As I wrote this over multiple days, I was mostly sipping a Dark Roast from Starbucks brewed with my French press. As the days got warmer, I switched to a cold brew Dark Roast coffee from SleepyOwl instead.
It was back in first grade if I remember correctly when I first prioritised action. It was a sloppy assignment. You see, they used to give us books to make sure our handwriting turned cursive down the line, and they gave us notes to write pages of those. Five, ten, it was up to the teacher. I remember getting up at around one at night and walking up to my parents who were up. I remember telling them that I had an assignment that I didn’t do and that I wanted to do it because it was important. So, I did the pages, howsoever many were required, and it was only then that I could go to sleep.
This was a memory long forgotten until it swam back up from oblivion last year. In hindsight, and from what I’ve learned about myself with all this time over the years, I have two critical things to note about this particular event. Firstly, and more directly, I am a person of action. In other words, I prefer working and doing things. Secondly, and here is where it gets a little hazy to understand, I work because of no obligation from the external. My entire motivation to do anything comes from my own innate self. It is not relevant or essential that a task was assigned to me rather whether I have assigned it to myself.
To elaborate a little on where that thought comes from is a simple example of essays. You see, we had essay competitions in school, countless, hundreds and thousands of them. For some reason, even when I had picked up a pen to write and waste away my thoughts, irresponsibly so, even then, I could never write an essay. It would be years well until I reach about seventeen years in age when I realised it was because the topic was pre-determined. That is when I realised where my ethic lies.
It lies with the freedom to do it myself, as I prefer it, of my own volition and accord, and nothing else. No instruction has more power over my freedom of the task. Even if something is assigned to me, there must be some innate motivation where I can get up and do it. Once that is reached, I cannot get any sleep until I’m done.
Going back to the second point mentioned some paragraphs back, it seems, the book wasn’t important to me, and neither was the instruction. The only thing that was important to me was that I had to do it. It was not out of obligation but out of choice. I know this for a fact because for years, I have gotten out of bed, mid-sleep because there was something I left undone. It wasn’t until I would do the thing, whatever it may be, that I could go back to bed again.
Over the past few years, almost the past decade, I have built a system with little changes every day to make sure I have the best life possible. The idea of the best life is not tied to one aspect of life, and I find that a somewhat perverse thought. Anyone who is single-handedly devoted to one part of their life but has all the others in their blind side is someone I cannot talk to with a straight face. It is limiting to human potential, in my opinion, if a person only does one thing throughout their life.
On the contrary, I like to believe how we do anything is how we do everything. So, a person who is trying to exceed at one thing healthily would most often see a sort of trickle-down effect into every other thing that they do. So, my journey through the second decade and beyond on this planet has been about finding the balance.
As soon as I could live alone, I decided to change certain things I saw or was taught as a child. These were things from home, from school, and from other environments I grew up in. The reason for this was to start anew, and I did. The first thing I did was to lie. Yes, to lie to myself and others that I did a thing, whatever it may be. The second was to do it and to start believing the lie. The third was forgetting that I had lied to myself in the first place.
I realise that this method of deceiving yourself is perhaps, the best or only way to go about making a system of life. A system where you’re continually striving to be a better version of yourself, whatever that may be to you. That is important, for I’ll come back to it in a while. Once I had formed a set of essential habits, I started to acknowledge where I lacked.
It isn’t a straightforward journey as most people would have you believe. You cannot list things down when you don’t know what you don’t know. It comes slowly, with life, as you engage and meet with people, that you start to see your shortcomings. Some shortcomings are easily fixed – you read.
Reading is perhaps, the best way to go about changing how you think, but the reading should be honest. I believe, someone should be able to tolerate and bear with something they do not agree with from cover to cover until they present their disagreements about it. It isn’t until you reach the last line and have spent some time thinking about it, that you can have an opinion. Anything you have to say when you’re in the middle is feeling, and feelings are not something we can act on.
