I went to a restaurant this week and hanging on the wall next to the bathroom sink was a sign that read “she believed she could, so she did.” When I got back to the table I noticed the same saying on the coffee mugs as well. On its face, it seems like a pleasant and uplifting sentiment. Empowering even. You go girlboss. Believe in yourself and you can do anything. But there was also something about it that needled at me in the background.
It wasn’t until I got home that I realized what was gently tugging at my subconscious: Phase 2 was missing. That inspirational phrase tells an incomplete story. A fuller account would be something like "she believed she could, so she put in the work, and then accomplished the thing." Belief alone does not make things happen. Belief is what convinces you it's possible and worth trying, but the taking action part is what actually makes things happen.
That abridged inspiration reminded me of the underpants gnomes from the "South Park" TV show. In one episode, the kids discover gnomes stealing one kid's underpants. They follow the tiny thieves back to their gnome cave where they have amassed an enormous horde of underpants. The gnomes explain underpants are big business and share their strategic plan:
None of the gnomes can recall Phase 2, so they continue diligently executing Phase 1 waiting for Phase 2 to make itself happen. Clearly not a sound business strategy. Also not a sound life strategy. Although there are plenty of us chugging along doing the same ole, same ole waiting for something different to pop into our lives. And it's not really surprising, given all the messaging we're constantly bombarded by about how we just need to buy the right thing or look the right way or be the right person and all our troubles will be over.
I think we can take an alternate lesson from this situation. If you have an end-goal in mind, it is extremely helpful to have a plan for how you will accomplish that goal. Sometimes it's critical, even. Without a plan you may never realize your goal, or you may spend a lot more time or use a lot more resources getting there. But efficiency is not the only measure of worth, value, or success. Sometimes it's fine to jump right in to Phase 1 before you know what Phase 2 will be. There's value in figuring things out as you go.
It’s also okay to zero-in on one ingredient that really helps make something happen, like belief in yourself. Maybe you've spent a lot of time practicing all the other parts of what it takes to accomplish this kind of goal and the only reason you haven't yet succeeded is because you haven't previously included that one final critical component. The key to enjoying the process, whatever its shape or structure, is being clear about what kind of experience you are signing up for.
If you want a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience, have at it. I cannot function that way all the time because I like to plan and I value order and structure in my life and my pursuits. I enjoy the experience of goal-setting, strategy planning, evaluating progress, and seeing the aggregate of all my actions coalesce into an accomplishment. That doesn't mean it's the best way to get things done, it's just the way I enjoy the most. Know thyself.
There are also plenty of aspects of life we don’t need (or want) any kind of plan or end-goal in order to participate in or enjoy. Friendships are a terrific example of something that begins indeterminant and develops without clear initial direction. We don't know when we first encounter another human how our connection will grow or fizzle over time and amidst ever-changing life circumstances. That's part of the fun of human connections: they start with an idea and then you get to see where it goes organically.
Like friendships and relationships, it’s good to do some things just to do them, or for the experience of having done them. Like play, for instance. Humans get a lot out of play no matter who they are or what life circumstances they exist in. With play, there doesn’t have to be a grander purpose. There definitely can be, like playing a sport to accomplish a title. Or playing a game to develop a specific skill or learn more about yourself. But we don't need a reason; we can just play for the sake of play.
I think a lot of people (especially adults) forget that. I heard an interview this week with a scientist discussing his research into why humans play. He had a lot of theories about what evolutionary advantage play provided to humans at various historical points in our becoming the beings we are today. It was interesting, but it all seemed too focused on “getting to the bottom” of a mystery that's only mysterious if you assume humans wouldn't have continued to play unless it provided some quantifiable valuable to humanity. What if it wasn’t about utility or advantage? What if it was just... enjoyable? That’s valuable in its own right.
We modern humans living in societies shaped by colonialism have inherited a particular system for measuring the value of our pursuits and our selves that doesn't serve most of us terribly well. We measure many things in terms of productivity. There is much less, if any, emphasis on how much pleasure or satisfaction we derive from something, excepting whatever displays of pleasure or enjoyment we can also profit from. Which is why social media influencers exist as a phenomenon.
Capitalism makes it necessary to value some of what we do in terms of productivity at least some of the time. Which is why I have tried over the years to make money from things I enjoy. Sometimes that has worked out well and other times it just sucked the fun out of an otherwise delightful pastime. Like the time I started an alterations business and it turned sewing into drudgery instead of a fulfilling and enjoyable way to participate in capitalism. I'm grateful to have settled into a reasonable truce with my current business: using a mix of skills I enjoy and skills I perform well to accomplish mostly meaningful work.
I would love to spend more of my time doing things that bring me joy without having to also consider whether all the bills will get paid. I think we all would. And what amazes me is that we absolutely could. There are plenty of resources in the world and the math checks-out. We could all have healthcare and education and housing and food. We just need to rearrange what we value, how we value those things, and assert the will to make it so. That's humanity's missing Phase 2: tax the ultra-mega-wealth-hoarders and Phase 3 can be taking care of everybody else.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.