Friday, March 28, 2008

Advice Column #12

Hey Bartender,

I've always been the type of person who pursues what they love. Unfortunately, I find that I often burn myself out while throwing all of my energy into projects and jobs that I care about. Ones that I don't care about bore me and I do not excel in them at all. How do I do things I love without killing myself in the process?

This is the time of year that we spend all our cash, in the name of saving the economy or holiday giving, and are told that giving is the most virtuous thing we can do. Maybe I'm paraphrasing some Plato that I read years and years ago (as any good bartender has a vague recollection of philosophy they've read), but it's a sloppy way to interact with people and the world. There are times when selfishness is indeed virtuous and helpful.

You have to care about yourself more than you care about anything else, or your life becomes dangerous, and not your own.

Whoa! What? Did I just misplace the tender in bartender?

No. I didn't. It's hard to understand, because we think that the more we devote ourselves to our goals, the better the outcome will be, but it's not always so. Without a bit of restraint, we lack the distance to critique our development as people or how our actions are affecting the progress of our goals. Most things in life barely deserve 70% of our effort (a C will pass), and for most things, that's more than we can muster. We aren't over-achievers in every area of our lives, just the ones we think are important. The fatigue such over-achievers suffer from comes from burning themselves out while trying to push 110% in every area. I'm not saying here that you shouldn't try, but instead that there are degrees of trying. Most things need about 70% to make happen, you don't have to be perfect at those things. The new job deserves about 90% for a few weeks, the old job is probably slipping to 80%- get a raise and don't get fired, etc.

The things that really matter: the big goals, the loves, the relationships- we have been too long convinced that we need to destroy ourselves to make these things happen. We need to learn to hold back a part of ourselves. It seems like the wrong thing to do- as Americans we are taught that the harder we try, the better it'll be. In some cases this is true, especially when you have to overcome obstacles, but that 110% comes at a cost. When you toss all of yourself into something, there's nothing left of you to admire what you've done, nothing left to nurse yourself back, nothing left to survive. It is a sloppy way to care about things, and not a way to keep above water. Those who admire the 110% givers are admiring the lost. You have to care enough to succeed, and stop yourself when it hurts. Maybe your goals need 98% of your effort, or maybe you can achieve that goal with 85%. It's not slacking; it's taking a little bit of your life for you.

Don't take this to an extreme. If you don't try and don't make any effort, you're going to be a worthless person to be friends with or do business with. Effort isn't black and white, it's not on or off. You need to find the gray areas where you try a lot, but not with all your might. This finesse will allow you to store some gusto for times when you need a little more than you can muster, or so you can teach yourself to relax. You are not selfish, but you need to learn to be, a little, and a little ruthless about it. You have to learn 90%. You have to learn that you need to hold something back for you, or you'll lose yourself. You have to learn to say no, to the only person you listen to, you.

How? There are many ways to take back some of yourself. Set limits. Schedule time for yourself, for things that aren't your projects or jobs- going out for drinks, or taking a yoga class. Schedule time to decompress; sleep in on the weekend. You know what calms you down, and you need to make sure that there are times when your cell phone is off, your computer is off, and you are having time for you. This is just as important as all the other things that you do to nurture your dreams, because it's nurturing you. Make this your first New Years Resolution: to keep a part of yourself for yourself, and to care about yourself first.

And of course, what do you drink? There's a drink which has become known for all it's extras, all the added junk that never really amounted to a better taste, a drink that needs to be paired down to it's classic form, and appreciated as such. The Daiquiri. Not the frozen mix thirteen fruit and avocado junk daiquiri, but the original classic. This is a drink that has been derived into a thousand forms, but still relies on the stable perfect cocktail that it should be. Don't go buy some mix from the freezer section, or get out those little plastic mermaids that fit on the edge of the glass, just get a shaker and some ice. Pour two ounces of light rum, one ounce of fresh lime juice, and half an ounce of simple syrup into the shaker. Simple syrup, as we all remember, is just sugar and water. Shake vigorously, perhaps to the beat of your favorite song that you're totally singing at the top of your lungs, and pour into the nearest clean glass. This is the daiquiri. This is the part of yourself you need to nurture so that everything you build, everything you add to your life, has a solid stable base to work from. You can spend your time thinking about how this drink was named after a beach and an iron mine near Santiago, Cuba. Your life needs to know how to treat things not just like a beach or an iron mine, but like a perfectly proportioned classic drink. Sip slowly while you think about what every aspect of your life is worth, and how much effort each part really needs.

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