I am an inveterate planner. Which means I spend a lot of time thinking about what’s NEXT. Probably too much time. And when I finally accomplish all those things I was planning to do, I spend little (if any) time acknowledging what I’ve achieved. Because I’m already thinking about what else I could be doing.
This is, quite frankly, a crappy way to live your life. Because adopting a “what else?” mindset is a recipe for making yourself feel like nothing is ever enough.
Back in 2013, a year after my “busyness breakdown,” a colleague stopped by my office for coffee. As we were chit-chatting and catching up, he asked me what I was working on. I told him that Make Your Mark, the final book in the series I created for 99U, had just launched.
He congratulated me. We discussed the book for maybe 60 seconds or less, and then he said: “What else?”
I was taken aback. I thought: “Are you kidding me? What do you mean what else? This is the realization of two and a half years of blood, sweat, and editorial tears. This is the culmination of a labor of love. Why does there have to be something else?!!!”
That “what else?” has stuck with me ever since. Because it’s emblematic of a toxic state of mind that’s starting to become quite commonplace — one that the tools and technologies that we use every minute of every day are constantly reinforcing.
You’re on Instagram, and you’re thinking: Yeah, your yoga pose is amazing; yeah, that dog is cute; yeah, your baby is adorable; yeah, they just got married on the beach… Scroll scroll scroll, what else?
Or you’re on Tinder, and you’re thinking: Yeah, he’s cute, or yeah she’s cute, but maybe there’s something better? Swipe swipe swipe, what else?
Or right now you’re reading this article, and you’re thinking: Yeah, this piece is okay, but I wonder if I have some new emails, and you pull out your phone and thumb down to refresh, wondering: what else, what else, what else?
The tools and technologies that we use every minute of the day are teaching us to constantly be in a what else mindset.
You could witness the most precious moment of someone’s life, or read a news story about a horrifying and terribly sad event, or complete one of the most impressive accomplishments of your creative career… And somehow it’s never enough.
Because there’s always something else to do, something else to accomplish, something else you might be missing out on… right. now.
The only way to counteract the what else mindset is to regularly, proactively define what “enough” means to you in ways big and small, such as:
- Making to-do lists that are realistic, not aspirational
- Giving yourself license to reserve “white space” in your calendar
- Creating a “stop-doing list” to weed out draining distractions
- Making a habit of recognizing your co-workers’ accomplishments
- Carving out time to reflect on what you’ve achieved
If we want to stay engaged with our labors of love, we have to let them be enough. And not only enough, but a cause for celebration, reflection, and recognition.