Alive time vs. Dead time (or how this website came to be)
One of the most powerful ideas that’s had an impact on me lately is the concept of Alive time vs. Dead time – something I discovered through a personal hero of mine - Ryan Holiday (see heroes and mentors by Seth Godin), who in turn discovered it via his mentor Robert Greene.
I’ve even aped Ryan in making an index card out of it and placing it above my desk:
It’s a very simple concept (but not easy to implement): The only thing you really have control over is the time that you’re alive. Everything else can be taken away from you, but you get to decide how to you live with every moment. Here’s a video by Ryan that explains it on his YouTube channel, in the context of his own life:
We’re in the midst of a global pandemic and our lives have been changed instantly overnight. Government lockdowns meant the closure of thousands of businesses and an economic recession. Some of these numbers are literally off the charts:
Millions of people have lost their jobs, while those of us lucky enough to still be in employment are adjusting to working from home. Our social lives have also been disrupted, as has – in some particularly severe cases – our freedom of movement. Even after lockdowns are lifted, life will not look the same as before. What does one do in such a situation? How does one react?
Even before the lockdown, I was feeling a sense of dissatisfaction and disillusionment with my job. Three years of highly visible success (some due to hard work, but mostly luck) and the attendant rewards that went with it had inflated my ego. I started to become complacent, uncooperative and worse, greedy. In the typical fashion of my generation, I suddenly wanted growth, I wanted a promotion, I wanted a project. I wanted more money. It took a heart-to-heart with my boss to bring me back down to earth: I still had ways to go, I was overestimating my own worth. But that wasn’t the end of my disenchantment.
A reorganization of my team meant that my boss would change. I’d be no longer under a person who’d not only hired me, but also understood the specifics of my job well, assigned me interesting projects, and worked with me to make it a success. All this at a time in which we shifted overnight to working from home along with its challenges and when the markets – the beat I cover as a journalist – were going nuts. I was upset. Maybe, as this HBR article suggested, I was grieving.
But with time, conversations with friends, and some reflection on this concept, I moved on. I developed a routine. And I read Ryan's pivotal book: The Obstacle is the Way – which radically changed my perspective on how to deal with life's curve balls. I took these lessons – along with the concept of alive time and dead time – and decided I’d make the most of this situation.
I would use this time and look at it as a gift, an opportunity. I'm proud to say that I followed through on that resolution. These are some of the highlights of what I've done during this time:
I built and organized a fantastic workspace, and invested in the best tools I could afford.
I journaled more feverishly than ever before and started maintaining a commonplace book. The result? A better system for keeping track of tasks, projects and ideas.
I started systematically recording notes from books I'm reading and linking them. The result? More productivity and ideas for work, writing and personal development. Better recall and a storehouse of material.
I cooked more, tried out challenging new dishes, and even designed and executed a menu for my significant other's birthday. I even gave all three of my flatmates haircuts! Result? A deeper appreciation for the joy and pleasures of using one's own hands to create.
I experimented with social media more, sharing more of my work. I posted more often, and more consistently. I reached out to my former boss to continue collaborating with him. This culminated in launching a daily newsletter.
I helped a friend finish a piece of freelance work, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
I read the following books:
- Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
- Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull
- The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
- Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday
- Keep Going by Austin Kleon
I spent more time in nature, and soaked up a lot of sun. When it rained, I found rainbows.
Started working out more, and using kettlebells.
Cycled and ran around, exploring the city more.
Doing all these different things and my learnings from them created a virtuous cycle, eventually resulting in this decision to create a space on the web for my work, ideas, and thoughts to live.
This is also a very late thank you post to Ryan - as a hero, you've influenced my life and work massively.
I’ll leave you with a quote by Viktor Frankl, from his amazing book, Man's Search for Meaning:
"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way."