Also, on reading, I’m glad that my parents did some things exceptionally right. They never refused to get me books or things that piqued my curiosity. This was despite a rather turbulent financial situation that we had when we were growing up. That is, perhaps, the greatest blessing I received, in my opinion; to develop a habit of reading and being able to read from a young age.
I’m often asked by my friends, about why I have this urgency to move, and to do things, and to avoid resting and having a day off. They often say things like these to me when I’m sipping a nice cup of coffee in a café with them on a Saturday afternoon or perhaps, on a phone call in the evening. I never understood if they could see the irony in that, but that is for them to realise, and not for me to point out.
My answer to their questions is rather simple – that is who I am. I’m sure there’s no better answer I can give for a question that makes little sense.
I believe us humans are here to gather knowledge and to try. We try to make something by building upon those that came before, and we keep working and hoping that we leave something behind. Not something along the lines of the famous poem, Ozymandius because a statue is hollow, and it screams the lack of purpose. Instead, we create or find something that is used by others. It could be an object as simple as the bulb, a phenomenon as simple as fire, or a philosophy such as Stoicism.
So, over the years, with what I refer to as the system, I might just be combining things I read to figure out a way of life or a dō as the Japanese put it. I’ve only begun, but I feel I have some sort of clarity, a foundation, and that is where I would like to start talking about action. I’m sure this point of view will evolve over the years because if it doesn’t, that means I’ve made a gross error.
There’s a famous maxim that goes, “If you see the Buddha, kill the Buddha” which seems like a contradiction and perhaps, even an extreme thought against countless philosophies. However, it has a deeper meaning. If you see the Buddha, you must at least understand as much as the Buddha does. If you can do that much, that means your next step is to surpass the Buddha. That is what the second part of the aphorism refers to. Once you’ve attained that much, you need to let go of what you call the Buddha and surpass that understanding.
I’ve always found that one interesting, and it is something I often think about when I’m thinking about life, in general.
My system only revolves around a straightforward maxim – every tomorrow should have a better version of myself. This version could be better physically, mentally, or even in a little skill that I pick up along the way. So, I must gain some new knowledge every day, I must be able to perform physically either at par or better tomorrow than I did today, I must have a stronger resolve and understanding of myself every day, and lastly, but perhaps, most importantly, I must be a better person to those I know and those I do not.
Each day, passively or actively, ends with a sort of evaluation of the same. In a more practical example, I exercise as often as I can to ensure I am physically in my best possible ability; I try to read and learn new things as often as possible to make sure I know more about what I do not know; I try to pick up new things to do to get some understanding about yet another part of life I’m unaware of; and I try to see where I went wrong with a family member, a friend or a loved one and I try to mend it as soon as I can.
I make a lot of mistakes, but from my experience in software, I can draw that “fail fast” is a beautiful approach to make things better in the long run. In other words, the more you try, the more you fail, the more you fail, the better you can do the next time. There are countless aphorisms, maxims and pithy advice on this from all the collective wisdom from humanity for me to avoid explaining this part of the thought.
The one thing I’ve realised about this system is that there is no direct affecting your next day. In other words, you do something not for tomorrow but for an eventual day when everything aligns together. I’ve had this happen to me for far more than enough to ignore this thought.
The few good things that have occurred in any aspect of my life happened not because of something I had done right before them but something I was working towards for a long time. If we keep doing enough things, and if we keep moving, it all stacks together. That, to me, is the most beautiful side of this lifestyle to keep pushing. It’s all about consistency.
I don’t see this as a competition with anyone, and neither do I enjoy comparing myself with others. The simple truth is that two lives, no matter how similar, are still very different: to each their own.
My love is with the process, and I don’t see this as a means to an end. There’s no end to anything, and all of it is a mere repetition to grow as a person. Other people, however, have a few arguments they often make around me, so I feel it is essential to address each one of those.
The first is about rest and to get a day off every now and then, and to that, I feel, they’re absolutely correct. There are often days when a person needs rest but not only that, we often need to absorb what we read, we need to help our body heal, and often, let our minds heal as well. Taking a pause is essential and is something I cannot argue against. I do it regularly, and it is a vital exercise in itself to rest properly.
