Neil Tambe

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Giving Up Childish Things

For so long, I've had so many vain, selfish, and addictive desires. I suppose I'm writing this post to try to let them go.

I've cared so much about "career", thinking that I must be a failure if I'm not a company CEO, Senator, VC-backed entrepreneur someday. I've had so much angst about being rejected from Ivy League schools, not once, but twice. I've spent so much time worrying about a legacy (yes, it was something even my 10th grade self cared about) and measured my life on whether I would be mentioned in a history book somewhere.

I've spent more mental energy than I like to admit caring about whether I was making it onto a 20 in their 20's or 30 in their 30's list. I've greyed too many hairs comparing myself to my peers or to the famous men and women of history, because "where were they at when they were my age?" Too many times I've fooled myself into thinking I was doing a good deed because it was the right thing to do, when it probably was just a resume builder. I've carried so much fear over failure, competition, and results at work.

I don't want to want these things anymore, or I at least want to want them less. I don't want my son to inherit the curse of these desires from me, either.

I've thought lately - isn't a less powerful life, not only good enough but wonderful? Isn't being a loving husband and father enough? Why don't I start with being a good neighbor before trying to influence larger geographies and policies? Surely, I can work extremely hard at a job and care about the impact it makes in others' lives without obsessing over advancement.

Aren't life's simplest indulgences - being outside, art so beautiful it makes you weep, quality time with friends and family, meditation and prayer, or even books available at a library - richer and more satisfying than indulgences of power, wealth, and popularity?

What I've been reflecting on this week is how I've come to this point. I don't think we are born with selfish, vain, and addictive desires - so how did I get them? For so long I've blamed others - the media, western culture, wealthy and famous people, my upbringing - everyone but me, really.

But who spends more time with me, than me? If I blame others for having these desires, I must also admit that I've given up control of my own life and my own thoughts. I must admit that I've allowed others to make my decisions for me.

Jeff asked me a very interesting question a few weeks ago - how my organization makes decisions. Do we have any intentional processes or rituals around them? In retrospect, no organization I've ever been a part of makes decisions intentionally (except maybe my marriage).

But that wasn't even the most jarring reflection - I realized that I don't really have any intentional processes or rituals when I make decisions myself. I make so many decisions on autopilot that actually matter a lot, especially over time. When I actually thought about it, most of the decisions I make in a day are on autopilot.

Talking heads in the world of business and management spend a lot of time journalizing about making better decisions. I realized that before I can do that, I have to actually make decisions intentionally, instead of just having them be made on autopilot.

The danger of autopilot is that we rarely program our own autopilots, so to speak. Most of the time, our individual autopilot is a product of the culture we live in, which means it'll be programmed to maximize money, power, popularity, etc.

I desperately want to reprogram my autopilot. I figure being intentional about decisions and starting a decision journal is a good way to start. I actually started the decision journal a few weeks ago and it's been transformative - the link above has a template. I also made my own template and I'm happy to share.

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Note - Writing this post has felt like an attempt to give up childish things. That idea comes from a biblical passage that I first heard in my college fraternity, of all places. It's an idea that's stuck with me.