The Things I Should Be Doing

I tend to do whatever I feel like.

But then I’m sixty pounds overweight and my health is going down hill.  My house could use a good deal of renovation, and even though my yard guys keep my lawn close-clipped, it’s a green carpet of weeds.  I feel great relief when I see those shows about hoarders because it makes me feel clean and orderly in comparison.  I take a certain pride that I’m not an alcoholic like my parents but I have quite a reading addiction.  I wanted to be a writer, and although I can churn out the blog posts, I never write the fiction I constantly create in daydreams.

One of the biggest problems in my life is I’ve been reasonably happy and content – I think drive comes from dissatisfaction.  If it wasn’t for the guilt over being unproductive I could cruise to my deathbed with no regrets.  Yeah, that’s a pretty big exception though.

A friend of mine recently got some paid-for psychological advice which she shared with me for free.  She was told to picture herself dying comfortable, able to think clearly – and then asked to imagine what her regrets about leaving life would be.

Now that can be taken a number of ways.  There’s a difference between the fantasies that didn’t come true and the ambitions I gave up because of laziness.  Remember that movie about the bucket list – well how many people can die with the aid of a billionaire to finance an expensive life-improvement checklist?  I could say my life sucked because I didn’t become a rock star like Bob Dylan but is that fair when I can’t carry a tune and the only song I can remember the words to is “Happy Birthday” and I screw that up half the time.

Studies have shown that success is about 10,000 hours of practice, so should we all be regretful that we didn’t pick something and have applied ourselves diligently for three hours a day for ten years?

Maybe that psychiatrist meant something different.  Maybe he meant that people should regret not being nicer, or more generous, or more caring.  Many people believe a good life is based on how much you do for others and not what you do for yourself.  And to be honest, I’m a very selfish person.  I don’t feel too guilty though, I try to be a helpful person in my own way, and I give regularly to a number of charities, but the reality is I have no more talent for providing human comfort then I do music.

I really wish I could have be more generous with my wife Susan, doing more things she likes to do, like going to baseball games or to bars on trivia night.  I just can’t though.  Baseball is boring, and I don’t like loud bars.  And I’m sure she feels bad about not liking the many things I like to do, like watching documentaries on cosmology or sitting around listening to jazz from 1959.

When it comes down to dealing with regret I think we need to be realistic.

I need to picture lying in my nursing home bed and think of things I should have done that I could have done.  And since I’m turning 60 in a couple of months, it should be things I could start doing right now.  Crying over my first six decades is pointless.  In all honesty, I can make a long list of things I wished I had done in those first sixty years and it would come down to a long list of “I wish I hadn’t been too chicken-shit to do X.”  But what’s the point of that, I have a timid omega male personality and that’s not going to change.

Sure I can think of a few things to wish for that might have been practical.  I wished I started caring for my teeth as a kid instead of waiting until I was in my forties.  I suppose I could have given up my favorite foods at 175 pounds instead of 235.  And if I had only maintained my exercise levels that I acquired in gym class in junior and senior high I could have been the person I always fantasized being.  Ha-ha.

See, that’s the thing about thinking about our dying regrets – it’s easy to make bucket lists, but it’s hard to judge who we really are.

I’ve known I should lose my extra pounds ever since I gained them.  I’ve always regretted them.  I’ve quit eating all my fun foods decades ago.  Other than forcing myself to live with constant craving, I don’t know what else to do.  And the same is true of having a beautifully decorated house and spiffy all grass lawn – I’d have to have a personality change.

I could write on my bucket list that life would have been great if I could have had sex with Catherine Zeta Jones or spent a year living in Paris writing a brilliant unforgettable novel.  But should I really downgrade my life on Earth because I didn’t?

At work people laugh at me because I all too often make references to things I read in books.  They say I shouldn’t read so much.  But, hey, I’m a bookworm.  That’s like telling a giraffe that he’d have a better life without that long neck.  Hell, when it comes down to it, I’m going to regret not reading more books, or listening to more music, or watching more documentaries, or all the other things I really love doing.

