It was my birthday last week, so naturally I’ve been thinking about death.
It’s probably a function of my age (45), which puts me pretty solidly at midlife (if I’m lucky), but then also just…time. The passing of time, which has felt so intensely strange these past two years.
I gave a talk recently at Angel City Zen Center about how I kinda feel like I died a few years ago. I’d hit my early forties without reaching a single cultural milestone that you’re supposed to hit by that age. No husband. No kids. No house. No Dream Job or fat bank account or whatever. I hadn’t (still haven’t!) even published a goddamn book, which has always been my biggest dream.
At the time I felt like one of the world’s great failures. Just a great big nothing. To say this was humbling is an understatement. Like I said, I died in a way. The timing was directly connected with my biological clock, so if we’re talking about the death of my ability to create life, then I do mean it in a literal sense.
But in another way, that’s when I was born again. That’s when I got free. I’d tried so hard for so many years on so many levels to get things to go the way I wanted them to, and none of it worked. So really, all I could do was just give up expecting things to go the way I wanted them to go. The only alternative was to give up entirely, and I wasn’t ready to do that.
So here I am, writing to you from the afterlife. For me it’s all bonus time now, a grand experiment I get to embark upon every day. Which is how I wish I’d approached life all along. I’d have saved myself a lot of heartache.
A Different Way of Being Hopeless
“It’s been hard to accept that my life didn't go exactly how I thought it should. That is a humbling thing to experience. And to know that your time is finite…
I still grieve some of the things that I don't have, but I'm way more able to see beyond them as a result of this practice. And I can be grateful for it. And I can see that my weirdo life has value. But I'm not really the judge of that. That's not up to me. That's bigger than me.”
If dharma talks are your thing, you can listen to the talk I referenced above on the Angel City Zen Center podcast.
“The human death rate is holding steady at 100%”
- My dad, every chance he gets. Act accordingly!
Letting Time Use You
“Meaningful productivity often comes not from hurrying things up but from letting them take the time they take, surrendering to what in German has been called Eigenzeit, or the time inherent to a process itself. Perhaps most radically of all, seeing and accepting our limited powers over our time can prompt us to question the very idea that time is something you use in the first place. There is an alternative: the unfashionable but powerful notion of letting time use you, approaching life not as an opportunity to implement your predetermined plans for success but as a matter of responding to the needs of your place and your moment in history.”
I’ve quoted former Guardian columnist Oliver Burkeman’s work multiple times in this newsletter, and I wholly recommend his new book about embracing your limits, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals.
Speaking of Doing Things!
A fun story: In the summer of 2020 I started making notes about a podcast I wanted to start. I called it “Sara Goes Mental,” and here's how I described it here last October:
“Mental and emotional fitness is every bit as important as physical fitness, but there is nowhere near the amount of information about it as there is for improving your body. And furthermore, there’s still a major stigma attached to mental health. This podcast will be a series of short interviews with entrepreneurs, freelancers, and creative types who have done serious work on their mental game. We’ll talk about how they got into it, how they know it’s working, and the practices they swear by.”
A couple of months later, I wrote about how I’d abandoned all pretenses of starting the podcast. I was excited about it, I teed it all up, but I just…didn’t do it. Here’s what I said then:
It seems so much clearer to me now that it actually doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make me a better or worse person. It doesn’t mean I won’t do it at some point in the future. I can imagine all I want that hosting a podcast would have been some kind of ticket to fame and fortune or whatever, but that doesn’t have anything to do with reality. That’s just a story. Maybe it would have. Probably it wouldn’t.
Well, I am absolutely thrilled to report that I still have not started the podcast!!!
Here’s an excerpt from the conversation:
“As someone who is very driven and has more ideas than time, I often live inside my head. The reality is it took a near-death health scare to shatter the illusion of security and privilege and remind me not to take the small pleasures for granted.
These small beautiful things we experience—the hot shower, the home cooked meal, the commute to work while listening to a podcast, the color of the sky—it’s possible not to have them. If you take a moment to imagine not having them, the good fortune of having them is no longer lost on you.”
Read the interview! And have a look around at Every while you’re at it—they’re breathing some much-needed soul into an old (and cold) profession (business journalism).
A Tiny Assignment
Fuck bucket lists. Seriously, who needs the pressure? Can you think instead of something you can do now that you’d like to do just for the joy of it? Do it and see what happens.
Thanks, as always, for reading. If you got something out of this, please do share it! That helps me a lot.