What if we never get over our greatest flaws?
In this episode I talk with writer Oliver Burkeman, author of the excellent new book Four Thousand Weeks, about time, personal growth, and accepting our own mortality.
Among other topics, Oliver and I take a deep dive into the concept of what he calls “when-I-finally” mindset, which lures us into constantly pushing happiness and meaning out into an imagined future when we have “finally” achieved this or that goal.
We also talk about how capitalism has taught us to use time instrumentally, the paradox of limitation, perfectionism, and writer’s block. It’s heady but practical stuff.
* This episode was originally recorded in front of a live Zoom audience on October 27, 2021. (Hat tip to Stephanie Phillips for the episode title.)
Key takeaways from this conversation:
- Why the more we attempt to control or “manage” time, the unhappier we get
- How a lack of self-discipline is just a feature of being human
- How perfectionism relates to procrastination
- Why writer’s block (or any creative block) is writing
- How to accept our biggest flaws
“What if the thing that you consider to be your biggest personal flaw or biggest thing you struggle with, what if you thought about the prospect of that never going away, of that just being something that you have to sort of find a way to live with? I think it’s incredibly powerful because it really highlights the degree to which so many of us are making our sense of meaning in life dependent on becoming a different person than we actually are, and some moment that’s going to happen in the future when you’re sort of transformed so utterly, that you leave behind everything that you’ve come from.”
“As humans, we are two things. We are radically finite and material and limited in what we can do. And then we are capable of conceiving of infinity, and perfection. And limitless levels of achievement, limitless numbers of projects and all the rest of it. So it sort of follows from that by definition that anything you bring into the world, it is only going to be an imperfect version of the things that you can fantasize about… just in the sense that you can always envision everything being perfect, and nobody can actually make it perfect. There’s an inherent kind of sadness or loss about anything being created. And that’s one cause of procrastination I think.”
“Being struck in that moment by, ‘Hang on, this is never going to work.’ The place that I think I’m going to get one day, if I haven’t got there so far having had the opportunity for my job to experiment with 100 different time management techniques, and none of them have delivered the emotional payoff that I seem to be looking for here, none of this is ever going to work. I’m never going to feel this kind of total serene control.”
The articles and ideas that we mention in this epi:
- Oliver’s new book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals
- My previous interview with Oliver on Hurry Slowly
- Oliver’s essay on the quote from Charlotte Joko Beck: “What makes it unbearable is your mistaken belief that it can be cured”
- “What if I never change?” by Stephanie Philips
- Misery, failure, death, and a slap in the face. Great advice for life from James Hollis
- Follow Oliver on: Website | Newsletter | Twitter
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