When I’m old and dying I’m going to regret losing my health and dying because I’ll have to stop doing what I’ve been doing my whole life, which is being me.

JWH – 8/7/11

10 thoughts on “The Things I Should Be Doing”

  1. Many of my friends are turning 60 this year. I’m the youngster because my birthday is 11/25. My friend Janis just had her 60th birthday this past Thursday.

    I love 1951 people.

  2. My parents visited over the weekend and my dad asked me one of the hand-full of questions he always ask me. “How is your writing going?” and I told him that I’m doing a lot of blog posts and reading a lot and he said,”Well you’re not going to make any money at it that way are you?”

    To make matter worse, my wife told me later that she agreed with him.

    At least I’m not the only one that goes through they same things.

    I told both of them, I end up doing what’s fun, writing fiction always seems like work.

    I think on my deathbed I’ll regret not writing more, but it’s not as if I’m wasting my life. I’ve got a job, I pay my bills, I’ve got a wife I love and who loves me. We’ve got a baby on the way.

    But it’s funny, I love writing I get up everyday and I think to myself this is the day I’m really gonna get started at it again. And I’ll even think about the plot or some of the dialogue during my lunch break, but then I’ll get home spend some time with the wife and when she goes to bed instead of writing I’ll watch TV or read instead.

    1. That’s exactly what I do. Everyday I think I’m going to get down to business, but I never do. I go to sleep at night and think, tomorrow will be different. That’s why I mention T. L. Morganfield when I was talking about my Clarion West group. She cranks out the fiction. Now is that work discipline, or does she have an innate desire to write fiction?

      Even though I can write blog posts like this one, the desire to write fiction never goes away. My wife and friends also think I’m wasting my time on blogging. I suppose they just want me to achieve what I desire, but sometimes it feels like they are saying, if it doesn’t make money I’m not succeeding.

      1. Exactly, and then I feel like telling them “I’ve got a day job from 9-5, that’s how I make my money. I’m sorry if my hobby doesn’t make enough money for you, but it a HOBBY!”

        But, our friends and family just want us to be sucessful or they want us to meet the goals we’ve set for ourselves. So we shouldn’t be too hard on them for trying to give us a push.

      2. John, you said you couldn’t take off to go to Clarion, but have you considered college classes in creative writing? I got a whole lot out of the ones I took. There’s also a number of online writer’s workshops for SF/F writers. What really helps is have a good bunch of people to critique your work.

  3. So you’re reasonably happy and content, Jim? Gee, I’m sorry about that. I sure wish I could help. 😉

    I have a lot of regrets in my life, but… what’s the point? The only point to regrets is so you’ll do things differently in the future. You can’t change the past, and you don’t get any do-overs. And let’s face it, I probably wouldn’t do most of those things differently if they came up again.

    Ambition is good, in moderation, if it makes you happy. But if it just makes you miserable, what’s the point? And hard work is good, too, especially when you’re working towards a desired goal. But if you’re just beating yourself up because you’re not doing enough, how good is that?

    Likewise losing weight. Everyone wants to lose weight, and few people do. Those few who succeed usually gain it all back again soon enough. It’s not that losing weight isn’t a good thing – if you are, indeed, overweight – but how beneficial is it to make yourself miserable for not losing weight?

    It seems to me that you need to decide what you really want. Not what you think you should want, but what really, really matters to your happiness (and to your wife’s, to a lesser extent, because your being happy will probably make her life better, too). And then decide if you’ll really, realistically accomplish it. (If not, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.)

    I wouldn’t forget completely about everything else, but put it in perspective. Write if you want to write. But if you don’t write, you probably don’t really want it (you just think you should).

    And obesity is a definite health risk and bad for our self-esteem. But being overweight is pretty much an American tradition. And you’re probably not going to get a modeling job at this point in your life. So what makes sense and what doesn’t?

