It’s a one-take.
Emma’s Notes #47
I hope you are doing well today :)
Life is a one-take.
That’s what has been on my mind the past week.
There is no doing over. No going back to straighten things out.
The past few days I’ve been reading 4000 weeks by Oliver Burkeman. I bought the book almost a year ago when it just came out. However, I was skeptical of yet another time management book. Frankly, I took my purchase more as a sign of my clear addiction to self-help books than as a true intention to read the book.
I’ve committed to rebuilding my habit of reading daily, however, so I figured I might as well start reading all the books that are already collecting dust on my kindle. I picked up the book with my new ‘start a book wherever you want’ trick. Instead of reading a book cover to cover as if the teacher can appear at any moment to check on you, I’m making use of the fact that I’m an adult and I can do whatever the fuck I want. Probably millions of people already read like this, but if you’re a little uptight like me - it can be truly liberating.
Here’s what stuck with me the most:
No one should ever call it a time management book ever again.
This book is not about time management. Burkeman does not encourage you to cram as many tasks in the day as possible. He also does not offer a framework through which you can prioritize your tasks in such a way that magically you still end up super stressed only now you’ve done your tasks in a different order. Instead, he makes you come to terms with the fact that you are not a superhuman and you will not do everything you want in your lifetime. And that thought is more comforting than it might seem at first.
There is no alternative universe.
Burkeman might have pointed me to the root of many of my insecurities. In the final chapters of the book, he talks about how you should let go of the idea that there is an alternative universe in which everything is perfect. As I’m writing this, I feel anxious. Yesterday I went to bed later than I intended because I was talking to a friend. This led to me wanting to kill myself when my alarm went off at 6 am. I thus snoozed till 7 and then went for a run. The delayed start of the day has since then triggered anxious thoughts about how this day is derailing because I’m writing my newsletter, not at 9:30, but at 10:30. I know this might make me sound like a lunatic, but maybe it doesn’t and it gives you a little comfort.
Because the slight anxiety over not having enough time, soon snowballed into a way bigger feeling, about much more things. As soon as I started comparing my actual day to the ideal day in which I did everything at the exact moment I planned, I entered the clusterfuck that is called ‘the perfect world in which I’m not’. I looked at my bank account and thought ‘wow in an ideal world it would be 10x that’. And then I looked at my phone ‘if I were a better friend I would have called all those people texting me already’. A person next to me sat down, looked completely zen, and enjoyed their coffee and I thought ‘Jesus why I am not more present like they are? Is the meditation not working?’
These thoughts however in no way motivate me. They don’t make me work harder, they just make me feel like shit. Because they nurture the idea that there is a version of me in a different world that is perfect, and I’m not her. Since reading 4000 weeks I’ve become more aware of how often I beat myself up based on the idea that I could have been in a perfect world. Maybe you recognize the feeling from when you start to learn something, let’s say learning a language and you feel bad for not knowing it already. Or when you go through an emotionally difficult situation like a conflict or a breakup and you beat yourself up over not having the emotional intelligence yet to navigate this the way you would want to.
In short: every time you think ‘if….’ and then insert some fantasy situation. Stop yourself. Because there is no alternative perfect world. There is only this world. In which you just have to do your best and take it to step by step.
Take a deep breath. I’m sending the good vibes.