Don’t you love it when a thought spiral finally resolves? This one has been swirling around in the background for weeks. I realized it’s been a thread stringing all my recent ideas together, when I noticed I’ve linked to like every blog post I’ve written in the last couple months in this one post.
I’ve been thinking of how to define or contain my own personal philosophy. I’m not quite a minimalist, although I do tend toward simple living. I’m still a new zero-waster, but reducing excess has floated around in my mind for at least the last 10 years. I believe in design and strategy and focused effort. Yet, I also believe in people and taking a soft approach so that changes are welcomed and easy, not a full on emotional assault. This has all been floating around in there making me wonder what exactly am I? I know I didn’t want to define it, but I wanted to understand it more deeply.
Now that I’m getting things out in writing, I notice they’re not lingering around, distracting me on drives and keeping me up at night. At least the loud ones aren’t, but the quiet ones, the more complicated ones, have settled to the bottom of my consciousness. That’s where all this is coming from. I could feel something tiny bouncing around in there and it finally crept out.
Before I explain what it was, we need to go back in time so you’ll have some context. This is probably like my 8th blog. Each one was promising and started strong, but picking just one focused topic or audience to write for was usually not enough to sustain my interest long term. I’ve found that I’m all over the place. I like to evolve. I like to chew on ideas and then spit them out if I don’t like it and try another one. I explore through writing and the blog you’re reading now is the first time I’ve put it up for others to read. I believe I do my best writing for myself as an exploration in how to become a better person. I’ve been writing this way in private notebooks for almost 20 years!? Yea, it’s been a long time and one of my most consistent and enduring habits.
So yesterday, Luis needed something to take notes and I’ll be damned if I didn’t have any paper anywhere, because I went paperless years ago. Coming from the girl who used to have about a million Kero Kero Keroppi notebooks, this felt like an accomplishment. I had to dig up one of my old notebooks from 10 years ago in which I had distilled some of my favorite wisdom from at least fifteen other notebooks.
And it was that notebook that I picked up and started reading. Isn’t there something so lovely and comforting about reintroducing old thoughts into your mental space? I remember when these things occurred to me for the first time and I felt it was poignant enough to write it in my best cursive. These musings were like old friends and when reunited with my new thoughts, I recognized that there is something eternal in what I value. The new and the old became fast friends and I noticed how similar they still were. I was still thinking about the same things, efficiency, focus and all that is essential. I had a lot more theories then because I didn’t have any experience, but I was proud of myself for having put these untested theories collected from books into practice for the last 10 years and refining them.
There was one thing in all of the piles of wisdom that helped me close a couple mind loops and start on a journey to more deeply understand myself. Here’s the first:
The quality of a person’s life is only as strong as their weaknesses.
I’ve been neglecting my weaknesses lately. I been working on maximizing and improving what I’m good at but it hasn’t been enough to get me where I want. Focusing effort makes sense, but it is incomplete. I knew this, but I’ve been forgetting to practice it. I thought going fast and furious was the way, but it creates a lot of wasted resources and energy. I touched on it earlier this month:
The path of abundance isn’t the path that maximizes velocity. It’s the path that minimizes friction. If you try to maximize velocity, you end up maximizing friction too, thereby causing massive amounts of heat. Ultimately, you burn up.
My frustration with my lack of progress has been mounting since March so I don’t think it’s coincidence that I started going zero waste around the same time. In the past, I’ve made the most progress when I focus on what is coming in and what is going out so I believe by going zero waste, I was subconsciously summoning those habits. I’ve been focusing intensely on maximizing everything and minimizing waste and lo and behold, I’ve advancing my leaps again. My mom always said that if you respect money, more money comes to you. I don’t think this is true about just money. I believe if you respect what you have and make the most of it, you’ll find much more of everything will appear out of nowhere. I’m finding more time, money and energy, but I had to cut out all the ways I was wasting it.
This got me thinking about why I’ve been so obsessed with competence since I read about it mid April in the Strategic Review. I’ve re-read the email about a dozen time, but I couldn’t figure out why I found it so fascinating. That is, until now. Here’s an excerpt that we’ll need to continue:
People don’t become competent because it takes work to become competent.
Napoleon was born in 1769. In 1793, he was promoted to Brigadier General – at the age of 24 years old.
When he was given command of France’s Army of Italy, things were in disarray. The soldiers lacked discipline, order, and even the most basic of supplies – ammunition and shoes.
The soldiers were not paid on time, and often looted – sometimes enemies, and sometimes friends – to survive.
While it sounds so basic and trivial, Napoleon found a way to get his soldiers in shoes, get their wages paid, secured enough ammunition and food, improved sanitation, dismissed unruly and incompetent officers, and otherwise just got on with the business of soldiering.
There was no particular magic to it, though the effects would be dramatic.
Likewise, while known for some of his brilliant maneuvers, Napoleon often just out-worked his adversaries. He planned more. He did more reconnaissance. He engaged in more diplomacy. He trained more. He marched more.
Unsurprisingly, fixing these very basic of problems led to a better fighting force, which led to victories, which led to momentum and morale, which led to more victories.
It didn’t start with brilliant maneuvers – it started with getting shoes, getting the soldiers he inherited to stop committing crimes, and paying them on time.
Competence. Mere Competence.
I think I only know one person who is truly competent in every way and now that I think about it, it’s because he doesn’t neglect the basics. If there is a fundamental skill he should know, he learns it. He doesn’t make excuses about why it’s so difficult or try to find a fancy workaround to compensate for his weaknesses. He creates a plan, prioritizes and makes time to get it done. It’s so simple! If you focus on practicing the fundamentals, which everyone else is neglecting, you’ll get to where you want to be.
Which brings me back to weaknesses. I need to shift from offense to defense. Rather than finding a way to get more, I need to find a way to lose less. I need to get back to basics so that I can move forward. For me the most basic elements are those which I can’t live without. I will start there and do the slow boring work. I’ll write a post on my weaknesses after I do a thorough assessment and lay out a plan for how I plan to address them.