Before COVID I used to travel a lot. Work and the quest for open spaces sent me to different places across the world. It was good, and it was always teaching me something new about the human condition, the similarities and differences we have, and the inability one has to control most things.
As frustrating as that last point is, it forces us to really learn to focus on what we can control, and say fuck it on the rest. Controlling the controllables is not easy, but it is the only thing we can do. If you are like me, you would probably get increasingly more and more frustrated if you don’t let go of the fact that we have very little control over anything.
There is one thing that I noticed that brings some hope to this thing: the more you focus on the controllable things, the more you slowly, but surely, expand the things you can control in your immediate surroundings. I think Mark Twight explained this the best way in Control.
“And that circles back to, “controlling what you can control.” Treat it as a process that eventually produces the capacity to address more of what you can’t control. If all you can control is your body, or your desire, start with that. Slowly you’ll learn how little influence you have over the world around you but that taking the reins of your health and fitness reduces the effect of the currents trying to push and pull you off of your course. It’s a small thing. Enough small things become a big thing. The more you control your own self, the more control you wrest from those who would decide what is best for you. And that’s revolution enough to start.”
But, back to travelling. Controlling the chaos of travelling is hard, so I learned earlier to focus on ways to make travelling better. This culminated in two things: I learned to travel light, with one bag, and I learned to not plan too much ahead of time.
Traveling light allowed me to remain small and out of the way. Controlling what I bring enabled me to remove the uncertainty of checking a bag, for example, and knowing that my bag would arrive with me, because it was with me at all times. Having only one bag allowed me to decide on the spot whether I was going to head right to the hotel when I arrived, or, if I saw something cool along the way, jump off the train or whatever and go explore. I can’t control the craziness during travel, but I can control how much stuff I bring, and therefore I have a bit more control over some parts of that chaos.
Same with planning. I used to plan every second of what I was going to do while traveling. If it was work-related, for example, I was going to take a cab from the airport to the hotel, check in, have lunch, go to the office, go back, take a tram to a restaurant for dinner, then visit a friend, then go back to the hotel, sleep, the next day… Same with fun trips. Every aspect and every moment of the trip was planned ahead. I had lists of things, places, distances, timing, and every day was laid out in a piece of paper. But, with experience came the realization that nature, people, and chaos had the last saying in everything. No plan survives first contact with the enemy, and weather can be tricky in certain places of the world, ruining your perfect plan. People you were counting on driving you, or giving you the permits you needed to visit a specific location, didn’t show up, causing you to have to readjust and stay put with frustration building up. And the ever-present rhythms of places, that become a chaotic force if you don’t understand it quickly.
These two points above alone enabled me to be lighter in how I travel. Lighter in weight, and lighter in my mind. By remaining fluid, both physically and mentally, I was able to enjoy travelling more, and gain some control over a few related things. My controllables became larger in numbers, which is a good outcome, I think.
Similar to travelling, I’m trying to find this lightness across a few other aspects of my life. Simplifying how I use and design software, for example, has given me the opportunity to explore new technologies and methodologies that I didn’t know. This in turn enabled me to gain control of a few more things, like my data, or how I want it to behave. Same with physical activities, where I’m trying now a new approach, focusing only on what works for me, and on making sure my aging body moves, remains capable of working OK, and I don’t hurt it. By focusing on less, I’m gaining more.
Lightness is good. Motion, fluidity, and forward looking is made easier. I think it’s a mental game, and one that I’m just discovering.
I think lightness begins with wishing for less complexity, and focusing on reducing the moving parts. When you try to do something with the least amount of steps or moving parts needed, when you get to the essence of it, then, I think, that something becomes light, easier, able to cut through the chaos.
Complexity can be good, but complexity, if left unchecked, can grow and make something we do have control over, become something out of our control. Being intentional about how things are designed, executed, and looped on over time, can bring this lightness to a lot of things. Lightness begins with trying to go back to the blank page. Think about it, let’s focus on going back to the point where adding to something was making it better, not more complicated.
Traveling, software design, exercise, house interior, food, clothes, and pretty much anything I can think of can become lighter.