He vs. She vs. They
We have an outdated approach to pronouns.
Technically speaking, if we are referring to a generic person, we should refer to this person as “he or she”. This is to keep the person as a universal entity, not shrouded by one specific gender1. However, as one of my main philosophies about communication (and writing in particular) is “keep it brief”, I find the use of “he or she” to be completely absurd. It’s a nuisance when I write, and I always hated myself for doing it, even though it was technically correct.
Fast forward to now, and I don’t care anymore. I’ve found the pronoun I’m going to use going forward, and it’s “they”. Anytime I see someone refer to people as “guys”, or to a person as “he”, I simply find it strange and exclusive.
I first came across this idea from Sean Carroll, and I have to say, it reflects my sentiments exactly. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the word “they”, and it captures precisely what I want to convey: a generic person, with no gender attached. By all means, use whatever mental model you’ve built up in your head. I don’t want to impose either one, nor do I want to “keep score” to make sure I’ve balanced my use of male and female pronouns. The truth is, it’s not important enough for me to try and keep count, and so “they” is the winner.
The word is more universal and a fewer number of words in total. In my mind, that’s a win-win situation for everyone.
Of course, I’m talking about males. We seem to be trying to establish ourselves everywhere, to the expense of our opposite gender. It actually bothers me quite a bit when I read someone who I admire and who has great ideas, yet keeps on using the male pronoun, as if it’s the only one available in existence. Conversely, I’ve also become annoyed with the people who go to the other end of the extreme and only use female pronouns. Come on people, we can find a middle ground. ↩
I Get To
When you’re trying to become a master at your craft, some days can be more difficult than others. At times, you may feel like it’s all you can do not to throw your hands in the air in defeat and give up. It can be very tempting, particularly when you’ve faced some setbacks. During these moments, it might take an extraordinary amount of effort to actually get up and continue making progress in your work.
A useful strategy that I’ve found is to shift your mindset. Instead of feeling as if you are slogging through your work, think, “I get to do this.” By reminding yourself that you’re happy to do this and that you aren’t being forced to do it, you can shift your mindset into the right direction. This is something I employ often, because it works so brilliantly.
When your training feels like it’s all pointless and you aren’t getting anywhere, remind yourself of this simple fact: you get to choose to do this, which means you’re doing it because it is important to you.
From there, it is much easier to get out of those darker moments during a bad training block.
This is the default mode that most of us operate in, each day. The easiest behaviour is “autopilot” mode, since it requires the least effort. This is the behaviour you would do every day out of habit. For most, this means doing a whole bunch of nothing. For a few hard-working people, this means doing what is routine for them.
However, “autopilot” mode is something we all want to avoid. The reason is that it makes us stay content with doing the same things, over and over again. On “autopilot” mode, there aren’t any challenges. Sure, you may be practicing your craft, but there isn’t anything pushing you out of your comfort zone. As such, the growth you get is minimal.
If our goal is to improve as people in our craft, this is a problem. Our purpose is to become the best we can be, so cruising on autopilot isn’t exactly productive. If we aren’t careful though, this is what happens.
Ever had that feeling that time is flying by? This can be a consequence of being on autopilot. Each day’s experience is blending with the others because they aren’t challenging you enough.
For example, consider the “runner” who is on autopilot mode all the time. He runs every day, but always on the exact same route for roughly the same time. There’s no variation, no novelty, no challenge. Each time he steps out of the door, he can predict when he’ll be back to the minute. In his mind, he’s proud of his routine, happy that he gets his run every day.
Why do we tend to do the same things every day? The reason is simple: we enjoy routines. We are creatures of habit, and as such we like to plan everything in advance.
For our aforementioned runner, it’s mentally taxing to think up new workouts and physically challenging to change paces during the run. Therefore, he keeps it simple by doing the same thing, every single day.
Unfortunately, there is a problem with this idea. The body is amazingly adaptive, and will adapt to the daily runs, particularly if they’re all the same. At one point, the daily run becomes an accustomed part of the body’s routine. It isn’t stressed anymore, which means the body isn’t being pushed to adapt. Instead, it stops improving. Once that happens, autopilot mode has been turned on.
