On Tuesday, I wrote “I Am More Than a Computer,” and I meant every word. I wondered whether it would resonate, whether I was the only one feeling so overwhelmed by the muchness of the modern world. There is always something else to do–a piece of pop culture to learn, some news to know, a client demand, a civic obligation. I wrote about this, and so many of you responded. This is the game, you said, and though we may not admit it, so many of us are keeping score. I know I am.
Seth, 1. The rest of you, 0.
Yesterday, I monitored my 401k account in real-time. There was no reason for it; it’s just that technology has made such a thing possible, and what am I but a seizer of every possibility? I watched as the market dropped one-half of a percentage point (0.005), as I lost the value of a steak dinner with Amber when I’m 64. My screen was covered in monetary blood. Everything was red (except Windstream Communications, for what it’s worth). And as the day closed, as I surveyed my losses (which will no doubt bounce back; I’m no Chicken Little), I couldn’t escape the nagging feeling that something was terribly wrong. I was anxious, perhaps mildly depressed. The black cloud moved into my office, settled over my head. I couldn’t shake the notion that I was using the metrics of net worth to quantify my self worth.
And even as I write this, I consider those who may not have a retirement account at all. Does my writing about a retirement account make them anxious, perhaps mildly depressed? Do those of you who’re well-heeled, who have fatty savings accounts, platinum retirements, and your child’s Harvard college fund make me anxious, perhaps mildly depressed? Do you make me a touch jealous?
Don’t look too closely; you’ll see my skin is turning green.
The score keeping and quantification of modern living is endless–measure your retirement accounts; measure your savings; measure your client base; measure your fan base, your Twitter followers, your Facebook friends; measure your personality with BuzzFeed quizzes (I am Link; I am Moses; I am Taylor Swift with a sprinkled donut); measure your biceps, your thighs, your waist, the size of your boobs; measure the size of your partner’s boobs. If we’re honest–as in wake-up-with-cold-sweats-in-the-middle-of-the-night honest–how often do we reduce ourselves (and others) to these sorts of measurements, the ones and zeroes of our lives, the As and Cs of our report cards or cup-sizes?
And these measurements, aren’t they sneaky? Last week, Ike handed me a slip of paper. It was his math placement for junior high. “Advanced,” it read, and I beamed. He’d been measured above-average, better than good. This is the kind of thing that makes a father’s heart swell from a AA to CC. I looked at him, smiling. He was not.
“What’s wrong,” I asked.
“It’s just that I’m not sure my grades are good enough to be in the advanced class,” he said.
“What? You’ve cashed out As all year. Are you kidding me?”
“Yea. But I work so hard and scrape by with 90s while the smart kids hardly work and make perfect scores. So many of them have 96s or 98s. I’m not sure I’m really ‘advanced.'”
There it was. Twelve years old, and he’s already learning to quantify his worth against the worth of others. He’s learning to keep score. This is the game. Score or be the score.
Ike, 0. Everyone else, 1.
There is a trick to this life that I haven’t yet learned. It’s the trick of seeing the world as something more than a giant scoreboard. It’s the trick of seeing each individual as a soul composed of eternal stuff instead of competitor on the gridiron of life. The trick is something more than just saying “you are the beloved of God,” or “God loves you just the way you are, bankruptcy, zits, and frumpy body aside.” The trick is allowing those phrases to work me over, to whip me into shape. The trick is allowing those things to permeate me like yeast, to grow, to puff up the way I live. The trick is really meaning what I preach, quantifications be damned.Seth, 0. Everyone else, 0. We’re all 0. And yet, we’re all everything.
This is the trick.
My last two pieces (Tuesday’s and today’s) may not be for everyone. You may not place yourself on the baker’s scale, measure yourself against the rest of the world. You may not try to keep up, pump your noggin with too much knowledge, your bank account with too much money, your muscles with too many steroids, your bust with a little more silicone. And if that’s you, blessings to you. If that’s you, hop a plane and visit Northwest Arkansas. We’ll hold a conference, charge $50 a head, allow you to be the keynote guru. I’ll split the house with you. (If your heart just leapt, perhaps you’re not quite as actualized as you thought.) But for those of you raising your hands, those of you who identify very well with the endless cycle of measuring up, take a break for the day. What does that mean? Heck. I don’t know. Consider deleting Facebook or Twitter from your phone, deleting the stock-tracker app. Consider asking a co-worker how they’re feeling, whether things are good in their life. Take a walk. Smell spring. Let the atoms of spring fill you; let them become a part of you; let them teach you that everything–even all of nature–starts small, unmeasured, and fragrant. Whisper a prayer–not a wordy, metered, rhymy one, but maybe just one that says, “hey there; I see you. Do you see me?” Eat a piece of chocolate. Enjoy a cup of Earl Grey. Do something less corporate. Wear a funny pair of socks. Speak to your neighbor in a British accent. Don’t worry about your bank account. Pay a bill and laugh. Be a mess. Be unashamedly who you are–human. This is your offering, a middle finger to the world of measurements.
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