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Revision

I’ve said before that going through the editing process for a book is like being beaten across the face with a hammer, only to realize afterward that you look better with a black eye and fewer teeth.

I still feel that way: cutting and culling and revamping and revising your own work, your precious words, can be painful, but it’s almost always a productive pain. The ache you feel the day after a long run, or the longing you feel for a familiar place left behind so that you can set off to pursue something new and vital to your happiness.

These past months have been rich in revision, for me. Not just in the writerly sense, but in the larger meaning of the word: to reshape and pivot, to change direction and action based on new evidence.

In practice, this has meant becoming more focused in how I spend my time, while also opening up more of my day for investigative, this-may-be-cool-but-maybe-not sorts of experiments. So you might say my focus has included some very intentional unfocused time.

It’s also meant revisiting a lot of my older work to assess the bigger picture.

I recently redesigned Exile Lifestyle, as part of a larger, structural, personal overhaul. As part of this update, I’m also systematically re-reading every single post I’ve written since 2009 (there are over 500), reformatting them so they have a more consistent, easy to read layout, and adding an update to each one; a message from current day Colin, containing new thoughts, notes about how my ideas have shifted in the years between, and in some cases poking fun at my younger self and his silly ideas.

This process has been a blast, and I’m still only partway through 2010, so there’s plenty left to go. It’s been educational to see where my ideas have changed, which have stayed the same (in some things I’ve been almost eerily consistent, even as everything else has shifted), and how my method of communication has evolved over the years. It feels good to see the growth that has occurred. It also feels good to put a new coat of paint on a project that has served me well since the very beginning of this strange lifestyle of mine.

These edits, though minor, have already substantially changed the way I approach my work and perceive where I’ve come from, and the feeling is the same for my other projects.

Stopping to take a look at the bigger picture, figuring out what’s worked and what hasn’t, what’s been valuable to you and what’s been a burden, making some tweaks to the formula, and then pushing forward with a new recipe — endeavoring to do even better next time while leaving yourself open to future adjustments — is like editing your book or going for a run. It’s uncomfortable. It can be painful at times. It’s overwhelming and cumbersome.

But it’s also one of the better ways to achieve clarity of direction, and can be immensely satisfying. It’s a means of intentionally creating a new milestone; a fresh jumping-off point from where you can move in any direction, utilizing all you’ve learned up till this point as additional buoyancy, adding inches to your take-off.

Some revisions are regular: a weekly deep-clean of your home, a daily clearing of the to-do list, a regular twenty-minutes of quiet contemplation to calm any lingering mental discord.

Taking the opportunity to do a larger check-in and assessment, to give yourself permission to trim and edit and rework and repurpose, even if it’s only every few years, can ensure you’re moving full-speed toward you-shaped goals. And if it turns out that very few changes are necessary, these revision moment can still be valuable as reaffirmation of the path you’re on.

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Ideal Speech Situation

I came across the term ideal speech situation the other day, while doing research for a podcast episode.

The core concept of this idea is that we’re most capable of benefitting from conversation when there are implied, mutually beneficial rules for the interaction.

These rules are that everyone capable of participating is allowed to do so, that any and every assertion made by anyone is open for questioning, that anyone involved can introduce new assertions (which can then be questioned), and that there should be nothing keeping anyone from fully expressing themselves while adhering to these implied rules — they shouldn’t feel socially or culturally pressured to not speak, or to not question, and they shouldn’t feel coerced by the threat of physical or psychological or social retribution for what they say.

I love this idea. Not because it’s perfect, as there are still numerous games you can play with these rules that would result in advantages for one participant or another, or that would nullify a lot of the potential positive effects. I love it because of what it’s attempting to accomplish, and how clearly it addresses some of the problems we’re struggling with as a diverse, interconnected species, today.

There are reasons we don’t speak as clearly as we might. There are reasons we don’t question certain authorities and refrain from rocking the boat, even when rocking might be just what we need.

There are social standards that set out what we can safely talk about and what is considered to be taboo. There are labels we apply to people who don’t follow these strictures, and labels we apply to people who follow them too assiduously.

We fail to include voices whose words might be relevant. We fail to question societal norms and traditional values. We fail to introduce all possible perspectives, even when those perspectives might better illuminate that which we’re trying to see more clearly.

Perhaps most confoundingly, we very often enter conversations in bad faith. We enter, not with the intent to learn or grow or come to the most ideal conclusion — we show up to win.

We plant semantic and logical traps. We attack the other person’s character or conflate their ideas on one subject with their ideas on another. We label them, brand them, define them from the outside.

We trip those with whom we’re speaking and claim that their stumbling means we won the race.

That’s not the point of a productive discussion. Or rather, it shouldn’t be.

Entering a discussion with the proper intent is a key part of actually accomplishing something, and that’s a standpoint that seems to be lacking in essentially all public discourse, not to mention dialogue at the interpersonal level.

As I said, this approach isn’t perfect. But it does seem like an idea worth remembering at the outset of future conversations. One of the more difficult struggles we’re going to face as a globe-spanning species in the coming decades is sorting out how to interact and coexist with people who believe differently than us. Coming up with a shared appreciation for civil and gainful discourse, and establishing guidelines for such discussions, would be a step toward that goal.

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Valuable Things

Possessions can make us happier, but only if we own the right things.

I should note that this doesn’t mean possessions are a replacement for experiences and relationships and a rich internal life: most ideally, the things we own are mere additions to a fulfilled existence. They add spice to something that’s already satisfying and satiating.

But all too often, the things we bring into our lives become anchors instead of wings; they don’t slake our thirst, they just make us more parched. This can result in a spiral of consumption that, for many, lasts their entires lives.

It’s important to question one’s own feelings about things, because there is a consistent low-level manipulation happening around us at all times. Like having just a little more oxygen in the air than usual, it’s unlikely that we’d notice the addition, yet it can still influence our behavior, adjust our priorities, and even hijack our rationality.

Many of us don’t have experience doing the math that might help us ascertain what a thing is actually worth to us.

Is this thing I’m thinking about buying a subjectively valuable thing? Will it fulfill my needs, my wants, my priorities? Will it help me get where I want to be? Will the price I pay for it be a good investment? Will I net more than $500 of value from a $500 television? How much more? And what other costs, monetary and otherwise, are associated with owning such a thing?

I find that working through these figures helps pour cold water on the riled-up reflexes that can flare during holiday seasons and sales. Clever marketing elevates the tempo on our internal ‘must consume’ chemical cocktails, and getting really specific, truly granular about how I intend to use something, and what specific value I will derive from it, helps me maintain a semblance of rationality, even when something is really cool and available at a deep discount.

Will I use this nifty device all the time? Will that use justify its cost and the space it occupies in my life and in my home? Is there some other way to achieve the same end without accruing a new possession? Is there some other way I’d rather be spending this money? Will I feel better knowing this money is there, in the bank, available at need in the future, or will I feel better knowing I’ve spent it — the money lost to me forever — on this thing?

We can make use of the systems that are out there, the same ones that try to manipulate us and which compel us to consume, but we can only do so if we know what we want, why we want it, and what it’s worth to us.

If we don’t have an understanding of ourselves and our hopes, needs, priorities, and yes, financial realities, then we can’t hope to consume intentionally. To buy assets, rather than just more stuff.

This essay was originally published in my newsletter.