Doing Nothing

Sometimes I feel as though I’m doing nothing. And since I don’t spend my days staring at a wall in a catatonic state, what I really mean by “doing nothing” is doing nothing important—nothing of any significance or weight—nothing that leaves an indelible mark around me. There are people living big, multiple lives. I don’t mean they’re duplicitous—not the man with a family in Philadelphia and another in Pittsburg. What I mean is that these people manage to cram so much living into their one life, that it’s almost as though they’re living many times over. It’s the woman who volunteered in Uganda, drove her motorcycle across Europe, went to law school, invented something that became ubiquitous, climbed Mt. Everest, started a non-profit organization that saves or improves the lives of the marginalized, and tomorrow she turns thirty.

I can’t help but look at my life sometimes and wonder why it’s seems so little by comparison. How are so many others doing so much more? Where do they find the time and the motivation? Have I slept late too many mornings? Have I watched too much television? Should I not have spent that weekend back in 2002 defeating Halo? Do I nap too often?

My life is full of procrastinations and distractions. Many little unimportant things have devoured massive chunks of my time. Is this how others manage to live big, multiple lives—by avoiding all things trivial? Could I do the same? I’m addicted to my frivolities, but I enjoy the addiction. I want to be changed without having to exert the effort of actually changing. I’m that person who would like to be fluent in French or Italian, but not enough to study.

All this feels like an excuse wrapped in a complaint—or a complaint wrapped in an excuse, but it doesn’t fix me to know that. It’s as though I’ve diagnosed the disease and prescribed the cure, but I can’t find the energy to walk to the drug store. Which also makes me wonder if something else is wrong with me—or if I’m what’s wrong with me. Maybe I don’t know what I really want. Or maybe I’m not willing to give up what it costs.

There are things that I tell myself (and others) I want to do, but I don’t really—otherwise I’d be doing them. Right? These are the things I wish I wanted to do. For instance, I don’t want to exercise every day—but I want to want to. And there’s the rub. It’s that extra “want to” that I have to hurdle. The only thing harder than overcoming a double “want to” is not getting swept up in a “don’t want to want to.” For example, I don’t want to want to eat a second serving of pizza, fried chicken, or apple crisp à la mode—or an entire Toblerone milk chocolate bar—but I do want to. And so I get in the way of my own goals and push myself into the holes I’ve already dug.

And then, like a light bulb that has to be replaced all too often, a familiar solution dawns on me. Nike had it right: just do it. I need to reprimand my impertinent inner child that throws a tantrum at the slightest hint of self-imposed discipline. I need to just get that writing done. I need to just leave that second helping of pizza, fried chicken, or apple crisp à la mode for tomorrow. I need to just save some of that milk chocolate Toblerone for another day. I need to just put on my sneakers and get moving and sweating. I can’t sit around waiting to simply want to do those things I know I should do; I need to just do them. Wanting to may not come today (or tomorrow). Some days the fact that I should has to be enough. This is how I rediscover my lost discipline. I stop saying or thinking that I should or want to (want to) do something, and I just get about doing it—today. It’s just that simple, but simple isn’t always easy.

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2 thoughts on “Doing Nothing

  1. “Simple, Not Easy” used to be a Shane Claiborne motto. He had it painted across his bedroom in the North Philly “commune” he used to live in…Too true…struggling with the discipline bit these days

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