Shouldguilt

You can keep yourself very busy doing things the way your father did it – or trying to do the opposite, or whatever your personal flavor of “being a good person” looks like. Technology can also keep you very busy. And you can beat yourself up for not keeping up with the shoulds.

Mastery is deciding for yourself what needs to be done and what doesn’t really need to be done. And of the things that really do need to be done, which ones need you to do them, and which would be a nice job for someone else.

I was doing Pilates in a tiny studio owned by an energetic Danish woman, who moves faster than any human being I know. One day I said “Hey dear, why do you clean the studio yourself? You know you can pay people for that.” It was a revelation to her; she’d never considered it. Within three days she had hired an unemployed neighbor.

For me the breakthrough on this happened while skimming Tim Ferris’ much-loved and much-hated book, The 4-Hour Work Week. He encourages you to identify tasks that you hate and ask if they actually produce any value, or just suffering. And stop them. My list of things to stop doing:

  • Filing!

  • Managing iTunes

I also had a revelatory meeting with a real estate agent. She asked me to describe my lifestyle and passionate desire for another Craftsman Bungalow. At the end she said “You don’t garden, you don’t have pets or kids, and you don’t barbecue. Nothing you mentioned involved a yard, so you’ll just have to take care of it with no benefit. In fact, I don’t think you want a house. You want a condo.” I was on autopilot on things that didn’t actually matter to me.

My favorite example of this kind of thing is domestic habits. People create a lot of irrational work and discomfort in the house. If you use your silverware every day, it won’t tarnish. And with the right detergent, you can even put it in the dishwasher.

I’ve had several friends who seemed overly concerned with water on the floor. Puddles can be a problem. Drips are not. It’s not a real issue.

Erect your own shibboleths. I love wooden kitchen counters, and just remodeled my kitchen with them. It’s great to have a huge surface for cutting, and it’s easy to clean up with a metal scraper. But most people who have wooden counters don’t use them, despite the fact that a replacement in case of really bad damage (which is hard to do) is about €50 for two meters. I ask my friends “What are you saving the counter for?”