The Pursuit of Nothingness
At the start of 2020, I wanted to really do something.
We were in the height of the global pandemic, and I was bored. One night, instead of binging Netflix or fruitlessly playing another video game, I decided that I was going to do something. I stayed up till 2AM and wrote down and analyzed what I liked to do and what I thought I was any good at. I left with copious notes on the intricacies of my interests and curiosities. I’m looking at them as I write this — 5 pages of ideas and interests that I had some desire to pursue.
Fast forward to the middle of 2021, and not a single one of those ideas or notes has gone anywhere. Allow me to describe a subset of my failed ventures:
- I started writing content on Twitter and attempting to build an audience. This only lasted a few months. I never quite found what I actually wanted to create content about. My interests and thoughts are too wide ranging to develop any kind of dependency on the content I put out. But most of all, I just got sick of it (I swear if I see the THREAD emoji one more time in my feed I’m going to jump off a cliff). I felt gross about it. Not because I didn’t have actual value to give, but just that there are SO many people who are self proclaimed auteurs and masters of a grand variety of subjects constantly peppering Twitter with endless threads, links, and inspirational quotes that I very quickly became exhausted. I got so tired of it that I actively block people that post Twitter threads. I’m sure they’re nice people with good things to share, I just can’t handle it anymore. When EVERYONE proclaims themself an expert, or that they have a secret, or a framework, or an idea that can have a dramatic effect on your life, your finances, your job, and every other angle of your existence it all quickly becomes meaningless. I burned out within 90 days and I was only posting content 1–2 times a week… in the world of content that’s a surefire way to accomplish nothing, which in the end was exactly what I wanted.
- I started a data consulting business with my brother and a friend. We made strong headway on this, and at one point had a deal lined up that would have netted me personally 25k in consulting fees. We met with an influential business executive who gave us leads, we became a partner for the software we built our services around. But in 60 days, the whole thing was flat on the floor and none of us have any desire to pick it up. The idea was good. The connections were all there. It just died and we didn’t care to even send a single email to revive it.
- I made goal to squat 1.5x my body weight. I’ve been lifting consistently for several years and thought that there’s no way I shouldn’t be able to achieve this. I focused and lifted heavy 4 days a week, with cardio and mobility work 2 days a week. I made consistent progress for several months — achieving around 10% above my body weight. But then summer came around, and I wanted to get lean. So I cut my calories back and added more cardio and less rest. I shifted my program to focus more on bodybuilding and fat loss. I worked hard for about 8 months with a pure focus on building strength, but within spitting distance of my goal, I just lost interest.
Through all these aspirations and actions, and then subsequent failures, there is one critical lesson that I learned about myself: Consistency trumps novelty, but I hate consistency. Had I just stuck with even one of those things, I would likely be writing a different essay. One about how I followed x steps to accomplish my goals. But alas, I learned something else. Something I’ve always known inside but was confirmed when I tried to accomplish so many different things; I’m motivated by nothingness.
The book, Dark Horse, by Todd Rose and Oggie Oggas, explains a methodology for discovering one’s unique set of micro-motives, thus allowing anyone to figure out what they should do with their lives and how they’ll find their individual form of fulfillment and success. For years I’ve been obsessed with figuring out my true “calling” and passion — so this book immediately captivated me. I’ve studied Dr. Rose’s methodology and re-read the book multiple times. It’s what i used to break down my interests and desires that I mentioned in the first paragraph of this essay. Unfortunately, after around 2.5 years of analyzing and breaking myself down, actually making a concerted effort to pursue my interests and a meaningful way has led me in a full circle back to zero. I can legitimately say, that I don’t have any real interests. It should go without saying, that this does not include my wife and children, whom I adore. But in terms of personal, tactile pursuits — I don’t have any. At the end of the day, the feeling that kept me going through all my failed pursuits was the pursuit of having nothing to do.
I started writing content on Twitter because I felt like I was a decent writer and should capitalize on that skill. As I described before, however, I quickly learned that I just didn’t always have something to say — and I genuinely felt that, sometimes, saying nothing was better than saying something (an idea so contrary to the modern internet as to be nigh insane).
I started a consulting business with the precise goal of building a business that would create the most amount of money for the least amount of work. From the beginning, I wanted a model that would require the least amount of my time possible to win. Possibly a smart business strategy — But as anyone know’s who’s created a successful business, not the mentality that you need to be successful.
I made the goal of squatting 1.5x my bodyweight so that I could hit that goal and then stop working on strength. My thinking was “1.5x is great — it’s good enough.” Once I achieve 1.5x bodyweight then I can stop and do other things.
Unloading stuff from my plate is the byline of my life.
In many instances, that mentality has made me wildly productive — driven to mad hours of the night to finish projects based purely on the desire to have it done. One of my only true sources of pure anticipation and joy is going to bed knowing that I have absolutely nothing to do the next day.
And yet, the grand irony in the pursuit of nothingness, is that once you achieve it, you feel unfulfilled. In fact, I get more fulfillment from the anticipation of having nothing to do, than actually being in the time where I literally have nothing to do. This is probably why I enjoy video games. They are the ultimate filler of time — an endless variety of worlds and adventures to experience that I can constantly swap in and out without hesitation. But even with games, as soon as I find one that I enjoy, I’m trying to finish it so that I can have it done.
I wouldn’t call the pursuit of nothingness a worthy pursuit. I’m not sure what I’d call it — but it is very real, and very impactful on my life. I have achieved and had success despite it, and in some cases, because of it. But all in all, it leaves more negatives than positives.
And with that, I’ll start closing out this piece of writing. I’m feeling the joy of knowing that it’s almost done and that I won’t have to write it anymore. Of course, as soon as I hit publish, I’ll wish I could be doing something on the way to having nothing to do.