Today is Monday. It is also the first of the month. This is the second month in a row that has happened. For me, this is a fairly amazing coincidence.
I am a great starter. I have a head full of ideas and I think of more things to do before noon on most days than I could possibly finish in a lifetime. One of the reasons I write almost exclusively essays and short stories is because that is about the length of my attention span. I have an idea. I talk about it for a few pages and I move on to the next idea. My house is full of half finished projects and half organized spaces. I am a great starter. I begin projects full of passion and intensity. It always fades fairly quickly. I am a much better starter than finisher.
When you are a great starter like me, you like Mondays and the first of the month. Mondays are great days to start diets and workout plans and writing plans and productivity systems. And the first of the month is a great time to start new longer term projects. Put those two together? It is like a dream come true for someone who likes to start things. Do that twice in a row? So that I get a NEW chance to start things? It’s like Christmas. Seriously.
The downside of being a good starter is that I am a lousy finisher. It is often hard for me to put an end to things. I leave open doors that should be closed - literally and metaphorically.
One of the things that has been challenging about our pandemic year is that so many things have been brought to an abrupt and definitive end. Some things just stopped. Church. Restaurants. Concerts. Going to the movies. No lingering. So fading away. Just a full stop. Now we get to think about what we want to bring back into our lives. What we get to restart.
There have also been some things that have continued during the pandemic that should have stopped. There are some trends, some ideas, some ways of thinking that just need to go.
I strive to be a positive person. I am always trying to find the bright side and the hope. I think that is one of the reasons that starts appeal to me. Starts are full of hope. Stops are full of reality. Some things just don’t work and need to end.
It took me a long time to learn that being healthy means setting boundaries. Sometimes, saying no is the most positive thing we can do for ourselves. Sometimes, putting a stop to something is better for us than starting something. Even on Mondays that fall on the first of the month.
Here are 5 Things That Need to Stop. These are things that are just kind of ... out there in our culture that I think do damage. They damage us individually and collectively. And they need to stop. These are some things that we should just say no to.
1st Thing That Should Stop
One of the first things I learned in college was a lie.
I took Intro to Economics the first semester of my freshman year. And my professor (who like almost all professors at my college was phenomenal) told us that there was no such thing as a free lunch. Everything had a cost, he said. And to learn economics was to figure out how to assess those costs. Economics, he said, is the study of scarcity. And scarcity is all around us.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Dr. Hetherington thought he was lying to us. I know that he really believed what he was telling us. He really believed that there were limits to things. Most of us do. It is what we have been taught to believe. And it shapes the way we view the world.
Let me give you an example. On of the criticisms that has been leveled against the current stimulus bill winding its way through Congress is that it costs too much. At nearly 2 billion dollars, there is a significant cost. And.
A week or so ago, the head of the US Air Force said that the service would need hundreds of fighters to replace its aging F16s, most of which are well over 20 years old. The USAF bought its last new F16 in 2001. At that time, the Air Force went all in on the new F35 Joint Strike Fighter. The F35 was supposed to be all the things in one aircraft. It was supposed to do the jobs of the F16, F22, B2, and A10. It was supposed to be stealth, work anywhere, and be easily repairable. It has been none of those things. In fact, in announcing the need for a new fighter, the Air Force chief admitted that the F35 has been a complete failure.
Each F35 costs $100 million. The total cost of the (failed) project is now over 1 TRILLION dollars. Trillion.
When a political leader says we can’t afford a $15 minimum wage, or student loan forgiveness, or Medicare for All, or fully funded schools or universal preschool, know that for the cost of one single failed fighter jet project we could pay for all those things. With money to spare.
Scarcity is an illusion. And we carry this illusion into spaces and places where it doesn’t belong out of habit and conditioning. We think that someone else getting something means we get less, so we hoard our privilege. We think that love is a finite resource, and so we hold on to it and save it only for those who pass some imaginary test of worthiness.
We move through life with a scarcity mindset. That has to stop.
2nd Thing That Should Stop
Toxic positivity and guilt culture.
I try to be a positive person. I always try to look on the bright side of life.
It took me a long time to get here. For most of my life, I was a pessimist. I saw all the things that were wrong. I was angry and unhappy. And it almost killed me. Quite literally.
When I survived my suicide attempt, I resolved to start to try to see what was right and what was beautiful in the world around me. It took a while. I had to learn to see the world in a different way. And I am happier and better because of it.
