Not Everything

“You can be anything you want when you grow up.”

So we were told.

My brain wants to head in a few directions with this. “Be” versus “do”. What “grow up” even means. And the winner: “anything”, maybe, but not everything.

Picking an “anything”, if you’re doing it right, means ruling out other things.

This isn’t a stray observation. I’m not writing about it because I’m-so-smart. I feel it nearly every day. “You can do anything” is hard-coded for me. It’s an underlying assumption I have for what I can and should be interested in, about the world. And so my default mode is to let myself be interested in everything. The problem is that keeps me from focusing. It keeps me from deep work. It keeps me in a state of continuous partial inattention, distraction. And, worse, it doesn’t feel bad. It feels good. Until I stop and think about it, or until I look back at weeks or months spent not making progress on the things I care the most about.

Now that I’ve noticed this about myself, I’m working on it. I’m keeping a mental list of the important stuff, and making some cuts. I’m keeping track of the stuff that was cut, too: That’s dangerous stuff, because those are things I’m genuinely interested in. Things I enjoy spending time on. That’s exactly the stuff that’s most likely to tempt me away from my goals, sucking away the time my better self wants to spend more wisely.

I’m learning how to say no, too. I’m learning that it’s okay to say no to things I like and I things I want to do. If I said yes to everything I liked or wanted to do, it wouldn’t be long before I’d be full up. Then I’d be too busy for whatever else might come along. And that next thing’d be something I would love, something better that would never come along again. Leaving room in my life and in my days means I leave room for serendipity.