The things I choose not to do
A good friend – herself a senior business leader – sat down with me over a coffee and enumerated the things she had decided not to do.
I found her way of thinking interesting: choicefully deciding what to avoid, in order to conquer the world on one’s own terms – whatever conquering means for you.
I took to thinking about all of the things I have chosen against. The things I’ve never done. The things I no longer do.
1. I no longer queue. There is almost nothing worth the abject boredom of queuing. I will not queue for a restaurant, I will not queue for tickets, I will not queue to board an airline. The potential benefits of queuing (being first, being assured, being a winner) hold little appeal. I value my peace more than I value such prizes. I am always particularly glad to be the last to enter an aircraft. Queues may be smart, sensible, necessary – but they also kill the soul. I’m over them.
2. I have never seen Rocky. Or Star Wars. Or Close Encounters of the Third Kind. (I saw Grease four times.) There’s a ton of magic movies I never got to see. These simply were not my priority or my interest when I was growing up. As a child, I resisted the pressure of doing what was cool or expected. When one grows up as a minority (gay, for example), removing oneself from the fray can be a tactic of self-preservation. As a teen, I perceived ‘cool’ as a sort of oppression: this is how you will be; this is how you should feel. The result is that I avoided quite some cultural dross, but I’m also aware I missed some gems. What of it! I have taken to enjoying the challenge of piecing together the meaning of Star Wars – Yoda, Luke, Darth – through the prism of others’ commentary. It is a motivating kind of ignorance. As Helen Keller says: ‘Never bend your head. Hold it high. Look the world straight in the eye.’
3. I no longer have a TV. Well, I have the television machine – but no cable, and no terrestrial channels. I consume media only via the internet (Netflix, Apple TV) and have not seen a TV news programme in three years. This was not an explicit plan, but the way things turned out. I got Sky TV, and discovered turning it on required about 5 button-presses from three remote control devices. Within a month I had forgotten how to turn it on. After six months, I realised that I no longer missed the TV at all. In fact, it was a liberation. I was forced to curate what I wanted to see: buy DVDs, search Netflix, devour podcasts, return to reading the news, create multiple sources for stories that interested me through Twitter… I stopped being a consumer of TV, and began as editor of my own media. This has its drawbacks. A man navigates life with some difficulty if he is willing to believe Kardashians may just be natives of little-known Kardistan. But I’m doing just fine.
4. I’ve stopped following politics. Not that I’m clueless, but I’ve ceased to follow policy and politician in the wonkish fashion I did for many years. For me, politics is a game so full of shadow boxing that I finally have become weary. I found my brain being clogged by things which were not fully real and entirely someone else’s agenda. I remain fully engaged as a citizen, but I have stepped away from politics-as-sport. The world still turns.
5. I have given up on Microsoft. It treated me cruelly, confused the hell out of me, added complexity to complexity, and seemed inspired to challenge my way of thinking rather than be invisible and work with the way my brain works. Microsoft became a machine that ordered me about, kept me waiting, and believed the world was all about Microsoft. It was like a bad boyfriend. It had to go. I can’t say I fully love my replacement relationship. Let’s call him Steve. He can be a diva, he has expensive tastes, but at least he actually does what he says, he does not suffer from multiple personality syndrome, he always looks smart, and seems to think of loads of things before I think of them myself. Dumping Microsoft was the best double click decision I have ever made.
Drinking coffee with my friend, I got to understand deeply the point she was making, and how much further I could go.
If we want to be focused and create something exceptional in our lives, we must make choices. Give some things up. Knowingly sweep away habits that do not serve us. So that our light might shine more brightly, that the gravitational force which tethers our thinking might be overcome, and that we might feel fully free to sing our song to the stars.