Now or Later?

My life changed when I started asking myself one simple question: “Am I ever going to feel like doing this more than I do right now?” Spoiler alert: the answer is usually, “No.”

I read an interview with Mark Wahlberg a few years ago, where he shared he’d become much more disciplined in recent years. His body-builder form always gave the impression that he’d been disciplined. He explained, though, that it’s easy to stick with things you enjoy or that you get some obvious benefit from. Discipline is about doing things because you have to, whether you want to or not. Going over a boring business report. Making a phone call you have no interest in making.

I don’t know why the voice of Mark Wahlberg rang some come-to-Jesus bell for me. I’d be rich if I had a dollar for every time my dad said, “Sometimes you gotta do [pause for emphasis, tilt head, make eye contact, jut the chin out, open eyes wider] what you gotta do.” He said it in response to my complaints about doing many things that…well…I didn’t want to do. Yet reading Wahlberg’s comments, my whole body settled into the realization that there are many things I will just never be inspired to do. And yet, do them I must.

Now when I find myself thinking that I’m not in the mood to do this, or don’t feel like doing that, I challenge myself: Am I ever going to feel like doing this more than I do right now? If I’m waiting to feel inspired to do laundry, well, that’s just not going to happen. It’s going to be a bigger load if I put it off another day. So I take the action, and feel better for having done it.

Sometimes I find that the answer to my question is “Yes”. In those cases, it’s again a win. There’s a legitimate reason to delay. I’m already overextended, or it would be easier if I had more help or resources. Maybe I haven’t done enough research or planning to act with confidence. The answer helps me find a better time or better way to take action, and I don’t have to feel guilty or anxious about the choice.

It’s a little question but it packs a big punch. Try it next time your inner toddler voice whines, “I don’t wanna!”

I’d like a plate of inspiration without the struggle, please.

I was in the mood for curling up with an inspirational movie. One problem: literally every inspirational movie I found had components of hardship built in. Did I really have to watch the suffering to get to the good stuff?

There are no hero stories without monsters of one kind or another. There can be no catharsis without angst, uncertainty, inner turmoil. In a story arc that ends in a transcendent, hard-won success, characters will travel a rough road to get there. Glancing at the American Film Institute’s 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time, I saw that each of the 46 I’d seen had dramatic components.

So maybe, I thought, a movie wasn’t what I needed. Maybe, I thought, quotes are safer. Quotes can be inspiring without presenting negatives because they don’t require a story arc. Or can they, and don’t they? I headed to a box of quotes I keep on a common shelf, and began to dig.

Marianne Williamson’s inspirational quote, “Your playing small doesn’t serve the world” seemed innocent enough. But the ideas of playing small, and embracing the calling to serve others and to have a greater purpose – these create tension, which only resolves if you commit to play bigger.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step” presents strength in the face of underlying hesitation, the unknown, uncertainty of direction. A first step feels brave precisely because we don’t have a vision of the whole staircase.

Many quotes I read leveraged fear behind the words. Some were stated, as in Michael Jordan’s, “Don’t be afraid to fail. Be afraid not to try,” or Jack Canfield’s, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” In others, the concept wasn’t stated, but still resided. A Charles Darwin quote I remember from undergrad Anthropology seems to surface every week in someone’s writing, thanks to the constant state of pandemic-related change: “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” As it inspires many to get flexible today, the quote embeds the scary prospects of survival of the species itself.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.’s, “A mind that is stretched by new experiences can never go back to its old dimensions” encapsulates the forced abandonment of our former, smaller selves. Do we fear failing to challenge ourselves, or abandoning ourselves in the pursuit of self-realization? Does Eric Thomas’s “Fall in love with the process, and the results will come” harbor a quest for results, for progress or completion we may otherwise be powerless to attain?

I had to face it: There is no transcendence to be found without struggle. It’s not a diner menu favorite that you can order up as you’d like. It’s the endgame of an arduous process. Contentment, while beautiful, doesn’t motivate us to do or feel anything else. Conflict begs resolution. I find some comfort in this. Remembering that one can’t exist without the other inspires perseverance. Perhaps that realization is inspiration enough.