The second is about parity. It seems a standard group narrative today is that there is a pressure to do things from society and not because of a person’s own volition. On that, I have a few things to point out.
The first, and the one I find a bit baffling, is that if a person who engages in any work, motivated by an end goal or no end goal or the society or no society, and if said person is not bothered by another’s inactivity, why is there an assumption that the person who engages in the activity should listen to other’s point of view? Simply put, why should they care what anyone thinks? They’re spending their time doing what they believe in, and anyone else should do the same.
The expectation, at least to me, sounds like a double-edged sword. If they should listen to you and change their ways, then you listening to them and changing your ways is perfectly valid as well. There’s no odd need to take sides. I feel it would be better if each person was an individual first and part of a group second. Group identity and the pressure to take sides is another evil in itself, but that is something to talk in much detail some other time.
Also, I feel another problem here is the fact that inactivity is showcased and even celebrated as healing which is a bit erroneous. I have nothing against healing for as mentioned above, I feel it is crucial. Also, emotional healing requires a conscious effort from the person to understand what it is that troubles them. My argument is not of action here but of conscious effort; to have some similarity in what we say and what we do. The famous statement, “all of us move at our own pace” expects there to be movement. Otherwise, it stands irrelevant.
Of course, then, the last and final argument is about privilege, and to that I say, they’re right as well but not in the way they feel. Privilege is subjective, however, with privilege, the only expectation that comes attached is that you acknowledge it. Privilege is something that affords you books to read, for example, without restriction or censorship. Privilege is access to food without trouble so that you can focus on more important aspects such as self-concept and understanding. Introspection seems impossible when there is no food on the table. Privilege is to not be discriminated in the place where you live and to be able to have access to equal opportunities. To that extent, I agree.
My only disagreement is about the presence of the privilege and absence of action still. People talk about many issues they have but do nothing about despite having all necessities met. These could be lack of time, lack of money, lack of exercise, lack of knowledge, lack of skill, lack of friends et al. There’s no end to the things people can lack in the contemporary world. That is where I seem to get confused if nothing else
As for the economic privilege, I believe the role of money is essential in modern society, and to act blind to it is stupidity. This could be a simple effect of not coming from an affluent family and background. I tend to make sure that I can afford enough to keep the necessities and to always be able to help those who need my help. I barely ever turn down help of any kind, so to me, it is a no-brainer to ensure the presence of some sort of financial capability in life. It is a vital resource, like any other, and to act like it isn’t essential is being naïve and idealistic.
In conclusion, my concept is simply to have a more internal locus of control – to know when you can affect things. Yet, have enough balance with the external to understand that it is perfectly fine when something you build towards does not work out. The balance is the key, in my opinion.
Action without expectation is how I try to live my life, and perhaps, how I will live it going forward. The only thing for me to do is to get up every day and try to be a better person than I was yesterday – in every sense of the word.
It is not a battle won daily since there are always insurmountable challenges. Still, it is essential to evaluate where I can improve and fix things. This could be seeking help such as therapy to work with patterns of thought. This could be exercising and eating healthier because the science behind it is indisputable. This could be reading more about things I don’t seemingly agree with, or I do not know of, and then finding a middle ground between where I am and what’s written. This could also be sleeping away for the day if I’m not getting enough rest.
I don’t see this process to an end or some sort of arbitrary goal. This system, for now, is to do it every day, consistently. That is the goal if anyone insists upon one. I learn to learn; I play to play; I live to live; I write to write. There’s no other motive. I’ll do it every day, irrespective of whether tomorrow is the last sunrise I see or just one of many. I’m perfectly fine with my last day being the same as my usual ones. That, to me, is freedom.
That is what my system is all about. It’s what it has always been about. The freedom to do things but to do things on my own, as I prefer them, of my own accord and volition, and nothing else. To do or not to do, that is the question, everything else will be as everything else has always been, and I believe the answer always comes from within.