It’s Hard To Say No
I was at a wedding this weekend. The father of the bride got up to speak. He started talking about perspective. About how when you’re born, after the first day, everything you know about the world is what happened in those first 24 hours. After the second day, your perspective encompasses the first 48. As you get older, another 24 hours is nothing. It’s marginal. It’s like five decimal places. He went on to talk about the power of marriage and love, how it can change your perspective. Etcetera. But I was a few paragraphs back, still doing the math on those hours.
If you’re 30, the next day is 0.00009 of your life. In that case, it’s easy to go out drinking on Saturday and spend all of Sunday lying in bed. Or do another show with an improv team you don’t like because quitting would require an awkward conversation. Or keep taking that boring class because you already paid for it. Even if you waste the day, it’s just 0.003% of your whole life. What does it really matter?
In the grand scheme of things, perhaps, not much. But each day adds up. Your life is the sum total of all those 0.003 percents. Most people do things out of obligation because they worry about the cost of saying no. But what about the cost of saying yes?
As author Annie Dillard writes:
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.”
Nietzsche (as paraphrased by Steven West from the Philosophize This! podcast) says:
Imagine if, after you die, you have to life this same life you just lived down to the smallest detail, exactly the same way, over and over again, for the rest of time. Imagine, simply by doing something, you are essentially sentencing yourself to an eternity of making that decision over and over again. If the decision causes you suffering, you’re sentencing yourself to an eternity of suffering. If the decision causes you joy; an eternity of joy. In that world, when you look at your life in that way, how precious does every decision you make during your limited time here become?
Austin Kleon mirrors this kind of thinking when he writes about the creative process being like the movie Groundhog Day:
“Now, it might seem like a stretch, but I really think the best thing you can do as an artist or a creative person is pretend you’re Phil Connors in Groundhog Day: there’s no tomorrow, there’s no chance of success, there’s no chance of failure, there’s just the day, and what you can do with it.”
You cannot wait for the one week in which you’ll finally have time to sit down and write your novel or start your blog or take that dance class. That week will never come. You will always fill your time with something else. It’s hard to say no to what’s in front of you and hard to say yes to things that can always be done tomorrow. But tomorrow is always a day away.
Instead, think like Nietzsche or Phil Connors. If you had do today over again, would you want to? And if not, what could you change tomorrow that would make you want to answer “yes?”
Each Monday, I share strategies to help you pursue your passions. Try it. You’ll like it.
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