Warning, reading this may result in the need of a bigger boat. There’s a shark out there, but don’t worry about its jaws. You see, most sharks have to continuously pump oxygen-rich water over their gills to breathe, or else they’ll drown. The easiest way for them to do this is to just keep swimming, which is why when you see sharks at an aquarium, you never see one napping on a bed of seaweed.
I’m included in what Daniel Kahneman calls, “The Instagram Generation”. Email is a drug. Every time I swipe down on my phone, I anxiously wait as it downloads my latest messages from outer space. Every, tweet, like, share, is another hit of dopamine flooding my brain. I expect seemingly instant gratification from everywhere, if it’s good, I want it now.
Not all work is as fast as email. Some things, like this blog, take years before they’re valuable to anyone. And unlike a tweet, there’s no routine rush of satisfaction. It’s just slow work. Watch the hour-hand of a clock to see when it moves and you’ll know the exact feeling.
I’m terrified of being a wheel stuck in the mud. I can spin and spin but without traction my efforts will be in vain. To make things worse, the most convenient way to measure "progress" is by looking around and comparing myself to others. Mark Zuckerberg was a billionaire by my age. Justin Bieber can’t even legally drink. Some of my friends are married. Some have kids. What does that make me?
Mediocrity scares me. I don’t want my life to just happen, I want to fill it with meaning. Thus, every time I see something exciting happen to friends, I can’t help but feel like I must be doing the whole thing wrong. But, that’s exactly the problem. You can’t measure life like this.
I’m not a shark. The easy thing is to keep moving, to validate everything I do by bouncing my progress off my friends. But this is a recipe to swim through life without intention. One step in the right direction is better than 1,000 the wrong way.
The difference between slow work and a tweet is exactly as you’d expect, one is a flash of joy while the other provides true, lasting satisfaction. Not moving feels like drowning. But some of the most beautiful things in this world, mountains, rivers, canyons, relationships, sculptures, paintings, symphonies, take the longest time to make. The shark is still out there, thrashing. Don’t be afraid. Just breathe.