I have a whiteboard in my room.
It’s really important that I keep my whiteboard fresh, blank — because that’s where I do some of my best thinking.
The problem is that once I’ve filled it with awesome notes and sketches, I fall in love with them, and I want to keep them sitting up there — maybe as inspiration, maybe as a reminder, maybe as proof that I’m doing things in life — but then once they’ve been sitting there, past their unspoken expiration date, they become stagnant, stale.
They’re no longer alive, as they were at the time when I wrote them down.
And my generation of new, fresh work slows down, because I don’t have any blank space on which to progress. That space is still loaded with the fruit of yesterday’s work.
My only way to move forward is to erase yesterday and to start today with a blank whiteboard.
Don't Go Stale.
The whiteboard example is a simple one, but it’s something that shows up in every aspect of existence.
We have to destroy yesterday in order to make room for today.
Yesterday, we learned something. As we interacted with the world, we produced something new and valuable.
But today, if we sit on what we learned yesterday, then our life goes stale.
Yesterday can (and should) inform today, but it can’t carry us through today. It has to remain alive.
And the only way that yesterday remains alive is when it evolves into something new and then something new and then something new.
If yesterday doesn’t evolve — if it remains as it was — then it loses its life and becomes stale.
We have two options for remaining alive and engaging with today in a fresh way --- and both of them require destruction.
Option 1 is to take yesterday and to manifest it in a new way. To rebirth it, like a phoenix. To help it become something new — something more mature.
Option 2 is to kill it and move onto something different entirely.
Let’s look at Option 1 more closely…
To take an idea to a new level, the idea as it currently is needs to die. Like a phoenix, it needs to first be destroyed before it can rise again — fresher, clearer, stronger, more useful than before.
The trouble is that it’s hard to kill your baby. Especially when you don’t know what’s coming next. When you don’t know whether the new thing will truly be better than the current thing.
Especially when you really like what the current thing is.
This happens literally with parents who don’t let their children grow up. They love their baby so much, that they never push the child to become someone new — to become an adult. And then instead of producing an incredible adult, they end up with a stagnant, old child.
It happens with relationships when either of the individuals tries to keep things “just like this,” hoping things will never change — because they’re so in love with things as they are that they never engage with the act of maturing the relationship and evolving it daily.
It happens when writers won’t destroy their work to revise and improve it, or when entrepreneurs won’t vet or challenge their idea before bringing it to market.
For me, this happens on my whiteboard when I won’t erase my goddamn beautiful notes to create a fresh slate so that I can then ripen an old idea or generate a new concept.
I’m not arguing the case for commitment-hopping or irresponsibility — far from it.
Some things matter so much that we must keep them alive day after day — it’s the reason why we committed in the first place.
But both extremes are a problem — both stale commitment and aimless wandering will lead you somewhere you look back on and wonder how you got there. We need to keep life alive. We need to keep our direction alive. We need to keep the Present alive.
And we do it by killing yesterday’s Present.
We engage with the present moment when we step into new territory, a new blank slate — even if today looks, on the surface, an awful lot like yesterday.
We generate our best today when we let go of whatever yesterday contained, whatever yesterday produced, and start fresh. We keep today alive when we recognize this moment as the unmarked territory that it is — which we can only do when we forget yesterday’s limits and start with a fresh slate today.
The challenge is that this is true for both the difficulties of yesterday and the victories of yesterday. All of it must die in order for today to be born.
- What do I need to do to resolve yesterday so that I can step into today?
- What do I need to throw away from yesterday in order for today to be fresh?
- What frustrations or challenges do I need to let go of?
- And most importantly: what good things or joys of yesterday do I need to let fo of, in order to make room for today?
Learn from yesterday — but don't live on it.
Each week, I do a deep-dive into the question of living meaningfully.
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