Why I won't teach you anything (apart from managing yourself)
Last Thursday, I buckled my son into his carseat and drove us to my favorite restaurant to meet up with one of my dearest, oldest friends and the girl he recently started dating.
Being the loyal friend that I am, I was ready to fire one thousand questions her way and investigate how much of a match they really are. Because squad, am I right?!
But, of course, she threw me for the biggest loop when she said the most unexpected thing:
"So, Marcella! I read your latest blog post and subscribed to your newsletter. And I even watched your TEDx talk!"
Picture me flabbergasted. After taking a few seconds to be all like "Nooo, you didn't!" and dig my very red face out of my hands, she launched her own kind of investigation:
"In your TEDx talk, you mention that your interests change around every six months or so... What is the common thread to everything you've worked on?"
Now, picture me stumped.
Being a person who loves to reflect, you think I'd know the answer to this question, but I didn't. At least not on the fly like that. I was caught off-guard, juggling our adult conversation and playing Peppa the Pig videos for my toddler.
For whatever reason, I wasn't able to give an answer I was happy with. I mumbled something like:
"I worked on technology and design for years because I'm good at it but not because I love it. My true love is teaching personal development."
And, for the most part, that's true, but I left our coffee date with her question playing over and over again in my mind. I've kept wondering:
What is the true common thread to everything I've done?
It's been a few days now, and I think I know the answer.
(Also, just in case she really did subscribe: Hi J! ♥)
What I won't teach you
Looking back at my blogging trajectory over the past six years, what I've written about has morphed from: social media → marketing → fitness → motivation → entrepreneurship → mindfulness (now).
At the same, my business life over the past six years has followed a similar path: social media management → marketing consulting → design and development → public speaking / podcasting.
It's no coincidence it's all followed a similar path, now landing on mindfulness of some sort.
And there's a reason why.
If I've spent the past six years exploring what gifts I can bring to the world, there is one concept that has deemed all my work almost useless: the hedonic treadmill.
In a post I wrote last year, I explained the hedonic treadmill in the following way:
"Humans tend to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness no matter what life changes occur, for better or for worse. A new job, new shoes, an exciting trip to the beach—it’s all the same. Excitement quickly wears off, and we return to how happy we were right before the big change."
So, no matter what we're striving for, our level of happiness doesn't increase when we get it.
And this applies particularly well to our careers and our achievements.
In the past, I used to teach people:
- New social media tips to get more followers
- How to be a better marketer
- What steps to take to start a successful business
- The importance of taking action
But none of that makes anyone any happier.
No matter what we achieve in our careers, our happiness levels won't change too dramatically.
So, if I continued my path of helping people achieve some kind of specific positive change in their careers (like how to hit a sales target), I wouldn't really be impacting their happiness, their level of joy, or their contentment.
In Anne Lamott's famous book, Bird by Bird, she describes breaking this bad news to the students in her writing seminar:
"Writing, and even getting good at it, and having books and stories and articles published, will not open the doors that most of them hope for. It will not make them well. It will not give them the feeling that the world has finally arrived…"
I'm sure there are 1,000 things you want to achieve right now. For example, you might want to hit the front page of Hacker News or get more email subscribers or finish writing the manuscript you've been toiling over... (Or is that just me?) But I've come to realize that none of that will make you happier for very long.
If you absolutely slay your to-do list today, you'll have another set of items to add to it tomorrow.
And so I won't teach you how to do it.
(A quick note: I am deeply grateful for everyone who teaches specific technical aspects of business, marketing, writing, and so on. I've benefited from innumerable amounts of these lessons in the past and still do! I simply feel called to teach something different.)
What I will teach you
If teaching specific things—about entrepreneurship or marketing or what have you—doesn't make anyone's happiness levels increase in the long-term, then what does?
Answering that very question is the journey I'm on. It may seem like I start way off track six years ago, but it's all led me right here.
Right now, the ideas I have simmering in my head are:
- Staying in the present moment
- Letting go of anxiety and stress
- Practicing some sort of meditation or no-mind
- Enjoying and giving in to our pull to create something new
I'm no expert, of course. I'm learning as I go, and I'm enjoying this phase of exploration probably more than you'd expect. Every new frontier that I face feels like unlocking a new level of understanding, like I just "woke up" a tiny bit more. And what I'm waking up to is amazing.
So, instead of focusing on slaying my to-do list, I can focus on feeling present, calm, and peaceful as I go about my day. I want to feel just as great with 10 items on my list as I do with none—with a well-kept internal life, no matter the external life.
So, to answer my new friend's question, what is the common thread to everything I've worked on?
Searching for a way to guide people to long-term peace of mind, no matter their circumstance.
And I'm grateful you're joining me on that journey.
For now, that means:
- Writing and launching my book Make (link)
- Putting out more episodes of my podcast Process (link)
- Launch a new project for moms! (More info on that coming soon...)
I hope all this made some sort of sense? If anything, this was therapeutic for me to write. And a big thanks to J for the inspiration and the great question. :-)
Just remember: there will always be more to do, more to see, more to read, more to learn—but if you can work on feeling peaceful and calm and present no matter what, you've already won.
PS. Did you catch last week's podcast episode with A.J. Leon? Definitely tune in—because he absolutely blew my mind with the way he rejects business rules and does everything his own way.