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The Light at the End of the Tunnel is the Headlight of an Oncoming Train

A joke with a deeper, more positive meaning

Click here to read this story on Medium.com
A dark train tunnel with a bright light in the distance

Ooh! A bright light at the end of the tunnel, I’m saved! — created in Midjourney

A couple of years ago I found myself having dropped off my son at a hockey practice, rushing to visit my Dad and figure out what was wrong with his printer, while thinking about not having had a date night in a while, and it struck me.

My life sucks.

Everybody needs me. I’m being compressed from all sides. It’s not fair. Kids, parents, employees… I’m responsible for helping all these people and there isn’t anybody to help me.

This is what’s known as a ‘framing problem’. As in, the problem isn’t the problem, it’s how I’m thinking about the problem. In this case, it was a very simple fix — every time I thought I had to do something, reframe it as I get to do something.

I don’t have to drop my son off at his practice, I get to drop him off.

I don’t have to visit my parents, I get to visit my parents.

So as it happens, my life didn’t suck at all. My framing sucked, and it was easy to fix.

Then today I was listening to Mark Manson (the F*ck guy) interview Oliver Burkeman, author of Four Thousand Weeks, a book about time management. And Oliver suggested the most astonishing idea.

He said that sometimes the solution to a difficult situation is admitting that the problem is much worse than you realize.

the solution to a difficult situation is admitting that the problem is much worse than you realize

Oliver Burkeman

The idea is that we often struggle with a difficult situation because we think it can be fixed, and we suffer through attempt after attempt to fix it when it’s impossible from the start.

Maybe you married the wrong person. Maybe you took the wrong job.

Maybe you should get out of the tunnel.

This happens in a much more insidious way with our daily to-do lists. Nobody I know puts just the things they’re going to get done today on their list for today. My own has 19 items overdue from yesterday and 9 more for today. I’ll probably get done 6 of the 28 and snooze many of the rest after glaring at them before going to bed.

Why do we beat ourselves up by taking on so much every day, knowing full well it won’t all get done? We’re pretending that by better planning, by more motivation, by working smarter, that somehow today is going to be the day we get all this shit done.

Stop. Just stop. The situation is much worse than you realize. It’s not difficult. It’s impossible.

Do you think getting that promotion is going to solve your problems? Listen to me. You’re going to die. The sun is going to explode. Nothing you do matters.

You feel better now, right?

Ok, maybe that’s zooming out a little too far. Let’s go with the idea that what we do matters, at least to us and the people around us. If you’re struggling with a problem that doesn’t seem to go away no matter how hard you try, step back for a second. Is the situation perhaps much worse than you realize? Maybe it’s impossible to fix. Maybe… you should stop trying to fix it.

Go work on relationships that you can do something about. Go solve little problems that annoy you every day, the door that squeaks, the messy desk, the picture you’ve been meaning to frame.

Stop worrying about the big existential problems. They cause anxiety and you can’t do anything about them. Conflict in the Middle East. Climate change. Social media’s effects on teens. These aren’t problems you’re going to solve by thinking about them. Just stop. The situation is much worse than you realize. The sun is going to blow up. BLOW UP.

Now, think about your to-do list. You don’t have time to do all this shit, why do you pretend you do? How many times do I have to snooze ‘Read Tuesdays with Morrie’ before I realize that I’m never going to read that fucking book no matter how many people tell me I should?

You might not be able to get that task done. You might not be able to save that relationship. You might not be able to be happy in this job, with this boss. The situation might be much worse than you realize. Stop beating yourself up over it. Stop suffering.

You’re alive, you’re breathing, you have friends and loved ones, you’re not homeless. You’re pretty damned great.

Maybe the situation is much better than you realize.

Make sure you’re in the right tunnel. This one is pretty awesome. — created in Midjourney

  1. My TikTok video on saying ‘get to’ instead of ‘have to’.

  2. Mark Manson podcast on time management.

Thanks for reading!

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