It was a little past midnight on Wednesday and I was sitting in the bathtub. It was the 9th of November, and I was feeling terrible.
I had no idea who the Prime Minister of Romania, the country where I grew up, was.
I had no idea which party was in power in the UK, where I had been living for the past year and a half.
But I had just spent 12 months following the ups and downs of the 2016 US elections, a country that I couldn’t vote in, had no real way of living in in the short and medium-term, and hadn’t even visited.
A 5 point swing in the betting odds (on average more accurate than polls) could make me feel happy, sad, angry, afraid or confident. Something was very, very wrong.
Outside of this, my general political ignorance was carefully cultivated. I had increasingly been focusing on the actionable, on what I can do in my own life, where I had the most control. You see, I knew that…
Voting Doesn’t Matter
If you are an anarcho-capitalist, you’ve (not) convinced many, many people of this basic tenet. It’s old news. It’s passé. It’s the uncool half-brother of “Taxation is theft”.
There are some cool arguments for this. I don’t think you should check them out though, and I’ll tell you why in a second.
Back to 2016: The belief didn’t save me though, nor did it save many others from getting caught in the hype. This is more popular outside of election years, to begin with, and 2016 seems to have been a particularly bad one too.
I should’ve focused instead on…
Political Action Doesn’t Matter
As in getting involved in politics is a waste of time. This one is a little bit more niche, a little bit more contentious. It’s the closet of the libertarian house or the attic.
It’s where you retire to when you have had enough of the party downstairs, and want quietly scroll the Facebook feed on your phone.
I knew this one too. I had no intention of going to protests, writing to my local politician or donating to her. I cared little of party politics (I did furtively check the election results of a few libertarian parties in some countries)
And yet this perspective gave me no protection from the non-actionable, because…
I Was Still Up To The Neck In It
I’ve been using a light tone so far, but I don’t want to trivialize this: I really, really wanted the government the go away. I was angry about money being collected at (an implicit) gunpoint. I felt sad about the waste of resources and of human lives in war, in the countless failed projects and initiatives. I was stunned at how many programs that were supposed to do good had had the opposite effect. I still feel these emotions.
Though I was apolitical in some ways, politics still very much pervaded my thoughts, my conversations, and my decisions.
My learning, however, was chipping away at my enthusiasm. Stoicism made me focus more on what was and wasn’t within my sphere of control. Nonviolent Communication helped me connect with people of different views, and I suddenly could see the evil enemy no more.
And Then It Clicked
In the bathtub that night I realized how much the past 12 months sucked. I had run around in circles and achieved nothing. I’ve missed great opportunities to connect with, be taught and teach with all the people I’ve talked politics with. I’ve alienated those who had different views and built a false sense of belonging with those who had the same.
I’ve wasted their time. I’ve wasted my time.
I hadn’t released a Valiant Growth episode in three months and yet my concern was what some guy on a different continent thought about the value of political action. (My lull of productivity wasn’t because of this, but I sure could’ve used that focus and emotional awareness to see what was going on instead!)
I had no plan of action of moving on from my job, something which I really wanted to do, but was losing sleep over how another guy thousands of miles away had changed his public views on the election of a country neither of us lived in.
The Things That Matter
I made a mental list in the bathtub that Wednesday night. I asked myself
“When I wake up tomorrow, what would I rather see have happened?”
Never mind what I can do. Just what would be the biggest gift the Universe could give me. Guess what.
The government ending wasn’t even in the top 20.
Sure, it may take half my income, if I’m really not careful. Well, some people increase their incomes tenfold in a year (and then make YouTube ads about it). It’s definitely not unusual to do it over a decade.
The government (according to some) stifles innovation and the progress of the human race, and thus my future. Well, the people who are getting shit done are regularly circumventing it, like any other obstacle.
The future of some places is (maybe) in question. Well, so far throughout history, there have continuously been good areas to be in – some places are getting worse, some places are getting better. Most of the planet is empty.
What About The World?
I care about my friends and allies. I wish suffering on no one, even if I don’t know them. I care about our future as a species. But I’ve got work at home to do.
The people who are having the greatest positive impact on the world, in my judgement, are the entrepreneurs who are building the future of technology (once man can live in space, most major risks disappear on a personal and collective level, I think). Helping build the personal development tools for these people is not a bad place to be in either.
We may not agree on the most impactful people – it’s quite a personal question. Did your guys and gals start in politics though? Are they in it now?
As for my tribe, we can mutually waste our time with politics, or we can learn to live more fulfilled lives and be more prepared for the risks of the world. The pursuits may not be mutually exclusive, but the mindset is so different that one struggles to exist next to the other.
Could you and I have real, global impact? I think so. But I know I’ve got some homework to do before I get there though.
Not everybody reading this has my political ex-views. I don’t think it matters very much.
Where does your version of utopia rank on your list of what you want to wake up to tomorrow?
Work on whatever number one is instead, and you’ll likely get closer to it in your own life anyway.
Moving Forward: Disconnect
I had to take a hard exit with everything non-actionable, everything outside me sphere of control. I used politics as an example because it’s top on the list of how I wasted my productive time, but there are other things. It’s quite personal, and it’s an ongoing journey of discovery.
I’ve stopped all inflow. I don’t consume the news (alternative of otherwise), I try not to get into debates, I’ve gotten quite good at selectively blocking what the Internet throws me at me. If something “major” happens, sometimes people tell me, sometimes they don’t. I’ve done quite well so far without it.
That’s the end of my story. And yeah, I hope to never learn who wins the 2020 US elections. No spoilers, please.
Have you been tempted by the non-actionable? How do you deal with it?
By Jove, we need all the strategies we can get. 🙂