If You Want to Play the Saxophone

Do you make life harder for yourself than it has to be? I think a lot of us do.

I was reflecting this morning on one of my nieces, who makes life a lot harder for herself than she has to, often cutting off her nose to spite her face. Anything her parents say is unacceptable – yes, I know that parents of teenagers often go through a phase where they know nothing and say the most ridiculous and offensive things, but they’ll outgrow it if you give them a few years – and now her school is unacceptable and she is refusing to do the work which means that she won’t graduate and will face life without a high school diploma. This will make life much harder for her than it has to be. It is much more challenging to get a job as an adult without a diploma than it is to get a job as someone who is actually in high-school and just hasn’t earned a diploma yet. She has high aspirations for the kind of life she’d like to lead; aspirations that require a lot of money. And yet she is making these decisions.

And then it occurred to me that I also do things that make life harder for myself. This weekend, I stayed up until midnight watching football, which made it much harder to get up in the morning. And, when I did get up, I was so sleepy that I just curled up with my phone in front of the TV all day. The antithesis of the kind of day I aspire to have. I made life much harder for myself.

Why do we choose to make life harder for ourselves than it has to be? Why do we eat things that are not nutritional and damage our bodies? Why do we avoid exercise? Why do we, like my mother, insist on sleeping in her heated recliner and refuse to get up and walk and drink enough water, so that we get sick over and over with the same illnesses?

Perhaps its genetic and, when there are too many humans on earth, some kind of switch flips so that we, like the mythical lemmings, race madly to our doom. (I say mythical lemmings because people who study lemmings tell us that they don’t actually race over cliffs en masse, the way that the stories tell.) We turn on each other like rats in a barrel and engage in risky behavior like cutting down the forests that keep the world healthy; we eat too much sugar and fat and meat, putting our health at risk; we make bad decisions, like refusing to fund public health or public schools; we pick fights with each other over stupid things and start wars.

We make life much harder on ourselves.

Someone asked me yesterday for secrets to managing a personal work calendar to avoid overscheduling and have enough time to do all the work that needs to get done and also have time to accept all the meetings that are scheduled. They’ve actually made a lot of progress lately but they are worried that, as the deadlines become increasingly important, they won’t be able to maintain the pace. I gave them a few tips but I also wanted to tell them that delegation is key – as long as you maintain that you are the only one who can make every decision, that you must be included in every meeting, that you have to rewrite everything that is submitted to you, you are going to make life much harder on yourself and you are not going to have time to do the work that you need to do. I didn’t say that, however, because the advice requested was about managing a calendar not about being a more effective manager. Instead I Googled “work calendar management” and sent this person 6 bullet points that they thanked me for.

Sometimes, in the words of the immortal Ernest of Sesame, you must put down the ducky if you want to play the saxophone.

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