Things that don’t suck, and things that do
A little over a year ago, I began what is the closest thing to a regular personal practice that I’ve ever had. It started one morning at the office, when I realized that it took my work computer a minimum of 15 minutes to boot up, and it really annoyed me. I work at a bank, so there are various things that need to happen for my computer to convince the network that it really does belong there, and that I’m not an insider trader or something. In the midst of this process, I decided to try and focus on something else. I pulled out a little piece of paper and wrote “Five things that don’t suck” across the top of it, and then I proceeded to make a list of things that didn’t annoy me. By the time I was ready to work, I had added 7 or 8 things to the list, and I realized that I felt a little better about the delay.
In the way that I often do, I immediately decided that this was a practice that I should do EVERY DAY, and I began it with a certain amount of self-satisfaction. I did pretty well, too. Every weekday for the next month or so, I spent at least part of that 15 minute delay making a list. My goal was 5 items, and while often the list was more like 2-3, I hit the mark more often than not. I started putting the daily lists in a box on my altar at home, and what’s more, even after I missed a day here and there (or a week here and there), I wrenched myself back to the practice eventually. That, more than anything, told me that this was a good practice for me. If I can overcome the shame of failure (and make no mistake – both the failure and the shame are pretty much inevitable when I set out to do something every day) and come back to the practice, I feel like there must be something important there for me.
And then in April, my father died rather unexpectedly. For a while after that, I held this little practice out as a talisman of sorts. If I could think of a list of 7 or 5 or 2 things that were all right, then I’d be Dealing Well With My Grief (note the capital letters, all the better to make it sound official). It didn’t work, as it happens, and I lost the habit.
Looking back, I realize that I missed a real opportunity there. By being so focused on the form of a list of things that made me happy, or that at least didn’t suck, I didn’t really have much to write in those quiet moments before work. I filled them, instead, with reading a few more pages, or another round of a tower defense game on my phone. I don’t begrudge myself the quiet, but I think I would have been better served by allowing myself to be where I was (and am) rather than deciding that if I had nothing hopeful or helpful to say, that I should just be quiet.
So last week, I picked up the practice again, with a twist. The top of the page now reads “Five true things” and I’m going to allow them to be happy or sad, sucky or not. For right now, at least, it feels good to say something, even when I wish the words were different.
This post was written by Jason Frey