Rough Draft – TEDx
What is – ACT 1
I was laying in bed on a Saturday night back in 2018. This was during a time when I was deep in hole of emotional and mental burnout. And I was laying there, haunted by my never-ending to-do list. Driven by an insidious feeling that, no matter what I did or didn’t do, I was never doing enough.
I turned on Saturday Night Live and the comedian John Mulaney was hosting. And in his opening monologue, he said something that shook me to the core. He said:
“Everything moves too fast now. The world is run by computers. The world is run by robots. And sometimes they ask us if we’re robots. Just cause we’re trying to log on and look at our own stuff. You spend a lot of time telling robots you’re not a robot. Think about that for a second.”
It was at that moment that I made a life changing realization: That for every step technology takes toward becoming more human-like in behavior, we seem to take a step to meet it halfway.
If the entrepreneur is the modern-day rock-star, then Optimization, efficiency, and scale is the new sex, drugs, and rock n roll. We want the LIFE HACKS, the SMART PILLS. Anything to squeeze out that last drop of focus.
Technology was supposed to set us free, and yet, many of us have chosen to imitate it.
Each day we get online and confirm: I’m not a robot. Yet each day, we get out onto the battlefield and compete in a never-ending game of output.
The problem is that in this blind march toward “getting things done”, we’ve lost sight of the things worth doing. Humans are experiencing more burnout and stress-related illness than ever before. Eventually we have to ask ourselves: Why does it always feel like the more we get done, the more there is to do?
And is feeling this way really the reward for all this hard work?
What could be – ACT 1
Of course, it isn’t like this for everyone. Throughout history and today, there are those who seem to have it all—careers, families, hobbies, exciting social lives. These are the people who accomplish more than anyone else, yet they never seem stressed or overwhelmed.
I used to watch these people afar and wonder. How do they do it? What do they know that I don’t know? What is it that I’m missing?
And what I realized after years of research and lots of trial and error, is that what these seemingly superhumans figured out is that you don’t need to be superhuman at all. And that the key to living the productive and meaningful lives we want, is hidden in the same traits that separate us from the technology we’re trying to imitate.
That’s when I started to ask myself: What if the same traits that make us so flawed at efficiency, could be turned into strengths in effectiveness?
What if the true path of productivity wasn’t in endless hours of hustle and grind, but in embracing the tools and mindsets only humans can access?
What is – ACT 2
As humans, we’ve had some 200,000 years and a million reasons to evolve into industrious and useful beings. Being productive members of the tribe is in our DNA. So, it’s no surprise that when we put our ingenuity to use our minds race with a primal reassurance that we’ve earned our place in the world.
There was a time where society needed humans to be machines. The industrial revolution rewarded those who could work harder, faster, and longer than others.
But that’s no longer the world we live in. And I believe that one of the reasons so many humans are burned out and disconnected is because we’re still trapped in this old world definition of what it means to be productive and useful.
What could be – ACT 2 Hemingway
There is an Ernest Hemingway quote that comes to mind, which goes: “Never confuse movement with action.”
Which, updated for the new world would be, “never confuse movement with meaning.”
As human beings, we must have meaning in the work we do to feel truly satisfied. But the problem with searching for meaning through output is that we already have robots that can work 100 hours a week. We already have machines that can weigh the odds and see the probabilities.
What the new world needs for us more humans to get back to that which separates us from technology.
Creativity: That round-trip ticket to elsewhere and back again. Must be human to ride. Only humans can leave the material world through a secret hatch in the mind. To leave with real-world problems and return with other-world solutions.
Technology will never replace human creativity because codes and algorithms are built on predictions of what’s expected to happen…
Creativity is the unexpected.
What humans have is the power of curiosity. The power of empathy. The power of imagination.
We can imagine a new future, one that doesn’t exist yet, just by closing our eyes. Whether it’s a blessing or a curse, you can always count on a human to look at what’s available and imagine something better.
And finally, humans have the capacity for courage. We can identify and overcome our fear and turn empathy and imagination into tangible changes in the world.
What Is? – Tee up 3 strategies
We all have these inherently human traits inside of us. However, knowing how to use them isn’t always so obvious. In a world where it’s still common to think that endless output is the key to success, how can we embrace more of our human nature to get the most out of life? How can we cut the fat on movement, to make way for meaning?
I spent two years researching and testing different approaches to change my relationship with work and productivity. And today I want to share the three that have had the biggest impact on my life:
What Could Be: 3 Strategies
1- Never Empty The Well
The first strategy is what I like to call “Never Empty The Well.” And we’re going to go back to more Ernest Hemingway wisdom.
In his memoir on life in Paris, Hemingway wrote, “I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but to always stop when there was still something in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”
We’ve been taught that the greatest sin of high performance is to leave anything on the table. The world celebrates those who are willing to “pull the all-nighter” and burn the midnight oil. So it’s easy to think that when we persevere past an empty energy tank that we are somehow “winning” the game.
The problem is that when we walk away from our work drained, dazed, and confused, we’re internalizing bad mental mechanics. Our subconscious remembers the bad form we walked away with and the feeling of trying to draw water from an empty well.
That all-nighter where you worked until you literally couldn’t? It may have yielded output. But the brain drain you felt when you walked away followed you home and hitched a ride back to your deck the next day.
The bitter gambler always has the same story, “If it wasn’t for that last hand, I’d be rich.” But the gambler who laughs all the way home after doubling her money knows better. She knows it’s because she walked away before her luck ran out.
