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Momento Mori Part II: Categorically Less

I am hoping that you caught the subtle irony of this title.

In most people’s worlds, “less” is a function of degree. The same ingredients make up their daily, monthly, and annual lives, with the only variation coming in the form of degree. I ate too much. I didn’t exercise enough. I want more time with my wife. I want to increase my deadlift by 50 lbs. I want to reduce my stress. I want to sleep deeper. I want to run further. I want to move up the corporate ladder.

Too much.

Enough.

More.

Increase.

Reduce.

Deeper.

Further.

Up.

I would venture to say that most peoples’ goals — loosely defined — fall into the realm of degree. Since I am into making up statistics (it is the internet, after all), I’ll say this: only about 1 in 10 personal goals is actually a goal of category, leaving about 9 in 10 gols in the realm of degree. These kinds of desires(categorical) sound a lot like these: I want to learn how to swim. I want to quit my job. I want to switch to a truck instead of a car. I want to relocate from a farm to an apartment complex. I want to start a non-profit. I want to marry my sweetheart. I want a divorce. I want to create children.

Learn.

Quit.

Switch.

Relocate.

Start.

Marry.

Create.

If my insight into human behaviour is even mildly on point, I think most peoples’ goal setting appears more as a volume dial than a lightswitch. I think the following notions are correlated:

  1. Most people are afraid of real change, and goals of degree are easier to say “almost” when deciding if we achieved them,
  2. Few people want real change; the ones who do don’t realize that more/less of their current “stuff” is not likely the key to their desires, or
  3. Since real change is rarely observed, our natural impulse tells us that changes of degree or linearity are easiest or most desirable, when in fact the categorical type is easier for emotional, relational, and often logistical reason.

So, why the aptly mixed title? Because, about 2 months ago, I had all of the health implications of my early 2017 come full circle during a final appointment with my nephrologist. Here’s how it went, more or less.

Doctor: Welcome back. I see you’re filing for disability? #sadface

Me: What!? No! Noooooo no no no no.

Doctor: ***swiftly opens my file*** Oh. Uh, there is a bunch of insurance paperwork in your file that has the words disability at the top. I only skimmed it, but I assumed…

Me: Ooooooh, that’s probably because of the thing that started me down this path. That’s the forms for the insurance company. The only reason I even found out I had a problem was because of that nurse that came to my office to take my vitals a year ago. I was applying for disability insurance. Remember? Yeah, well, they want you to fill out a form for me.

Doctor: ***Sits back in chair, throws hands behind her head, rolls back her eyes*** Oh thaaaaat makes much more sense! Thank God! I thought you must have taken a turn for the worst!

Me: Quite the opposite actually, I have never felt better. Everything is basically back to normal.

Doctor: Oh really!? Well that’s encouraging to hear. I guess I should tell you that all your lab work came back normal again. So that’s nice. How is your blood pressure?

Me: It’s down by about 30 pts on average. No more dizzy spells. I have been working out pretty hard again with no problems as well.

Doctor: ***leans in, emphatically wide-eyed, looking over top of her reading glasses*** Really!? How on earth did you manage that? I mean, if I could get all my patients to do that…you didn’t end up on any medications, right?

Me: No. No meds. I literally just did what I would tell anyone else to do. It was simple, really. I spent about 4 months over the summer making sure that my health was the one and only priority. I worked 4 days a week, 9:00-1:00 most days, followed by some meditation, followed by some paddleboarding. I went camping about 10 times, took 3 weeks off of work entirely, aaaaand, uuuh tried to learn to play the ukulele. Yeeeaaaahhh…

Doctor: ***nodding***…that sounds wonderful…

Me: Oh yeah, I also started intermittent fasting on a daily basis with a few longer fasts of a couple days. I also started eating like an adult. I would make a huge mibconutrient-dense smoothie every day and eat it to break my fast. I slept 9 hours a night. I had more sex, I only checked my email once a day, and I generally just spent my time on things that made me happy. I also got a LOT more alone time, which is probably the number one thing I enjoy in life. I even watched TV more days than not.

Doctor: That doesn’t even sound like the same person as last time I talked to you.

Me: Yeah, well it was really just me doing all the stuff I wanted to do anyway, I just made a point of actually doing it. I turned certain things off and other things on. It doesn’t always have to be complicated; it’s just doing what we all know we should do anyway…

***more conversation and medical questioning ensues***

Doctor: Well, I don’t need to see you again. You appear to be doing perfectly fine. You’re now my healthiest patient! Well, I guess not really, because I don’t think I’ll ever see you again.

