off and moving about our lives, day in and day out. It gives us satisfaction and a purpose.
We are taught that no matter how fast a box is checked off, it can and should be dealt with faster. Even if items are crossed off, someone else crossed the same item off their list better. We are stuck in a cycle of better, faster, harder, stronger.
Always checking off and moving onward. No matter how much is in the rear view mirror, there’s that much more on the road ahead. We become so entrenched in the lists that even free time is consumed thinking about and stressing over the various stages of completion for each one.
Work emails, work tasks, upcoming projects. Food to be bought, plans to be made, relationships to be maintained.
It becomes very easy to spend the majority of our time quieting the noise generated by others, instead of creating our own.
As life becomes more and more data driven, there is an increasing amount of downward pressure placed on individuals to ensure various metrics are not only being met, but exceeded.
More noise in an already noisy landscape. More noise to drown out what matters most: our own needs.
A recent op-ed about the crushing workplace culture at one particular mammoth enterprise provides some startling examples of what our modern culture is trending towards.
All Lists Are Not Created Equal
In the midst of all this noise, we lose sight of our own list. We choose to outright ignore it for fear of not being good enough for others. We fail to understand how the items we are working so hard to check off even got there to begin with.
When I was preparing to enter the work force at the ripe age of 22, I had a pretty standard list. Obtain a degree, get a stable job, buy a home, get promotions, earn more and spend more, etcetera.
This was all well and good at first. But as the day-to-day grind became routine, I noticed I wasn’t fulfilled.
A Harsh Realization
I was checking off all the boxes, so why didn’t I feel like I was on top of the world?
Why did I come home more days than not and attempt to distill my thoughts, trying to get to the root of my indifference to it all?
The answer seems obvious now, but it took time for me to arrive at it:
I wasn’t working on my list. I was simply working on the list I was presented with and taught not to question.
It was the list I observed the world around me living out, and therefore I thought it was the only list.
It was thrown in my face everywhere I went. The hybrid SUVs on the street, the endless stream of self-promotion on social media and advertising on TV. Petty competitions in the workplace.
The new houses, the new cars, the new furniture purchases, fancy vacations, job promotions. Each better than the one before it, streamed endlessly to me through any and all screens I managed to get my face in front of (voluntarily or involuntarily).
As it turns out, there’s no shortage of screens in the world today. The inundation is hard to suppress.
I started to realize that it was mostly bullshit. I think we all know it to some degree. But in my observation, it stops at the observation in lots of cases.
The point is, given that our lives are largely quantified by lists, there are lists on top of lists that someone else will gladly define for you if you don’t make intentional choices to define them yourself.
If you don’t create your own list, someone else will gladly create it for you.
It might allow you to be comfortable, but it will not allow you to be free.
When the reality of this hit me, I started to question my path and why I was on it.
I realized that I was working very hard for things I ultimately did not value, and I realized that I wasn’t all that proud of what I had to show for it.
Ask Questions To Break Free
I started my own list, and found that everything on it could be distilled to asking questions, and breaking free.
Questions such as:
- How much control of your life are you willing to relinquish to your job?
- What type of people do you want in your life, and are you surrounding yourself with them now?
- How do the decisions you have made to this point support the bigger things you want to accomplish in the future?
- How can you change your decisions to optimize for your personal goals and values?
If you don’t answer these questions yourself, you surely aren’t defining your own freedom.
Think of the questions as a starting point to breaking free.
So, what does it really mean to break free? That’s a pretty loaded term.
Here are a few of my thoughts on what it means:
- Breaking free means not feeling trapped underneath the weight of your past decisions.
- Breaking free means claiming control of your future by acknowledging what isn’t working, and committing to addressing the root cause.
- Breaking free means refusing to give complete control to that whisper in the back of your mind perpetually telling you that you can’t move forward.
- Breaking free means realizing that the imprisonment mentality which runs rampant is a ruse.
You can’t figure out what isn’t working, or begin to understand why, without asking lots of pretty tough questions.
It takes work to understand what this means for your specific situation, but this is the most important work.
It isn’t for someone else and it isn’t for some vague purpose.
That’s why you must question everything. Question until you have your own answers. When the going gets tough, question even more.
