You Might Be Better Than You Think
I spent a big chunk of last weekend going through old files and papers. It’s a chore I’ve been putting off for too long. But, the experience was better than expected.
There were things I’d clipped from magazines. Online pages printed out for reference. Reams of sheet music. Notes from all sorts of projects. Receipts and invoices. Documents and statements from companies I’d started. And certificates from courses I’d completed. All of it neatly organised into topics and categories.
Some of it was in old paper folders. Faded pastel colours. Made by Leitz in Germany. Others were in bright plastic ring binders, with clear inserts, from King Jim or Kokuyo in Japan.
Lifting each paper, clipping or printout from a folder and reading it was like travelling in a faulty time machine, bouncing from glorious success to tragic failure, with all sorts of mundane everyday moments in between.
The experience wasn’t sad. Or nostalgic. Maybe it’s because we’re in the midst of a pandemic. Holding onto what is good in life. Because the whole thing felt glorious.
I tend not to want to look back. I fear that I’ll obsess over the things that went wrong. The projects I didn’t finish. The stuff that didn’t work out. But, it seems like I’m better, and far more productive, than I ever gave myself credit for.
It’s a cliché to say we are too hard on ourselves. But, it’s also true.
We internalise so many negative images of ourselves. And we accept the toxicity of the modern culture of work. Which asks us to focus on our weaknesses. We obsess about the reasons our bosses and clients give for not paying us what we believe we’re worth. Then there’s the hustle culture. The idea that we have to punish ourselves with sleepless nights followed by draining coffee-enabled days before we deserve success.
Or the way all the talk of productivity lures us into thinking that what matters is how many things we can tick off the endless to-do lists rather than how well we can focus our energy on the relatively few things that really matter.
This time, however, all that stuff just faded away.
What I learnt over the weekend, what I’d like to say to you, is this.
So much of what you are currently doing is better than you think it is. Many of your ideas are more interesting than your family, friends and work colleagues give you credit for. One day, you’ll look back on the previous year or so of your life and realise it created some your most precious memories.