Hemingway knew better than to swim upstream from his natural programming. He embraced the fact that humans don’t have bottomless pits of energy and used it to his advantage.
We’ve been led to believe that beating our heads against the wall in search of quality work is a rite of passage. That it’s those who can stay in the pressure cooker the longest who will eventually “win.” But anyone can learn to outlast the others. Any robot or machine can work around the clock.
The key to staying human is walking away before you’re cooked. It takes a cool Hemingway-like confidence to tell the muses, “We’ve worked enough today, I’m sure I’ll see you around tomorrow.”
2- “Waste More Time”
Ok, so now that we’re walking away from our work before we’re drained, what are we going to do with some of that extra time? Well, we’re going to “waste it.” The second strategy is to “Waste More Time.”
It was when I was in my deepest pit of burnout — and I was behaving more like a stressed-out cyborg than a human being —that I hated the idea of wasting time. And in order to avoid the guilt that came with doing nothing, I constantly looked for ways to “stay busy.”
By a show of hands, how many people here have ever been offered a great opportunity or invitation you couldn’t accept because you were, “too damn busy?” Ok, just about everyone.
What I eventually realized is that, “busyness is often laziness in a collared shirt.” Busyness was the safety rail I put around my comfort zone. It was the disguise I used to look at myself in the mirror after a long week of frantic movement and emotional avoidance. I discovered that it’s a lot easier to say, “I’m too busy,” rather than, “I’m scared and don’t know where to start.”
Being a productive person is less about getting things done, and more about having a deep understanding of what you’re doing and why. But it’s easy to lose sight of those things when you’re staring at a packed calendar week after week.
The human brain craves stories. Without stories, the conscious mind struggles to prioritize the hopes and dreams that live in our hearts and souls. And it’s during unfocused, idle-time that the subconscious creates the narratives we need to make our work meaningful.
Idleness breeds insight because clarity is a result of mental digestion. Living in a perpetual state of “busy,” however, limits that digestion.
Your best ideas aren’t going to come to you when you’re locked and loaded on task execution day after day. And a mind that is never left to meander or “waste time,” is a mind headed for burnout.
What might look like “wasting time” in a Productivity Course, might actually be the most productive time we can spend. So embrace those lazy afternoons where the agenda is blank. Where you can let your mind run off-leash through unscheduled and unfocused time.
And then, for the love of productivity, please go do the things you’ve always wanted to do if you weren’t “so damn busy.”
3- Find Your Wabi-Sabi
The third and final strategy for staying human I want to share with you today is… Find Your Wabi-Sabi.
One cannot talk about the history of jazz without the mention of Miles Davis. Over and over, he reinvented what jazz music was and what it could be. But when you take away his influence and focus solely on his ability, his level of impact may seem counterintuitive.
Despite years of dedication and study, Miles Davis struggled to master his instrument. His tone was cracked and restrained. He constantly missed notes and his dexterity was considered feeble. Much like his personality, Miles also played with a shyness that lacked the wailing confidence and vibrato of his heroes and peers.
But over time, these mechanical limitations became his greatest assets. Unable to wail on the high-end, he was forced to play with vulnerability. Soft tones gave him little to hide behind and his missed notes created emptiness and tension. His playing created drama. And it was those imperfections of his playing that resulted in a style that was his and his alone. It was his imperfections that forever changed jazz music.
In today’s data-driven world we love to analyze success and failure. We love to see the data on why something did or didn’t work. But living outside the proven formulas and paint by number guides are the personal quirks and ticks that make us unique.
The Japanese call it Wabi-Sabi: The beauty found in the imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.
It’s our wabi-sabi that points us toward the things only we can do, in the way only we can do them. And more important to our productivity than doing the good, the great, or the perfect, is pursuing the things that only we can do.
When it comes to discovering what makes us special or different, we’re often the last to know. The good news however, is that no one has to put extra work into being different. You’re already you. You already have the quirks and a unique set of fingerprints. The key, like so much of life, is becoming aware.
To tune in and turn your wabi-sabi into a compass, start with the question: How am I different? Not better, just different. It’s once you can answer that question that you’re free to ask, “How can I be different AND better?”
And if you struggle to answer either of those questions right now, don’t worry. Miles Davis, the true-blue original once said, “Man, it can take a long time to sound like yourself.”
Nothing lends itself to a life of purpose and flow more than doing the things only you can do. And nothing lights the fuse on burnout more than trying to conform into something you’re not.
What is – ACT 3
We are living in a time where old world skills are becoming obsolete. For those who are left to compete with artificial intelligence and automation, opportunities are diminishing. And the future no longer belongs to those who can “outwork” the others.
The future belongs to those who are the most creative, empathetic, and courageous. It belongs to those who can stay human.
Because when technology does finally steal away the last chore or mindless task. When robotic arms descend to cook our meals, drive our cars, and do our jobs…Will we remember what to do with ourselves?
What could be – NEW BLISS – ACT 3
It’s by realigning ourselves with what it means to be human that we can reclaim meaning and purpose in the work we do. We can escape the black and white world of robotic thinking and stagnant output.
When productivity is aligned with purpose, it doesn’t lead to overwhelm and burnout. It leads to more joy, pride, and connection. It leads to a greater excitement for life. And it’s by sharpening the skills of our human nature that we can create lives that we don’t need to take a vacation from.
It’s time to leave the hustle and grind to the machines.
It’s time to confirm once and for all: I am not a robot.