Shifting the focus to substance.

“Are you eating?” she asked me.

“Yes,” I responded, confused.

“I guess what I’m really asking is if you’re alright, if I should be worried.”

I thought about it for a second. “No, you shouldn’t be worried, I said. ” I’m doing just fine; things are a little tense right now, I keep some weird hours, but I’m doing fine.” At the time, I felt fine. Today, I can’t help but think about when she asked me that a week, maybe two weeks ago. Did she see something I didn’t?

I don’t write this to be alarmist. I’m fine, in no danger of hurting myself or anything of the sort. But I’ve found over the past couple days that my energy reserves feel dangerously low, and I think it’s having an effect on me and my work. I just… don’t feel the same confidence, the same stability. Though I don’t think there’s a particular source of unease, I think a chain of poor decisions have just built up and created a rough situation.

I write this because I think it’s only fair to be honest. I write this because I still don’t feel like personally it’s OK to show cracks in the armor or moments of weakness, but I know I’ve been inspired when I’ve seen others do it. And I write this because I’ve been writing daily for 26 days straight, and it was inevitable that I’d hit a point where I wanted to let it go. I’m just not willing to let that streak die.

There are basic building blocks we need for sane existence: food, water, sleep, shelter, perhaps companionship, rest. Bundled together, these resources give us resiliency, strength to take on the unplanned incidents in life that test us. When we go without those resources, we start to deplete our own strength reserves; we can handle it for a while, but at some point those batteries run low and trouble happens. I especially find that, when you have a penchant for martyrdom like I tend to, situations that create that battery drain show up more frequently and last longer. I do it because I feel like that’s “how it’s supposed to be done:” I’m “supposed to be” tired, I’m “supposed to be” hungry, I’m “supposed to be” stressed. They’re signs that I’m working hard, right? Well, I don’t think that those who work the hardest are necessarily the happiest, or even the ones who are most successful.

A friend of mine owns her own business selling custom-made branded merchandise. We caught up recently and she is still, like she always has been, one of the legitimately happiest people I know. I don’t mean that she is always upbeat and bubbly (though she usually is): I feel like, at her core, she’s living a life that makes her feel truly happy. She also works only a few hours a week, but makes close to a full -time salary. Now, she’s been running the business a while and has pushed through some of the hard parts, but I think she’s always known how to prioritize what’s important, how to monitor herself and her health, to know when to slow down and when to push through. Even after having some significant medical setbacks this year, she’s still kept positive and is working her way back to full strength.  She also has one hell of a support network, and that’s because she prioritizes substantive connections to her friends and family.

People who know me personally know that I’ve been fairly social in the past and know a lot of people, but this woman can make me look like a hermit. I think a big part of why she’s so popular is because she expresses her care for her friends on a regular basis. I may not see her all year, but she’ll still send me a birthday card in September almost like clockwork. She hugs and smiles and lives in the moment with people. She goes out of her way just to show the little expressions of care, even from thousands of miles away. I think she gives a boost to the people she does that for, but it also gives her a boost, too. I certainly hope it does, anyway.

Some actions, some decisions, are surface-level. They’re impulsive, impermanent, reactions to the world. Then there are actions and decisions of substance, the ones that sustain us and build strength like taking time to appreciate our friends. Substantive actions may take focus, discipline, or planning, but they reinforce us in the long-run, making us better friends, employees, business owners, partners, or family members. As proud as I am of my 26 days of writing, the time outside of the hours I spend writing that day’s piece are generally undisciplined, unplanned, unfocused… They lack substance, leading me here.

Substantive actions also include: getting enough sleep, getting enough rest, eating balanced meals, stating hydrated, reading books, connecting with close friends, so on and so forth. Each of those actions have non-substantive analogues, mind you: caffeine, substance abuse, eating/drinking/reading junk (or not at all), spending shallow time with shallow friends… you get the picture.

Tonight, I’m heading to bed. Tomorrow, though, I’m focusing on taking some substantive actions: grocery shopping and cooking dinner, reading a book on the couch, playing a game simply because I want to play it. I have work to do a-plenty, and that will likely always be the case, but if I expect to get it done (and done well), then I have to start taking care of me.

-Josh

Featured image by Trey Ratcliff

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