Me: I hope not as well.

and then…

Doctor: All you have to do now is live the lifestyle you just told me about all the time and you’ll be perfectly fine. If you can do that, I bet you’ll never have a problem like this again.

Me: ***with smile wiped off my face, looking at the floor*** Yeah…I guess you’re right.

And this is where the story gets a little freshy freshy. You see, I am the type who prefers to consciously challenge my assumptions, both overt and covert. And this conversation brought a blaringly obvious yet unaddressed assumption to the forefront.

My Covert Assumption: Once I fix this problem, there is no reason not to go back to “normal”, life as it was.

In my first ever blog post, I ended it with the following thoughts:

And herein lies the problem. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING in my life was screaming at me to change something. All of a sudden I had this blaring contrast between what could be and would inevitably become if my foundational beliefs and assumptions were left unchecked. In essence, through a covert assumption, I had put on a life-sized mask for four months in order to fool myself into absorbing all the changes. And here’s the really freaking shameful part…IT WORKED.

During the four months where I essentially “turned the ship around”, it felt like heaven on earth. I was happier, I was healthier, my relationships were better, I lived my values in full expression, and I have told nearly anyone who asks that I had the best summer of my life. For goodness sake, I learned to strum on my first instrument! Does that sound like stress to you? It was freaking awesome.

I had made an intentional change of category. I had changed out my filters of accomplishment and progress with filters of enjoyment and health. I didn’t fix my problems through mild variants of what I was already doing; I literally shut down all the things that needed shutting down and started some things I had been meaning to start for 10+ years (meditation, musicality, sunshine). I went from productive to non-productive as my primary mindset. I had changed my category from “more” to “less”.

I had done Categorically Less.¬†And it worked. I was happier, healthier, and more motivated than ever. The eye-rolls of PFO-ness and head-shaking smirks of jealousy from my peers were unprecedented. I was living the dream…until I wasn’t.

If ever there was a double-edged sword, it was this doctors appointment. On one side of the equation, I was free of the concerns that had rather abruptly slapped me in the face. Faaaaantastic. On the other side of the sword was this insidious truth, frothing forth from the last 5 years of over-accomplishment and life experience, capstoned by all these health problems: I am not allowed to live someone else’s life anymore (dang…I was good at it, too).

Less pushing the limits.

Less abusing my intellect.

Less over-commitment.

Less chronic stressors.

Less people I don’t work well with.

Less work I don’t get excited about.

Less self-imposed deadlines.

Less “embracing the grind”.

Less dressing to impress.

Less email checking.

Less superfluous and fluffy conversation.

Less chasing multiple dreams (only THE dream now).

Less stressful relationships.

A year ago, this list would have sounded different to me. I come from a culture (mostly self imposed) where self-care and fulfilment are unmanly touchy-feely theories (wow, I sound like a real douche when I say it like that), relaxation and procrastination look like laziness, and alone time was rarefied air which one only got if they deserved it. In my hopefully-previous life, embracing the grind is a truism for “those people up there) and a prerequisite for accomplishment. I lived by the axiomatic assumption that I was capable of more in every single category than most human beings, if only I followed a few self-imposed (and learnedly self-destructive) principles. I could make more money, see more of the world, have more jobs, have more fun, and accomplish, accomplish, accomplish. More, more, more.

Now, that has all changed…doctors orders. I have no choice but to literally wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. I have to pick up each piece of my reality, inspect it closely, and decide if it something I want as a part of pre-2017-me only, or if it will foundationally serve my world and my self for the rest of my life. Each little piece of the puzzle will be picked up, screened through my value set, inspected through new filters (the first freshly installed filters in over 10 years), and ultimately decided upon as either a HELL YES or a no.

It’s either a HELL YES, or it’s a no.

There is no other option any more. In order for life to go on as it must for me, there shall be no third pile in which the lego-bricks of my life may reside. It’s time to move into a future which I know I am uniquely capable of creating. It’s time to live to the fullness of my life, and lift the collective human experience in the process. The ship is almost turned around, so it’s time to cue up the onboard party.

Come on 2018, hurry up and get here…I’ve got lots to show you.

Love you all.

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