    To my mind, eating healthy makes sense, but not giving up all the foods you love. Maybe you can eat one meal a day that’s healthy and low calorie, and just try not to overdo it too badly the other two (without beating yourself up if you fall off the wagon occasionally). Maybe you can reserve one day a week to pig out.

    And maybe you can set realistic goals, not impossible ones. Weight gain is probably as much about inactivity as it is overeating. If there’s something you also like to do that’s a little more active than reading, maybe you can do a little more of that. But not give up reading, either. (You like audio books. Can you do something active while listening?)

    I don’t know. It’s easier to give advice than to take it, certainly. But I wouldn’t be too worried about being “reasonably happy and content.” In fact, I’d say it’s a good goal to try to preserve that state.

  4. You are perfect just the way you are… no need to change.. no need to downgrade… You are never too old to start new things, new diets, new perspectives, or to start a new job. If the motivation exists for you to do something, then just do it… If you can see yourself doing it successfully then you by all rights have already started… there is no reason to regret yesterday which cannot be reclaimed, but tomorrow you will remember today as the day you started doing exactly what you dreamed of… tomorrow you will be whoever you think you are today… so get started! 🙂 BTW I just found your blog and enjoyed reading a few posts already.. Very down to earth and clear voiced writer. Keep up the good work.

  5. Like you, “I tend to do whatever I feel like” describes me as well. Right now I should be working on a document I need to have done for tomorrow’s meeting at work. But, I seem to be doing everything else but.

    I got to your site via a Google query on Mathematica vs. Sage. I rebuilt sage to the latest version (yes – on my Linux system) and wondered what was new in it and what was missing in it that made Mathematica so wonderful to use. I read your article on the topic, but then got sidetracked by your other articles.

    I also suffer the same ailments as you. I’m could lose some weight; my house could use some “sprucing up”; my car needs an oil change; my home office could use some cleaning; and my garage definitely needs cleaning up — not that I could ever get a car in there — but I should at least organize it better; and the list goes on.

    I’m not so sure I suffer from laziness though. I actually want to do many of those things but always seem to find something else to do that’s either more important, more fun, or simply reached a critical state. I know I’ll get to that document — later. So, it’ll get done — when it reaches the critical state.

    You see, I think what it is, is that life is too exciting. Yes, even with all the problems in the world that we may or may not have any control over, life offers us so many opportunities today that we simply didn’t have earlier in our lifetime. I see so many exciting things out there that I wish I could be part of. Some could not be possible had I not put in those “10,000” hours of practice that led to bigger and better opportunities. I too have many half-ass hobbies and interests as a result. For example, I’m an electronics hobbyist (my first love); computer hobbyist; I love to play chess – but not great at it; I love bicycling – but don’t do enough of it; I love motorcycling – but gets boring on long rides; I love to work on my cars and often do all my mechanical work regardless of difficulty — but mostly because I’m cheap and don’t trust mechanics (based on past experience); I’m a do-it-yourself-er on just about anything — we’ve remodeled the kitchen, laid floor, remodeled bathrooms, installed wiring, plumbing, fixed washers, dryers, furnaces, etc.; I love racquetball but don’t have anyone to play with; I love physics, mathematics (hence Sage) and engineering. Oh yeah – I have an electric guitar and an acoustical guitar, too. Both of which I put in, maybe, a total of 20hrs trying to learn and are in the corner collecting dust at the moment.

    Essentially, I’m a jack of all trades and definitely a master of none. Perhaps I suffer from ADHD, but the doctors say I don’t. Hmmm.

    So, I’m always asking myself “what should I be doing” When the responsible me senses that something is about to go critical, I jump on that. But most of the time I’m looking for something more exciting, something that I don’t want to miss out on so that when I do get to my death bed, I can say: “I tried everything I had the opportunity and time to do.” In the end, you should be doing those things that matter the most to you.

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