Have I lived yet? Will I one day wake up in my death bed with a beard like Methuselah but the life experience of a 33-year-old content creator?
Two weeks ago, I read Seneca the Younger’s 49 AD essay “On the Shortness of Life.” In the essay, Seneca writes:
It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.
After reading the essay, I felt a sinking feeling that had been careening into my guts for my entire adult life. The sinking reached its nadir and sprang upward like a bungee jumper hitting the end of his line. That feeling? I haven’t lived yet. Not really. I’ve had life experiences, sure, but have I ever truly lived? If I’m asking the question, I’d say the answer is at least a partial no.
A week later, I had a fun-sized panic attack. I had consumed too much coffee throughout the day—my usual four-cup French press in the morning and boredom cups throughout the day at work—and, along with stress from researching and writing a couple of feature stories, the caffeine and anxiety mixture made my body shiver and my mind race. The sinking feeling was bouncing up and down from pelvis to gullet.
The next day, I woke up and had an idea: Cut caffeine for a month.
A moment later, I had another idea: Continue cutting out alcohol, refined carbs, and sugar, items I had been attempting to cut down since December 2016—with mixed results, but good enough to chop three-to-four inches off my waist.
(As an aside: cheat meals don’t work. To me, the morals seem flawed. After all, the phrase has the word “cheat” right in the title, so of course I got creative and added cheat snacks and cheat desserts and cheat 24-hour spans where entire pizzas were fucked into my face. Hey, if we’re already cheating a little bit, a little more can’t hurt, right? The human mind is a helluva storyteller and the story it most often tells is “You’re doing just fine and will continue to be fine after you break this rule. The end. Happily ever after. EAT THE FUCKING DOUGHNUT!”)
A third idea came as I was writing a feature story on social media addiction: Cut out social media. This idea sent the bungee jumper inside of my gut careening into my chest. That may have also been my heart racing from the excitement of the thought of freeing myself from overuse of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Like many Americans, I use social media too often. “Use” in this sense means surf to the site or app to check just one little thing or send one quick message and end up in a two-hour time warp. This time warp can end with me lying in bed and watching videos of people whispering and crinkling paper or popping zits the size of Mt. Fuji—at which point I scroll down into the comments and everyone is asking the same question as I am: “HOW DID I END UP HERE??!”
I could also end up in a Facebook thread debating whether Chicago bicyclists need to be more mindful of the rules of the road (they do) or on Twitter arguing over whether LeBron James is the best NBA player of all time (he’s not). This is all, as you can see and have likely experienced, fairly pointless.
In short, social media is a dilatory time waster that doesn’t deserve the large part of the day I’ve been giving it.
Shorter: Social media is a vexing hellbeast that I’m cutting down for April.
Chopping down my use of social media use sounded great. While social media has positive benefits, studies show that with overuse, it tends to become a vice. For the user, this could mean anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, or the simple act of going to social media as much as a dog would go to an unending plate full of pâté.
However, social media is part of my job. It’s also part of how people see my writing.
So I’m striking a deal with myself.
At work: There will be a collective 20-minute limit on YouTube, Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter.
This limit will be enforced via StayFocusd, a Chrome browser app that blocks websites of my choosing after a certain amount of time. I’ll continue measuring which websites/apps I most frequently use with RescueTime, an app that informs me of the sometimes insane amount of time I spend on certain sites.
My logic: At work, YouTube is almost always a waste of time, as is Facebook. Reddit is fun and can be handy for finding stories, but it tends to turn into a black hole of space, time, and internet browser tabs. I’ll likely use these sites as little as possible.
Twitter, however, has plenty of news stories that could be useful for work. I can pull these out in short bursts over the course of a day. It’s also a decent (but not great) way to contact sources, which leads me to why I won’t block LinkedIn at work. Frankly, LinkedIn is too useful. LinkedIn is there if I need to find a source’s contact information or title or perhaps find someone new to interview.
