From Wandering Generality to Meaningful Specific in a Distracted World

7 Nov, 2017

Generation Y is the new big thing. The generation born between roughly the beginning of the eighties and the end of the nineties. The millennials, the game changers, the digital entrepreneurs who want to impact the world for a better. The generation that follows their passion. Great times are ahead, but somehow the millennials aren’t up to the task. Burnout rates amongst the younger generation are skyrocketing. They are unhappy and unfulfilled. They don’t know what to do.

The sky is the limit. However, the rocket is barely leaving the ground.

The older generations describe the millennials as lazy, entitled, and a bunch of crybabies. “In our days we used to have it rough” and “you don’t know a thing about hard work”, they say. Maybe this is true, but this simplifies things and doesn’t look at what is really going on.

What’s going on is that life is changing at a speed faster than we can adapt to. In every evolution, the survival of the fittest has always been the game. But maybe, just maybe, we aren’t fit enough to play.

Hard, but simple

One hundred years or so ago, life was hard but simple. Cleaning the house, taking care of the kids, and cooking meals was a full-time job. A hard job, but simple. The man of the house left at the crack of dawn and worked any job he could get, and he would keep it as long as he could. Maybe a job in construction, maybe something a bit more educated, but that was his job and he gave it his absolute best. If you came from a family of carpenters, you most likely became a carpenter as well. A hard life, but simple.

The information came from books, the newspaper, and hearsay in the community: not too much information, but enough to survive. The body had to work hard, and the mind wasn’t bombarded with an excess of information. When it got dark outside, candles burnt, and everybody would hit the hay early because it was cold, and there wasn’t shit to do.

Sleep problems weren’t really a thing because the body was fatigued and needed its repair, and the mind wasn’t racing like crazy to process all the information. Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise — a hard life, but simple.

Before following your passion was a thing

There was no constant distraction. There was no follow your passion advice. And some tasks had to be done to survive. Spending a full day doing the laundry was hard, but at the end of the day, there was a sense of pride and fulfillment. A carpenter stuck to his job till his pension.

Maybe he didn’t like it all that much in the beginning, but he grew into it and even got a passion for it. You didn’t have a choice, so you made the best of it.

You knew your options, and you had to survive. Hard, but simple. Even if you were fortunate enough to buy a Ford, the choice was easy. Like Henry Ford said: “You can get any color you like, just as long as it’s black”.

The age of constant distraction

Fast forward a hundred years, and we enter an entirely new world. If our great great great grandparents saw us, they would be proud. Little did they know that in our hunger for more and better, we’ve created an untamable monster. You can get anything you want and become whoever you please; the options are endless. And here is where shit has hit the fan. We are online 24/7 and advertisement knows this.

The fight isn’t for our money anymore; it’s for our attention. With targetted adds and zillion ways to reach us, we get buried with information that appeals to us. Everything is cool and we want it all. We need more hours a day just to keep up! And this is just the information that is advertised to us 24/7. Not only on television commercials during breaks or small adds in the newspaper, no, 24-fucking-7. No wonder ADHD and other attention problems are at an all-time high.

With advertisements out of the way, we arrive at the real problem: Having unlimited options for our lives. Who doesn’t want endless possibilities? But when options become endless, things become complicated. The buffet line is just too long, and we freeze, we enter the lizard brain. Small kids can even choose which gender they want to be. Imagine getting such choices at that young age. My choice at that age was which marbles to bring to school.

Fear of missing out

The problem isn’t really to choose what we like. The problem is that when we choose one thing, we miss out on all the other things we could do, and so we just stand there. If our passion keeps switching, how can we follow it? There’s also the constant pressure of having to achieve big things. The choice becomes even harder when we look around, and everyone looks like they have the best life in the world. We see the overnight successes, the Instagram wonders, the perfect Facebook videos, the world travelers.

We never see the ten years leading up to the overnight success, the full staff photoshoot for Instagram, the video editor working an overnight shift to finish the ‘quick’ video. Being confronted with this day in and day out creates insecurity and a feeling of not being good enough, which makes the step to really choose and commit to something even harder.

It seems like everyone has it figured out except you. But in reality, not many have it figured out; we’re just putting up a show.

