On Losing My Edge | #232
July 23rd, 2023: This past week we put our stuff in storage in Austin and headed to the east coast for a couple of weeks before spending a few months in Taiwan. Although we intend to return to Austin by the end of the year, this feels like the end of a chapter for us. We found good friends and a community in Austin and also had our daughter. Everything seemed so uncertain when we moved back to the US in October 2021 but almost two years later, I am feeling a lot more confident. It seems this writing thing I’m doing has some potential and I have some confidence that I can keep doing the work I love while putting family and living above work. Despite this confidence, heading back to Taiwan feels like I am stepping back into a liminal space. We get lost to get found and every time I head back to Taiwan it feels like I am about to discover something. What will it be? Stay tuned…
🗽 I’m in NYC for the next few days and hosting a meetup with Khe He and Jenny Blake on Tuesday. Join us here.
🚶♂️just released a free Sabbatical mini-course, which you can check out here. It’s really good - she’d probably done more thinking about this topic than anyone I know!
#1 On Losing My Edge
It might have been in 2018 or 2019 when I realized I had lost my edge. Goals didn’t interest me as much, proving people wrong has lost its allure, the pull to accomplish things was there but too weak to pay attention to, and making money had turned from an exciting goal to one that was purely pragmatic.
I was okay with all of this. I was becoming a lot happier and didn’t want to lose that feeling. I resigned myself to a humble artist’s life. I would live simply and optimize around freedom.
When I talk to people about potentially quitting their jobs or taking a break this is something they fear. “What if I lose my edge?”
But you might also discover that you prefer it.
What I discovered on the other side of losing my edge was a psychological richness. At first, it was a subtle feeling. When I biked and walked around Boston in that first year after quitting my job, it would show itself out in the form of a giddy laugh.
Oh wow, this is interesting and nice. I haven’t felt like this for a while.
The feeling of losing my edge was a slow process. For me, it started off when I was out of work for several months, recovering from some health challenges at the age of 27. When I returned to work, I didn’t care about the same things as everyone else. I could still get the work done but it took more activation energy.
I think this is what people are talking about when they talk about their “edge.” It’s the ability to whip up enough activation energy to get going on something you aren’t totally interested in doing and then even more energy to see the work to completion. This is easy when you are young and hungry. It’s also easier when you have a boss or colleagues who you don’t want to disappoint. It’s why so many people find working on their own annoying. When you don’t have a boss you either need to imagine a manager in your head or raise the bar for what you work on.
The hard thing about leaving the container of a job is that you aren’t just swapping titles. You are embracing a completely different stance toward getting stuff done. You can grind and power through things you think you should be working on but without a manager to hold you accountable or the inertia of day-to-day job-ness, you will eventually burn out if you don’t like what you do.
The reason people fear losing their edge is usually because they sense they already have started to lose it. In a sense, quitting your job or taking a break is really about admitting that to yourself. This is why I wish I had left my path a lot earlier even though I would have had a smaller financial safety net. I waited too long and had depleted my edge so thoroughly that I needed to spend substantial time not only recovering from such depletion but also discovering a new form of motivation. As I reflected in my book:
the longer you spend on a path that isn’t yours, the longer it takes to find a path that is.
I’m always impressed by younger people who have left the default path much earlier with less experience than me. These people almost always seem to find their way much quicker than I was able to. I sense these people rarely ever think in terms of what they might lose and this is one of the best cases for betting on yourself much earlier. More simply, if you have a deep fear of losing your edge, you are probably right.
When I left my job at the age of 32, I went from trying to make it as a freelance consultant to someone without any sort of goals or aims. This was because it was not my deep genuine goal to become a freelance consultant. It was just what I thought I should want. The truth, which I was scared to tell anyone, was that I wanted something much more out of life and in order to find it I needed to release my grip on the world. As soon as I started to soften my attachment to any sort of outcomes for my life, small bits of joy started emerging in the small empty space of my day-to-day life. Eventually, I did find a new kind of “edge,” but it wasn’t really something I found. Instead, I think it was letting go of the idea that I needed to coerce myself into action to earn my keep in the world. People love the phrase “chips on shoulders put chips in pockets” but I suspect most people who repeat this are either too young to have run out of their edge or are already on a path that doesn’t require having an edge.
The world tries to convince us from an early age that life is hard. Not hard in the sense thatbeautifully wrote about this past week, pushing yourself to do things beyond your current level of competence, but hard in the sense that will have to spend most of your time doing things you really would rather not do.
One interesting thing I’ve found the longer I’ve been on my path is that it is far easier for me to get excited about other people’s successes. I think it’s because I am no longer directing the same kind of energy at the same kind of goals as everyone else. I have found work that energizes me and that I can keep doing in my own weird way and so when I see others succeeding in their own weird way too it’s easy to root for them.
The upside of losing your edge is realizing that life does not have to be a grind or a competition. On my current path, my only real goal is to keep going. This is easy for me to commit to because I’ve experienced a radical shift in my day-to-day reality. The psychological richness that comes from being in the flow of your own nature is profound. But it can’t be seen or believed until you’ve experienced it yourself.
So yeah, you might lose your edge but it might be worth it.
Thanks For Reading!
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