Conventional wisdom says that life is more complicated today than it’s ever been. But I haven’t really noticed it. What I have noticed is that a lot of people make it complicated and that others make a ton of do-re-mi because of it. I’m thinking of therapists, positive psychology and motivational speakers, and pharmaceutical companies for starters. You no doubt can think of more.
I’ve never been one to follow conventional wisdom, though. I’m not bragging, since bucking convention has caused me a heap of grief in life. It’s just a fact. I don’t really believe life is more complicated today than at any other point, say, in the last hundred years. That’s not to say it isn’t busier, faster, and more competitive. It may be all of those things, but you have to ask what makes a life complicated? I don’t think it’s the things we do, how fast we do them, or even the things themselves. That is, it isn’t what we do that complicates life but the way we do what we do and, ultimately, how we decide which of the fifteen things on the calendar today are important and which can be let go. Conventional thinking would have us do all of them. But you won’t find FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) in any historical period but our own. Bucket lists, swimming with sharks, and even timeshares in Hawaii form a subset of this.
The antidote to FOMO may be LTLG (Learn to Let Go). The irony is that people are forced to let go all the time as when, for instance, the breakout rooms in Zoom don’t work, the folder you created two hours ago denies you access because you are unauthorized (almost as bad as being unvaccinated), or the Google slide presentation decides to do something entirely different from what you want it to do. This is one time when I appreciate Elon Musk and his warning about robots taking over the world, but that’s another story.
The starting point for LTLG may be forced as in the instances above, but ideally it reflects an intentional shift from fear and control to a recognition that somehow life will go on if we accomplish only half of the fifteen things on the calendar. LTLG recognizes not only that other people exist but that they can influence our actions and decision making in profound ways. This calls to mind the apocryphal story about Napoleon refusing to open his mail in the belief that if it were important enough, he’d hear about it sooner or later anyway. You’d be correct in assuming that he didn’t have the same attitude toward his battle plans, however.
Complication, too, is an intentional act. You decide to make your life complicated either directly by stuffing your calendar as if it were a Thanksgiving turkey, or indirectly by allowing it to be stuffed for you by people who may not have your best interests in mind and end up pulling their pants down and soiling your living room rug. In a manner of speaking, of course. Note: if this actually happens, you’ve got even bigger problems.
A complicated life feeds anxiety and depression. You never catch up, never get a break, and never find fulfillment. Our culture has become saturated with data and words, obliging us to absorb more and more and even mimic machine processing as we do. As a result, we become anxious and depressed, eventually turning to all kinds of relief, pharmacological and otherwise. We, like that turkey, are stuffed but with words (see Jason and the Argonauts). I’ve thought about writing a nursery rhyme for my grandchildren entitled, “Blah-Blah Black Sheep.”
Speaking of which, I wonder if humor can save us. It would have to be Monty Python absurd, of course. How else to account for the situation I found myself in this week when, searching for a way to put an online event on Google calendar, I arrived at a list of instructions that went on for four pages and had more links than a Louisiana sausage factory? I was directed there by an automated agent that kept threatening to leave me because of “inactivity,” which felt like a few relationships I’ve been in. This time the inactivity was due to my pausing to think, which I admit can lead to inactivity. I just don’t want to hear about it from a robot.
I related all of this to a business partner, who had his own stories of technical minutiae and bureaucratic overkill after spending two hours on the phone getting a technical issue resolved. “So, how did it go?” I asked. “Let me put it this way,” he said. “I asked a guy for the time and he told me how to build a watch.” I suddenly remembered Eliza Doolittle having something to say about that.
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Oh, wow! Yes. It seems that there are more than enough challenges, complicated by choice or inherent in life, without my adding more to the mix:) Thank you.
There is one ‘profession’ quite dubious in nature that I’m sure is quite lucrative – various forms of life coaching. A friend mentioned to me that she read of a business which assigns you your own personal coach to help you lose weight – so you can pay someone to badger you to put down the potato chips and do Jumping Jacks? Does common sense no longer exist? And I can organize my closet just fine on my own, joy sparking or not! For those old enough to remember, sometimes I think I channel Andy Rooney.
Simplifiers and Complicators. Robert Heinlein might have said it best, “Progress and achievement is not made by hard-working ambitious people. It is made by lazy people looking for an easier way to do something.” Words to live by.