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Call to Inaction
What was the last action you took that changed your life?
I’m a strong Type-A personality. For years, I lived to accomplish things. I loved the trophies and accolades that followed my actions. The only way to achieve things is to get out there and do them. Right?
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The military instilled in me a “bias for action.” I internalized that “an imperfect plan executed aggressively is far better than a perfect plan that’s too late,” I wanted to get things done.
Then I read Four Great Decisions Per Year, and I started to wonder how many of my actions had accomplished anything.
How much of my vector was all speed with no direction?
There are a few key moments that inarguably changed the course of my life. But how many of those moments resulted from actions I took vs. actions I didn’t?
Marrying my wife
My wife and I started dating 20 years ago. We’ve been married for 14 now. Surely I took some grand action to romance her!
Reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
N and I didn’t like each other for 9 years - since 3rd grade - before we started dating. Our senior year, I started helping her with calculus. We got to know more about each other than the rules of calculus. It turned out I was a much better friend than a tutor, and our romance blossomed from there.
At the time, I was in a space of not wanting romance. Both of us were single, intentionally, as we were about to leave for college. Being in a space of not looking, I was surprised by what I found. That lack of action allowed romance to find me, and here we are 20 years later. I love you N.
Flying missions over Fukushima
Flying relief missions after the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima reactor meltdown showed me a new path in life. And those days exposed me to fears I’m still working through. Those flights were all action. But the opportunity to be in the right place at the right time was (you guessed it) because of inaction. The USS Ronald Reagan was dealing with maintenance and readiness issues that kept us from our original plan. Rather than doing an exercise in Korea, we were floating on our way west when that earthquake and tsunami struck.
Surely, having children was an act of doing something. Well, technically, yes. I was involved in the action 10 months prior.
But my children don’t count as the pinnacle of my life story because of that action. They count because they helped me slow down.
They taught me how fragile our life is when my son was diagnosed with ASD. They taught me how a girl could wrap her dad around her finger both figuratively and literally before she even knows what that means.
None of those lessons were because of actions I took, but because I stopped to slow down.
Surely deciding to start a company is all action. I quit my job to build a company that would save the planet. I signed on as an EIR, explored areas I thought could be interesting, talked to people, and interviewed potential customers for so many ideas. I worked so hard to get the right idea. I failed miserably, and that same VC fund fired me less than 2 months into the process.
It wasn’t until I finally stopped doing that I started noticing. At first, it was just being open to the idea that my company could be something other than what every VC wanted to invest in. Then it was that my company could be about food, which I discovered I was really curious about. Eventually, I started it with a flurry of activity and little to show for it beyond a large bill.
Months later, I let go of action and started to just let myself be. When I did, parents started sharing their aspirations, and friends started telling me how excited I seemed. They showed me what I wasn’t able to see. Which helped me rethink the direction.
I’m still not sure if I’m nailing it, but I’m working far less than I was for the same results. I now have the time to explore writing, permaculture, and starting a support group. My dog seems to enjoy the extra walks too.
I think that’s it. 4 life-changing foundational moments in 39 years.
How do we do less?
I’m still the same Type-A personality I was when I started this essay. If I’m going to put out a call to do less, well, I’m going to do less way better than you. In all seriousness, doing less goes against 39 years of societal conditioning.
I’m finding a few things working for me right now.
Be intentional about my actions. I am making a point of doing one thing at a time. When I eat, I choose foods that give me what I need in that moment. When I talk, I try to be present in that conversation. When I write, I bring my whole heart to it. I started asking myself, “What does this action do for me now?”
Be intentional about my interests. David Perrell in Write of Passage and Tiago Forte in Building a Second Brain recommend maintaining a list of your 12 Favorite Problems. I’ve done it a few times now, but I am returning to those a lot more. If something isn’t on that list, I’m not working on it now. If that thing keeps calling to me, I’ll change one of the problems on that list. And for full disclosure, I gave myself a 13th problem.
Practice time blocking. I’ve set up my calendar to have long, uninterrupted times for deep work. I’m fortunate to be able to have these times. I don’t take them for granted, but I also don’t waste them. I also have blocks for social media, email, and meetings. I’m waay behind on email, but I’m happier right now.
Prioritize quiet time. I wake up before my kids do so that I can have a little quiet time to myself. I also walk a lot more, mostly to get away from the noise of life.
Demand more, expect less. I set a goal for myself to accomplish 2-3 things a week, max. I don’t try and do more than that. Since I only have 2-3 things to accomplish, I demand my best from those things. And I’m recharging my batteries after being burnt out for years.
Listen to my body. For years, I thought my body needed to shut up and stop whining. Now, I focus on what sensations are there and what they mean. I journal, listen, talk to it, and journal about it.
Be Ready to act aggressively. Once the action is so overwhelmingly necessary that you can’t not act, then act aggressively. I’m prepared to strike when the opportunity arises.
Our society rewards action above all else. But few of those actions are as impactful as we might like to think. What if we prioritized rest, preparedness, and intention?
My ask of you is a call to inaction. Slow down, listen to yourself, and be ready to act when it matters.
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