Everything seems overcomplicated. Simple is dying. Simple is good. I like simple. Playing a video game was simple, but it became complicated. If my videogame wasn’t working in the Super Nintendo days, I took out the cartridge, blew in it, put it back, and magically it worked, and we were playing again within a minute.

If now I want to play a game on my PlayStation, I have to download the game, install the game, update the game, By the time that’s done, I’m already doing something else. The options are endless, but it has become too complicated.

The deep work before passion

So here we are, a large group of millennials, feeling miserable, burned out, and having no idea what to do in the world. But fear not my brothers and sisters, there is light at the end of the tunnel, but we have to put in the work.

Everyone is looking for their passion, yet, very few find it. Find your passion is terrible advice; stop it. Passion only comes before work in the dictionary. How can you know you’re passionate about something if you haven’t fully experienced it?

Maybe you love music, but that doesn’t make you passionate about making music. Go through the full process, the lonely days behind a computer screen, the writer’s block, the broke days, the rejections, the disappointment. Endure that, and then tell me if you are really passionate about making music.

Author Cal Newport goes further into the subject of distraction in the digital age. In his book Deep Work he presents ways to deal with this, and even a concept to really excel in the world. The book starts off with an intro of the psychologist Carl Jung, who built a tower in which he worked. No one was allowed in the tower, nor was allowed to disturb him.

In this tower, Jung went to work. Hours of undisturbed, deep work. No distractions, no people, just him and his work. It was this practice that created the possibility for Jung to become one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century. People nowadays work 15-hour workdays, but never reach the dept Jung worked with.

A state of flow

Reaching a state of flow, where you enter a deeper level of yourself, only comes as a bonus when you put in hours of really focused, undisturbed work. It’s like the runner’s high marathon runners get after a certain distance of putting in the work. With all distractions going on 24/7, very few people work on a deeper level, and this creates an opportunity for those who do. Being able to really do the deep work creates results, others in the distracted dimension can’t grasp.

The obvious answer that comes to mind is multitasking, which is bullshit. Multitasking on four things is just doing each of them with a 25% effort. It becomes a long drag where you try to keep all the balls in the air. Maybe they won’t fall, but you won’t be able to throw a great ball either.

Try watching a movie and having a conversation on your phone, you can’t do it. You’ll understand the basic storyline of the film, but every second you are in the conversation, you miss the movie.

In the old days, a conversation went a bit like this: You make an appointment, meet each other, have a full hour of attention for each other, drink some coffee, have a few laughs, shake hands, leave, done.

Conversations nowadays tend to be more of a drag, just like our distracted world. We sent a text message; five minutes later, a text comes back. A small conversation here and there with five other people, and all this in between our normal daily activities.

There’s nothing wrong with text messages, but when they interrupt your day to day life every ten minutes, it robs us from the possibility to really focus on something and really be aware and do the deep work.

Get specific and take action

When the deep work is put in, it still remains a struggle. The process is the process, and it should be embraced. There’s no good without the bad, no beauty without ugliness. If you get something for free, you will value it less as when you have some skin in the game. The same goes for learning something. Spend sweat equity, and when you reach your destination, the rewards are more significant. This is why spoiled kids are never satisfied. When you start respecting the process and the struggle, you’ll create a particular love for the journey.

There’s a bright day after the dark night. We have to walk through the desert to reach the ocean. The idea of the ocean gets people through the desert. If you get to the desert and say, “I don’t like sand’ and go back, you’ll never reach a single ocean in your life. Just a life where you saw a lot of sand.

So make a choice and really commit. Stop endlessly searching for your passion; just pick something that grabs your interest. Put in the deep work and respect the process. You can always adjust along the way. One thing leads to another. Be undistracted, aware of what’s really going on inside you and around you.

Have some fun, keep working, and passion will find you, and you might even find a sense of purpose in what you do and impact other people.

Whether you like it or not, the world keeps evolving. It’s up to us to adapt and to reap the benefits. When you know where you are heading, there isn’t much that gets you off balance.

“Don’t become a wandering generality. Be a meaningful specific.” – Zig Ziglar

Photo credit: Ryan McGuire