I will continue to be able to post stories, blog posts, and articles across accounts on work and home laptops with Buffer, a scheduling tool. This will be helpful for sharing posts without having to worry about the reaction of others of the social media world – for more than 20 minutes, anyway.
(Fun fact: When I write, sometimes I get caught up in what too many people may or may not think. This is realllllly shitty and damaging for writers. My hypothesis is that cutting down on use of social media will get this out of the front of my mind.)
At home: There will be a collective 20-minute limit on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
My logic: Unless I am applying for new jobs, LinkedIn is a waste of time at home. It may be somewhat useful for freelance gigs, but this has not yet been an issue. Facebook and Twitter are pure eye candy—basically, a way to preen and watch others preen. I see little point in browsing these in my spare time.
You might say I’m missing out on event invites, friend life events, and breaking news stories. But really: If I don’t know about your event or life event outside of Facebook, we likely aren’t tight. And as far as news is concerned: This is why I subscribe to a lot of news magazines and websites. You should too.
YouTube gets a lot of use at home but I use it to watch a lot of lectures and listen to a lot of music—but sure, there are some stupid shit that I watch and holes I fall down. I’m going to be very mindful of that. If I find myself getting in trouble, I’ll have to come up with something new for YouTube. However, I believe cutting it out would be self-defeating. Reddit doesn’t get much of my time at home so I’m going to leave it off my list for now.
On the smartphone, all of my social media apps have been deleted. All. Of. Them.
My logic: This is simple. If I’m in the world, I shouldn’t be looking down to see what’s happening on Instagram, Twitter, or god forbid Periscope somewhere else in the world. While planning, looking back, and communicating are amazing features of the human brain and social apps, why wouldn’t I want to enjoy the moment of the day, time, and space I’m in? Why would I want to miss the feelings of longing and sadness that come with boredom? The fantastic joy that comes with a sunny day?
I’m already weaned off of caffeine. As I write this, it’s been two days since my last glass of green tea. I still feel a little assy (which is, believe it or not, the mot juste for this feeling), but as time passes I’m gaining more energy and vigor.
My abstinence from sugar was celebrated yesterday by me and a kid working at George’s on Clark, my favorite ice cream shop in Chicago. I told him my plan to cut things out and he thought it’d be good for me, but caveated his well wishes with the assurance that this was going to be really hard. I ate a German chocolate cake sundae and agreed with him.
Refined carbs like rice, bread, and pasta? I keep those out of my diet for the most part anyway. I don’t think continuing to avoid them will be hard. The only problem is watching other people eat all the good stuff—pizza, sandwiches, fried rice. Why do you people always have commercial-quality, orgasmic looks of enjoyment while eating food I’m avoiding? I know pizza is good, but goddamn!
Alcohol? Who cares, I say! Alcohol is the objectification of the friend who will tell you everything you want to hear without giving you anything you need to hear. As much as I enjoy a glass of wine or a pint of beer, it’s not the social necessity many would have you believe it is. Alcohol is a cheat code for relaxation and sociability.
(An aside: While I believe all of this, living up to it over the course of a month will still be difficult. After all, I’m human and booze is great.)
I’m not quite sure what will happen by the end of April. Will I know how to live? Will my willpower to enjoy the moment increase? Will I CRACK UNDER THE PRESSURE?! I’m excited to see. I’ll try to keep this blog up to date with what I’m doing and how I’m finding the experience. I’ll certainly be writing more, as my plan is to hit at least 1,000 words or two-pages per day outside of work.
My plans for April are already swelling into comedy shows, concerts, hours-long writing sessions, exercise, piles of reading material, conversations with friends, making new friends, dinner with family, and writing workshops. But my big question is this: Will I be living more when I finished than I did when I started?
My hypothesis: Doing less will help me do more.
Am I right? Only one way to find out. Here goes…
Feel free to message me via this blog or at HalConick (at) gmail dot com. I’d love to hear about your experiences or your trash talk or your well wishes.