Questioning leads to clarity, clarity leads to intent, intent leads to control. Control means you are defining and living the priorities you set forth for yourself.
Becoming A Box Maker
Everyone can be a box checker. It’s what we are raised to do. But it takes something more to be a box maker.
It takes a persistent drive to challenge yourself, push through the resistance, and learn to ignore the daily noise. Because if there’s one thing there is no shortage of, it’s daily noise.
Nothing compares to the feeling of checking boxes you created yourself. If you are on the road to doing just that, you have broken free.
What are the boxes missing from your list?
I can certainly relate to this. I think about it a lot actually. Life can become monotanous with the day to day. It is important to regroup and to make sure we continue to work towards personal goals that are easily forgotten with all this “noise”.
I like the idea that simplicity can be helpful in decreasing “noise” by giving us room to focus on what is really important. IN FACT I think I might delete my facebook account right now! Well, maybe I am not quite ready for that but perhaps I will abstain from looking at it for a week. FB, and social media in general, creates a lot of “noise”. It leads to irrational and unhealthy comparisons of ourselves to others in our networks. It certainly is a distraction from our own present life and the path we want to be on versus the path we think we should want to be on.
Right on! I think Facebook is a useful tool for many things, so I don’t personally advocate for abandoning it entirely. I think it’s fun to try and set up a disciplined approach to it. I find that many times, I should be productive but I’m mindlessly scrolling through the feed. It’s like meditating, and catching your thoughts wandering off. You gotta pull it back and refocus. But it can be rewarding to become better and better at doing just that.
-Andrew I could write for hours and hours in response to your blog post. This is so immensely thought provoking. I myself have asked some of these questions before in attempt to figure out what my presence on this earth means and what I am supposed to do with my life. I asked again and again, how can I overcome my fears and self-doubt ultimately hindering me from reaching any life goal or desire? I think I have found that answer, and I would be willing to share that with you, but my answer would take up way to much comment space. In a sense at times, I feel I have broken free, but the influences the world has around us, make it very difficult to maintain that sense of freedom. In answer to what it means to break free, I think it boils down to the fundamentals of life. It isn’t about what you own, how much money you have, cars, or clothes. It isn’t about how popular you are, or what you have accomplished in life. To me, it’s about understanding truth and realizing that hopelessness, anxiety, and doubt has no place in your life or in this world. If I knew I was going to die tomorrow, I would have no fear or anxiety if I had this sense of breaking free that you mention. Because, in my mind, the pleasure of life on this earth, is only a minuscule of the happiness and pleasure I will receive if granted salvation, if granted eternal life in heaven. Nothing on this earth can ever come close to that. Our world, despite what we may think, is a mere billionth of the universe, and thus nothing we ever possess hear can ever replace the happiness and pleasure we will receive if given eternal life. But the questions I ask now, are, how do I get this eternal life? But that is another topic of conversation. The simple answer is faith. You just got to have faith.
Andrew, this was definely a beneficial read as I take on starting my own buisness & being a stay at home Mom. Everyday, I think about the outstanding items hovering to get my buisness to where it needs to be. Despite the fact that it is a high priority of mine, and I want to excel, I also constantly remind myself why I ultimately left my full time job. To be home with Addy and out future children. There is no need to defend that, and sometimes I feel like I have to defend myself against those who question why I am not working. I also realize how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to do so, while most aren’t financially able to.
The wedding industry is huge in social media, it thrives on shares and Instagram posts. It is definetly intimidating and hard to not look at what others have done and compare.
At the same time, I realize it is a marketing technique, and a lot of it is free, so it’s worth taking advantage of. I try to look at it only as this, and what is best for MY buisness, not as what can I do BETTER than the person next to me. This is an ongoing motto for anything in life, and certainly not one the majority of society lives by.
Exactly! This is what I go through with my personal goals and even this blog. I see all of my sources of inspiration out there running full-fledged online businesses and/or blogs, with tens of thousands of followers and all kinds of excellent content. It’s challenging to keep focused on my own goals and not feel inadequate by comparison. I spent months spinning my wheels for this very reason before even getting started with this. At the end of the day, we are all on our own journey and everyone started somewhere. So it’s about embracing that fact instead of rejecting it.