You think YOU got problems? (guess what? you're right)


It’s been a couple weeks since the last post. Two weeks ago, I caught a cold and by the end of the week I was in “eat 7 cans of Progresso soup and sleep 15 hours” mode, along with “eat a Zicam tablet every 1.5 hours, take 2000 mg of Vitamin C daily and damn the downstream impact on the plumbing” mode.

Read into that whatever you like.

Then, last week, I… uh… was lazy. But I’m better now. On to more interesting problems.

And so many problems! Some minor, some middling, some overwhelming. 

Sam Harris made a good point about problems on his podcast a couple weeks ago. He said it’s unrealistic to be bothered that you have problems, because problems are literally what life is made of. Big or small, problems are the framework on which we build our lives. Problems and problem-solving are as integral to existence as inhaling and exhaling.

Why do you think they pay you at work? To solve problems. If there were no problems at your company or organization, they would not need you there. Why do you think you have a to-do list at home? Because you bought a house and now the damn thing is crumbling away like a beach shack on a California mud cliff.

To be fair, I liked the problems of youth better than the ones I experience now. Back then I had problems like: Where are we going tonight and how will I get home? Now… more serious.

There is a concept called “entropy” which, in this context, is defined as “the general trend of the universe toward death and disorder.” That is a quote from James R. Newman, a 20th Century mathematician, scientist, intelligence officer, government official and, I’m assuming, life of the party, given his penchant for talking about everything we hold precious spinning inevitably toward oblivion. Imagine his Valentine’s Day love notes.

Another way to put that definition is: shit starts falling apart as soon as it exists. Your knees know this is true.

Even the most joyful moments in life – marriage, having kids – result from trying to solve the evolutionary problem of preventing the extinction of our species. And you thought you were just trying to get some.

So, life is about solving problems. And a good life is partly about solving problems in a positive way.

Think about cooking a meal: literally, it is the process of solving the problem of starvation. But some people choose to stave off famine in a way that brings incremental joy, maybe by creating something beautiful, or sharing the experience with people who are close to them.

Another part of a good life is being aware of and present in the moments in between the problems.

This feels like it gets harder as we get older. Heavy but rare moments of death and separation and consequence take on outsized significance compared to the infinitely more frequent moments of joy or irritation or boredom that separate those existential dilemmas. It’s like inverse word clouds: the more serious a thing is, even if it is rare, the bigger the word it gets in your word cloud, and the more significance it takes on in your life.

We can’t avoid those big problems, and it is asking for frustration to pretend we can. But can we increase the significance of the less “serious” moments simply by being IN them. Notice them. Practice meditating, just a couple minutes a day, to build your ability to catch yourself living in-between those big issues. Journal about those moments at night – you’d be amazed what wonderful little daily vignettes you don’t remember a year later. 

And always start Zicam as soon as you feel a cold coming on. Sure, your stomach will grumble at 80 decibels during business meetings, but if you’re a responsible coworker, you’ll be dialing into those meetings so you don’t get everyone else sick. Come on – you don’t need to be spreading your entropy all over the office.


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