Shit still goes wrong. All the time. I still get angry, have my feelings hurt, and see shit go sideways. Life is not perfect. It for damn sure isn’t fair. It can be a complete slog through mud and blood and piss. Because life is human, and humans are messy and ugly and we hurt one another at least as much as we make one another smile.
The idea that you always have to be okay, that you always have to be strong, that everything always has a bright side, is as far from actual positivity as I am from the NBA. True positivity comes from seeing the world as it is, warts and all, and moving forward anyway. True positivity is the act of persevering through things that want to destroy you. True optimism comes from waking up in the morning, looking around, and saying “the world has not killed me yet. Today is a good day.”
Stop believing that you are not worthy because things are hard. Stop letting the world tell you that it is not okay to be not okay. Do not spend one more day making apologies for being a human being, for making a mistake, for trying again. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO FEEL GUILTY FOR BEING YOU. Not now. Not ever.
Stop telling yourself that you have to be something you aren’t or feel something you don’t. And sure as fuck don’t let anyone else tell you that.
The toxic positivity (and the guilt culture that goes with it) have to go.
3rd Thing That Should Stop
Work / life balance.
The pandemic has obliterated any pretense of the separation of work and home for a lot of us. We are working where we live and living where we work. The highlight of most Zoom meetings are the random kids and cats that show up.
We have gotten all turned around about what it means to have a balance between work and life. We think of it as some sort of equitable time share. I spent 10 hours at work today, I gotta spend 10 doing family shit to balance it out. Balance implies a scale that must be leveled.
Instead of thinking of work / life balance, I choose to think about work / life harmony. Rather than balance, we must look for ways to blend the way we work with the other things that are important to us. Instead of thinking about the specific number of hours we spend doing any one thing, I think we should instead focus on the moments that we get to be a part of - professionally and personally. How do these connect? How do these blend together to form the song of our lives?
Balance is for bicycles. It should not define how we structure our lives. That has to stop.
4th Thing That Should Stop
Complaints about cancel culture.
We have a few mantras we constantly tell our kids. One of our big ones is that you get to choose your actions, not your consequences. We all get to make choices about what we do or don’t do. It is one of the amazing things about being human. We all have a choice.
It drives me up a wall when I hear someone say that they “didn’t have a choice.” You always have a choice. Always. That choice may feel forced by circumstance, but the choice remains. Most of the time when people talk about not having a “choice” it would be more accurate to say that they don’t have a choice that leads directly to their preferred outcome. They have a choice. Just not one that will get them what they want.
When I hear people complain about “cancel” culture, what I mostly hear is people who have never experienced consequences for their thoughts, ideas, and actions, suddenly have to grapple with the fact that they are being held to task.
For people who have never faced consequence, accountability feels like oppression.
Complaining about “cancel culture” is like complaining about gravity on an airborne operation. You jump out of a plane, gravity will pull you to the ground. Every time. You say or do something dumb, then you should be held accountable. Every time. And I say that knowing that I am someone who says a lot of dumb shit.
We get to choose our actions, not our consequences. That is not being cancelled. That is being an adult.
Complaints about cancel culture have to stop.
5th Thing That Should Stop
Complaining about these kids today.
On April 20, 1999, Alex was almost two. Barb was pregnant with Willie, but we didn’t know it yet. We did know that we wanted to add to our family. We couldn’t wait to have more kids. We wanted 5. I joked that I wanted my own basketball team.
Also on that day, we watched in horror as a school in a suburban Denver town we had never heard of was shot up by two students, leaving 12 dead. A couple of years after that, on another random weekday, we would watch planes fly into the World Trade Center and I would spent 7 years at war.
Our kids have lived through seeing their schools become war zones, an actual 20 year war against an enemy (terrorism) that can never be defeated, a major economic collapse, and now a global pandemic that has killed millions worldwide, and over 500,000 here in the US.
The question should never be “what is wrong with these kids?” The question should ALWAYS be “how in the hell are these kids so amazing after all they have been through?”
When I hear anyone complain about millennials or Gen Z or literally anyone younger than them, my response is always the same. Get the fuck over yourself. We all have to carry some heavy shit. You may not like the way another person’s bag look, or how they are carrying it, but you need to move on. Carry YOUR shit. And if you can, help someone else carry theirs.
Because in the end, that is what matters. We all have to be in this world. We all have to carry burdens. We all want this to be a better place and right now it is real hard to do that.
Be kind. Give grace. Share joy. Scatter bliss. Be who you are. Feel what you feel. Carry one another’s burdens.
These are things that should never stop.