Welcome to Ideothetic Flow! A passion project sharing my reflections on life, being a better person and building a kinder world.
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Joy fell sick last week. It wasn’t anything serious, but still involved a half a day at the pediatrician, cancelling all our plans for the week, and fending for ourselves without childcare support out of fear of infecting the extended family. We had to scrap together any free time we could to maintain our own health and also handle those work responsibilities we can’t reschedule.
Alcina and I are always aware of how lucky we are. We have jobs that offer the flexibility to take time out to prioritise our children. We have lots of additional support. Even with all this, our child falling sick is a stressful and disruptive event. There is a constant need to assess risk, manage resources, and make the right tactical and socially responsible decisions.
I feel very much for those parents who lack the same space we have to handle problems like this. I know there are many parents who don’t have the same support and who can’t easily take time off, whether due to job stability, or the nature of their work. I can’t imagine the kind of mental load they carry, having to trade off between being fully present for their children, or putting their livelihood and responsibilities at risk.
This highlights the importance of spare capacity in our lives. Bandwidth to deal with unexpected problems. Resilience to withstand shocks to our planned routine. People who lack capacity make stupid and desperate decisions. This can happen even to those who are rich, as long as they become insecure from their own perception that they lack bandwidth because they have so many needs and wants. People become self-destructive - taking undue risks, or trying to do too much, and they become destructive - fixating on their needs at the expense of others, getting angry, and being unkind.
Sadly, our world tends to be designed around scarcity and efficiency, the antithesis of capacity. Everyone must be kept at the edge, wanting for more, to be hungry. This makes us easily exploited by those at the top to produce more for them. Every factor must be squeezed to its limit, and no slack in the system is allowed. Even expected disruptions like allotted vacation time is not factored in, everyone else is simply expected to do more to take up the slack.
But, unexpected things will always happen. People fall sick, laws change, companies go bankrupt, emergencies happen. We are expected to deal with these ourselves. Capacity lets us remain ourselves in the face of the worst of things, to preserve our mental health, and to come back stronger.
The structural problems around capacity are beyond us. But, we can improve our own personal capacity. As we hit the end of 2021, I invite you to do a quick exercise to think about your current capacity and resilience, and if you could do more to improve it:
Think about all the things you planned this month. What would you feel if you have to cancel them all to deal with some unforeseen event? Why would it hurt?
Disregard the natural pain that comes from being deprived of something you are looking forward to. This always exists regardless of capacity. You want to look past that, into the anxieties and desperations that will arise in your mind when plans change. You’re looking for the feelings that will bug you, that you feel an almost irrational urgency to recover from.
This is largely subjective, but here are some examples of the things you might think about:
You may feel despair because a holiday or break was cancelled, this is a sign you probably need more rest over the year.
If you feel left out or FOMO from missing a christmas party, you could be insecure about those friendships. Have you neglected those friends over the year?
If you’re rushing to meet work targets, you might have aimed too high, or be anxious about your financial state.
Is your pain from not being able to learn that new skill or work on that hobby you planned? Maybe you had neglected growth or procrastinated over the year.
Feeling guilty about not spending time with family is a sign that you have not been doing it enough over the year and have been pushing it away till now.
For Christians, missing the religious festivities might feel painful if we had let our spirit starve over the year and have been leaving it to this chance to recover it.
For those things which you identify, its now a good time to firstly treasure the opportunity to carry out those plans.
Likely there will also be things you identify as important, but feel it would not hurt to miss. These are the ones which your capacity is already good. If you’re already fit, then not working out for a month is not going to hurt much.
Reprioritise and reduce in 2022.
The pain points are the ones you want to build up your spare capacity. But, in planning this, be careful about solutions which involve increasing something.
For example, if you worried your friends will drift away because you didn’t make it the for the christmas party, you might think its time to call or check in on them more often. This alone doesn’t address the real problem, that you lacked time or intent to catch up.
You need to reduce something else in your life to make that time. A good clue comes from the things that don’t even show up on this scan but are a big part of your daily life. These are things you don’t even bat an eyelid of losing. I doubt this scan brought up concerns about not being able to read the news or please your boss. Its a sign that you can take space from these things to do things which give you capacity.
Its even better if you can simply cut something out to regain capacity. Reducing expenditure to improve your finances is an obvious one. For me, I want to lose weight but I like to eat, I need to cut out some meals for space to eat the important ones later.
You may even want to remove the very thing you felt you needed. You could let go of the pressure to grow and learn something new. You could set lower targets. You could even decide to outgrow a friend.
If you’re planning to do this exercise, and would like some companionship or someone to chat about it, drop a reply and I would be most happy to go through it with you, share my own reflections, and offer a sounding board to talk things out.
I found this especially relevant to my own work as a gatekeeper corporate function. Its easy to fall into the trap of making problems worse for the sake of feeling important, than actually being useful.
For my friends who are legal counsel, do watch this space to see how you can use the law to enable your organisations to do some good!
“If there’s one thing that frustrates me, more than anything, about the notion of being right, it’s that being right, too often, gets in the way of being generous. Being right is too often used as a way to protect us from doing the thing that will actually most serve us. If I can leave you with one thought, it’s: Forget being right. It’s completely fucking irrelevant.”
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