Wouldn’t we all like to be Taylor Swift right now? Perfect teeth, shimmering from the top of the world. It’s a place where every break-up nets you $100 million, and going out in public without pants on is perfectly fine, so long as your boots shine. It's a good place to be, clad in rhinestones and red lipstick. But not everyone makes it there.
For most of us, heartbreak is the only thing we take away from a breakup. If you're lucky, maybe you'll take the dog too. Maybe to you, perfect teeth only means you don't carry a toothpick with you daily, ready for the unexpected meat pocket. Maybe yours is the mouth with one gray tooth you can't do much about without a hit song to pay for something better. You’re not alone. Shimmering is not easy. Most of us don't shimmer much at all.
But we're all chasing it anyway. We’re booking every weekend with dinners, and responding to business emails by night, building our LinkedIn networks by day, and posting at least once just to make certain no one forgets we're here. But, if you take a moment, you’ll notice the only thing anyone notices is whether or not you noticed them.
Sometimes, what we spend our time chasing isn't worth chasing at all. Often, the next big thing turns out to be completely worthless. Just ask NFTs if you can find one. Or Sam Bankman-Fried because he's finally got time on his hands. Not all that glitters is gold, and nothing is forever. No matter what beach you lay on, even if you're Jimmy Buffet, you'll still die of cancer if the margarita doesn't get you first. So you might as well lay on the beach a little bit longer, and enjoy it while you can.
That‘s why I suggest you stop setting goals. It's a practice I find better suited as a placebo for people who think they have control over life. As for me, I've disposed of the practice entirely to embrace the mystery of what might happen if I just enjoy the moment a little longer than originally planned. That important conversation that you missed because you left for your next meeting. The child that grew up while you were asking someone to join your professional network on LinkedIn because you noticed they have similar interests.
When you don't have goals to be indebted to, you always achieve them. When you assume there's a catch, then a catch-22 is the best one to signal opportunity. It’s when you accept that you have no control that everything works out exactly like it should.
That’s why I am immortal. How can you cancel someone who has never been scheduled? I'm Even Steven, and as it turns out, as I write this I just found $20 in my jacket pocket. I can take life as it comes, even if it's not necessarily in that order.
On a recent trip heading five states away, at the gate, I was greeted with a plane that wouldn’t move for over three hours past its scheduled time. It was the maintenance staff. They were short-handed, without answers to satisfy the masses.
I watched as countless would-be passengers asked when the plane would take off, huffed, then left for another airline, insisting they would make those grubby bastards pay. Everyone in the terminal was furious, with red faces and panties twisted. Yet I was cherry cool, a lazy creek on a Saturday afternoon. Everything was perfect for me, because I had time. I had space. I had a gin and tonic.
What I didn‘t have is any reason to make someone pay. No answers needed to be given. No blood needed to be shed for the remission of sins. I felt nothing but the cool of the creek in the blank spaces.
The plane did take off, eventually. My destination was still there waiting for me when I got there.
In the design business, the best of us spend most of our time deciding what not to design. Design is not about what you make. It's about what you leave room for. In my mind, that should be impact. We call it white space. That’s the blank spaces untouched, so what is touched will matter more.
As in advertising, so it is with every form of art. American Gothic barely had any gothic in it, just a man, a woman, and the look of toil on their faces. In The Creation of Adam, it is the simplicity of the hands that makes it special. The Mona Lisa was not the Mona Lisa and Friends. For god sakes, the statue of David barely had genitalia to distract us. And how much time the artists must have spent simply thinking about their work of art before taking the first stroke, considering what they won't include in their design and which blank spaces they will leave to be as they were when they found them.
Beauty is an act of restraint. Beauty is in the blank space.
You won’t find it in the search for shimmer. You won’t find it on the LinkedIn network, or the price you insist be paid by the middle-class agent behind the desk. You’ll find it at the destination. And on the plane before that, and before that, the gin and tonic. They are all part of the same thing. The journey–separated by blank spaces, so the things that are there matter. These are the places where you should be, so you don’t miss the former.
So if I don't buy NFTs or make it rich on Crypto or sufficiently build my professional network on LinkedIn, that's okay because neither of these ever existed anyway. I'm more interested in what didn't happen—those moments in the blank spaces I was afforded because I took time to notice them. The lazy creek on a Saturday, or the work of art on my wall as a placeholder for when I'm not enjoying the work of nature. There won't be any high-value NFTs, of course, which some consider a missed opportunity. But I don't think of it that way because while I might have missed the boat, I always make the plane.
The world has changed, and so much since the broad adoption of social media. What used to be wallet-size can now be viewed at 1,200 by 630 pixels and updated in real-time. Those who used to be disconnected can be connected in moments. My daughter in Spain can have dinner moments with me while I unbox my phone. And many other benefits besides.
Social media (c/o the internet) has changed the world in good ways, but by my measure, it has changed more for bad than good. Science may have to get back to us on this, but early data suggests that social media has harmed the brain development of children, advanced destructive groupthink, and addicted all of us. If you don't interact enough, it will ping your lizard brain until you do. It will obscure those lazy creeks and cast clouds over your gin and tonics. It will steal your blank spaces, if it can.
About a month ago, this piece came to me, and the first words were written. I had just deleted every social media app from my phone in protest of the notifications doing everything they could to get me to interact. I saw that it was taking from me more than it was giving, so I deleted it. I've written about the technology side of this topic more than once, but this article is not just about technology. It's about everything that we add to our lives that weighs us down or takes more than it gives. It's the careers we try to control instead of maximizing the moments we're in that might make our futures better anyway. It's the time we give up to make money only to spend it on buying back our time. It’s the calendar full with anxiety, but no room anything else.
The issue is not with having a career or being on an app. The issue is the relationship we have to it. It's the relationship it has to us. And the ones we miss because of it. I believe we should all consider finding ways to create more room so what remains matters more.
The only way to change it is to delete something. To create more blank spaces and to enjoy them.