Priorities

The thing I’ve struggled with lately has been how to integrate this cancer/tumor thing into how I think about the future in a comfortable way. It all feels pretty surreal. Physically, given what’s happened, I’m not feeling too badly. My brain still gets tired, but that’s improved considerably since the surgery.

Emotionally, it’s a mixed bag. Some days are more cheerful than others – mostly it just feels really important to be productive right now, because of the uncertainty surrounding the future.

How does anyone make the best use of our limited time on Earth to achieve important things, while also making enough money at a job they care about to do mundane stuff like buying groceries and having a roof over their head? What can someone with limited mental energy and even more limited time do to take down corporatism and free people from the idea that their value is based on their monetary success rather than on their generosity and contributions to the greater good… or build a new scientific infrastructure to fix the institutional shortcomings that limit the bounds of scientific growth in our culture?

I know, I know. Last time I mentioned these sorts of interesting gauntlets, the consensus was that changing everything isn’t really my responsibility, and it makes sense to stick to more modest objectives – manageable goals for a normal human being.

I go back and forth about that. If you care about a big issue and it needs work, part of your job in life is to use your talents to fix it, and that effort certainly needs to be sustainable. There’s room for all sorts of fixes – it just comes down to what kinds of outcome you hope to achieve and what it takes to stay motivated. I just find the massive issues especially interesting.

After all (I say when I’m feeling energetic and sparky) – if working toward more reasonable modest outcomes is likely to use the same amount of effort as taking a crack at crazy-big outcomes, there’s no reason not to put in some time moving the scale on the bigger stuff.

How to fit it in? Life is busy, but I’ve noticed that it’s the work you force yourself to do at the end of the day, when you are exhausted and hardly able to pull a thought together – those are the things that make the most difference in your future shot at success. The weekend class you take when you want nothing more than to relax and have some pot pie in front of the TV is the class where you’ll learn crazy-important things. The evening meeting you attend when you really just wanted to veg out and read a book after a hard day at work is the meeting where you’ll build a relationship with the person who will make a huge difference in your life. The determined smile you put on even though you are feeling rather down in the dumps is the smile that propels you to actually get out into the world and take part in the stuff that matters, which invariably makes you feel like smiling for real.

Still – even knowing the value of forcing yourself to make that extra effort doesn’t make it any easier. Pot pie and good books beckon, and if you don’t make time to do that laundry, you’ll have nothing to wear.

Finding the time and energy to make a difference going forward isn’t an impossible challenge, of course. It’s just going to take some planning and require focusing on the most reasonable efforts in the current situation (the toughest part of all). Maybe I’ll write a few books and call it a win, based on the assumption that people with more time and energy can move things forward as long as the philosophy is in place. Will a small push toward a big objective do the trick? Still working on that.

When I reach the end of my incredibly lucky years, whether that happens way too soon or at a more reasonable 300-years-old, I’d sure like to be able to look back on my life and feel happy about spending wonderful time with my family and friends, and having started making a solid dent in the challenges I care about fixing.

Of course, Fallout 4 is coming out soon, so saving the real world might have to take a temporary back seat while I save the post-apocalyptic wasteland with Abe. We’ll see.

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