What can this tell us? Basically, if you’ve entered autopilot mode, you’re no longer growing. You’ve replaced variety with routine, challenges with easy-wins. Yes, you’re still practicing your craft, but you’re no longer getting pushed to the next level. You’re just cruising on a plateau, which isn’t part of your objectives.
Obviously, no one wants to lock into autopilot mode, yet many still do. This is because autopilot mode is our default setting, it’s what gets chosen when the mind is not actively planning to take on challenges. If we aren’t being mindful of our daily practices, our autopilot mode kicks in, making the choices for us. As you can guess, these choices don’t have our best interests in mind.
However, autopilot mode can be deceiving. It can be tough to realize that you’re on autopilot mode, because it seems like you’re doing well. For the runner example above, he’s running every day, which seems like it would do him good. However, it’s the intent behind the runs that is troubling him.
Additionally, the biggest hurdle that those on autopilot mode face has to do with stress. When there is a lot of stress in a person’s life, they need to deal with it in an efficient manner. This requires brainpower. As a result, other aspects of your life have to take a step back. Usually, the long-term goals come first. And that’s where autopilot mode comes kicking in. It’s not that you wanted to make these choices, but your life stress kind of forced you to.
This is perfectly reasonable, but the issue is that life stress will always be present. Each person that chooses to work hard on a craft that they are passionate about has other responsibilities and expectations of them. The difference is that they refuse to be put on autopilot, since it can be so paralyzing for the advancement of their craft. Once on autopilot, weeks and months can slip by without meaningful improvement of one’s craft, resulting in the question of where all the time went.
If you’re wondering whether you’ve been on autopilot mode for your chosen craft, these are some points which may help illuminate the situation.
- Do you have set routines in which nothing changes and everything is the same?
- Do you have any sort of progression built in to see some sort of improvement in your craft?
- Have you recently been subjected to so much life stress that you feel like your passions have been on the back-burner?
- Do you feel as if you’re constantly busy for urgent things that are only important in the short-term and not the long-term?
- Do you feel like the practice you do get for your craft seems to have no specific purpose except for actually doing something?
If you find yourself nodding in agreement with a few of these, you may be on autopilot mode for your craft. All hope is not last, however. By realizing that you haven’t been working on improving yourself within your craft like you could, you’ve taken the most difficult step. Now, you must take back the controls of your life and your craft by giving them more priority. Don’t just do the same thing within your craft every single day. Mix it up. Add some novelty and challenges, which will push you to grow. Above all else, be mindful of what you’re doing every day and how it relates to the bigger picture of your long term goals.
Autopilot mode may be convenient, but it is not the best way to help us grow and improve in our craft.
A Million Choices
It’s appealing to think of ourselves as the result of a single choice to do something great, as if the best writers in the world suddenly decided “I want to be a great writer” and then became one. One choice, and then our path is set before us.
It’s a nice thought, but it’s also dead wrong.
The reality is that our lives are shaped by the countless choices we make, every single day. These choices are both big and small, and also have apparent weights to them. Said differently, there are plenty of choices that we think are important, but ultimately don’t matter in the long run (and vice versa). Our lives are a patchwork of these choices, one piled on top of the other. They aren’t layered neatly either. If you were to try and “follow the thread” of your choices back in time, things will tend to overlap and be confusing.
Therefore, it’s important to realize that people aren’t made from a few choices, both good and bad. Just because someone made a bad choice doesn’t mean that all of their decisions are equally terrible. Even more important is the realization that one good choice doesn’t insulate someone from making a bad choice. What this means is that good people can make bad choices. And bad people can make good choices.
What this also means is that the labels of “good” and “bad” aren’t appropriate. People can be many things, and they are the result of a million choices taken in their lives. It’s almost impossible to decipher and generalize someone’s personality from just a few of their choices.
Remember, people are a collection of choices, not just one or two.