It took me 40. freaking. hours to write (and re-write and edit) the piece that led me to my first “viral” moment. For every “viral” moment I’ve had since, it’s taken about the same amount of work. Quality, for me, takes time. Time, patience, and so.much.editing.
Those three ingredients feel diametrically opposed to the traits we so often praise on the internet. Quick! Fast! Go!
I’ve spoken at length about what I call the problem of lazy content. The exploitation of people’s time and attention is part of the problem, but the tragedy is the degradation of our thoughts as a result. When your information diet is lacking nutrition, your thinking suffers.
A few years ago I stopped reading articles. I decided that I missed books and my time was being wasted reading articles forwarded by well-meaning friends and family, who themselves only read the headline. Many of these pieces made me feel like I’d regressed in intelligence. I’d read a claim but find no argument to support it, just bombast and tribalism and vitriol (some of which was founded, but still had no argument attached to it).
You don’t win a debate with snark and vitriol, you win it with a better argument.
And so I searched for better arguments and sought to make mine stronger.
In the process, I found that I needed more of the one thing, the Sacred Cow, I could not seem to secure: time to think.
Time to form an opinion, time to gather alternative points of view, time to change my mind.
The online world of churn and content and clicks rewards reacting. We excel at reacting, but isn’t it boring? Reacting is easy, growth is hard. And I want to grow. I want to sit and marinate on an idea, work with it, play with it, take it farther (or further? How should I know there’s hardly time to edit! Publish! Quick! Fast! Go!).
Last week, Hillary and I interviewed Allison Davis and Jordan Maney for an epic upcoming HAMYAW-AF episode. We spoke for two freaking hours (it’s gonna be a beast to edit but I promise it’s worth it). Anyway, as we were discussing (of all things) weddings, Jordan said something I haven’t been able to get out of my head since:
She’d hit the nail on the head of what was missing in my own work, as she was explaining her own.
Every fiber of my being has been craving deeper thinking, better arguments, more conversation, deeper analysis, stronger points, and above all: TIME.
Three years ago I made a commitment to publishing weekly and that commitment has changed my life. The act of shipping is a habit I highly recommend forming for anyone who aspires to be in the Arena. Things that felt enormous and weighty back then are barely considerations anymore. You learn that people’s reactions have little to do with you and you uncover boundaries you cannot worksheet-your-way to establishing, you must publish your way to finding.
I’m reminded of an observation Tara Westover made in her memoir, Educated, about therapy. She couldn’t put her finger on exactly what therapy did that was helpful, but noticed the power in the act of showing up each week. The power in having a container for these conversations had on her rewriting her narrative. (Jordan, Allison, and I will tell you more about the importance of “Containers” in 2021. Stay tuned.).
But like therapy, if you’re in it for too long you’ve missed the point. Or rather, failed to address what needed addressing. You never finish your self-work, but you do evolve (or rather graduate) to the next thing.
And for me, that is less but deeper.
I need time to think and learn and digest all I take in. I need to marinate. Prove myself wrong. Poke holes. Challenge what I think I know. Get in sparring fights with worthy opponents, until my idea can stand on her own.
Where some of my colleagues can draft 700 words of a fully formed idea over breakfast, my process is different. It needs more time. Which is why I’m making some.
Next week will be the first week in 3+ years I do not publish and when we return in 2021, this newsletter will look a little different. The goal being to allow me more time to create space for deep thinking.
For time, patience, and editing.
Merry Happy All The Things.
I’ll see you next year,
PS: To be clear, you’ll still get emails from me. But instead of weekly essays, I’m going to focus my writing attention on my book and articles that require more time. I will use this channel, for now at least, as a distribution vehicle. Pointing you to content elsewhere and alerting you to products and services and, of course, HAMYAW.
PPS: To that end…if your soul is likewise craving a break from the noise, consider this email on Christmas Eve your sign. (Or as my friend Robert says, a “permission slip.”)
Honor that desire, get yourself some books, detox from the clickbait, and the need to hurry a response when you haven’t formed your opinion yet.
A reaction is not an idea, it’s an emotion. An emotion is data from your insides, it’s not a fully formed argument (yet). It’s the kernel of one. The container for a reaction is your friends, your creative allies, and your therapist.
In my experience, words are the gateway to find the argument within the reaction. But each of us processes differently. The bigger point is to not confuse a reaction with an argument. Take the time to find the argument, out of respect to the ideas and respect to your readers.