For many years I had lists.
Albums I wanted to listen to. Books to read. Movies to see.
The internet made this easier. TV shows to binge. An unread queue of articles in my Instapaper account.The one hundred best comedies with Swiss actors made since 1992.
It was bad.
There is too much stuff. Not that it shouldn’t exist, just that it is entirely unreasonable to expect you will be able to consume it. One hundred movies equals a week of your life, at least. A single season of a TV show, about the same. Throw in books, albums, podcasts and you inevitably will fall behind.
I used to try to be a completist but I’ve gradually trained myself to let things go. I will probably never watch the Sopranos. I will not listen to every song that comes up on my Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify. There are a lot of books and movies I will not see.
This is not a new discovery for anyone, not even me. It’s something I’ve been thinking about since I came across the 2011 piece “The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re Going To Miss Almost Everything” by Linda Holmes, particularly her notion of Surrender.
“Surrender is the moment when you say, “I bet every single one of those 1,000 books I’m supposed to read before I die is very, very good, but I cannot read them all, and they will have to go on the list of things I didn’t get to.”
“It is the recognition that well-read is not a destination; there is nowhere to get to, and if you assume there is somewhere to get to, you’d have to live a thousand years to even think about getting there, and by the time you got there, there would be a thousand years to catch up on.”
Another part of surrender, I think, is allowing yourself to just enjoy whatever you have in front of you. This year I spent more time re-listening to old albums I enjoy than exploring new ones than previously. I read articles that looked interesting when they came up and I had time, but didn’t worry about saving ones that looked interesting that I couldn’t get to. I watched what I felt like watching rather than worrying about whether it was the best use of my screen time.
This is all rather simple and low-stakes, I guess, but it also isn’t when you consider what a problem FOMO (fear of missing out) is. As I’ve trained myself to worry less about the books and TV shows and music I’m not getting to, I’m also becoming better at worrying less about what I could be doing that I’m not. If I have two or more possible things to do on a single night, I try to choose one and not think about the others. Or if I feel like I really need a night off, I am trying to take it. It allows me to be more present in whatever I’m doing– whether it’s resting, working or being with loved ones.
One other thing I’ve noticed about this it has coincided with using social media differently. At first I was going to say less, but I realized that it’s not really true. Instead, I’m trying to be more purposeful about it. I don’t feel the need to post to Instagram everyday or share every thought on Facebook. As I’ve gotten out of the feedback loop of likes and comments I find myself desiring them less, and instead it’s more about augmenting real-world relationships or my own interests rather than the clicks. I’m still using it, but in a different way.
So, that’s where I am as 2017 ends and 2018 begins. Trying to be “here” more and approaching life in a way that is both more casual and more meaningful at the same time.
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