I have a friend. She’s brilliant at arts and crafts. Every time I enter her place, she’s tinkering. Decorating. Customizing a birthday gift. Preparing a surprise package. And it all looks amazing. Bar none.
But when she tells me the story of how her current project came together, I always die a little bit inside.
Last time, she was dressing up a gift box. The insides were lined with holiday napkins, like carpet in a living room. And into this soft bed, she placed little trinkets and treats. Three of them were tiny, slim bottles, two filled with a reddish-transparent, one with a tan-colored liqueur.
As it turned out, those hadn’t been easy to get. She told me that, first, she saw the walnut liqueur at the farmer’s market. She wanted to get two bottles, but they were expensive. I think it was $8 a piece. So she scoured the town.
Eventually, she found the same walnut liqueur in a bookstore. $5 per bottle. Score! But they only had one. Ugh! After deciding to fess up, she went back to the farmer’s market. Except now, their little stash of walnut liqueur was gone.
That’s how she ended up with two red and one tan bottle — and a big dilemma of which friend gets what. After all, there were multiple gift boxes to send.
This is just one of many stories and she is just one of many examples, but it goes to show: People are awesome. Humans have an amazing ability to focus on details, to obsess over the microscopic until a beautiful, big picture comes together. But we’re wasting this ability by applying it to dumb shit.
Like cents instead of dollars. Let’s say the whole “I’ll find it elsewhere cheaper”’ detour took my friend three hours. Ideally, she’d have saved $3 a piece for two bottles — a grand total of $6 — making her time worth $2/hour. In reality, she only saved $3 and missed her goal of getting two bottles, creating extra stress and losing even more time, on top of “being paid” poorly.
I see this all the time. People spend days deliberating a $50 purchase when they make that money in an hour or two. They obsess about coupons instead of asking for $1/hour more. And they’re afraid to drop $20 on the wrong book but spend the same money on two more drinks when they’re already buzzed.
I wish I could grab all these people — including my friend — by the shoulders, shake them, and yell: “Stop optimizing dumb shit!”
Stop flicking through 250 TV shows only to realize it’s now too late to watch even a single episode.
Stop tapping “next” in your playlist to find the perfect workout track if it ruins your cadence of sets.
Stop looking for that Instagram post “you know you saw just yesterday” and tell your friend the story instead.
Stop saving ten cents on chocolate and start cutting your cable.
Stop running for the bus and start making enough to skip entire workdays.
Stop squeezing every sorta-ok yobbo into your calendar and start enjoying longer-than-planned breaks with true friends.
Stop haggling over 5% more pay for your first job offer and start applying to every company you’d actually want to work for.
Stop worrying about the cost of every broken door handle and start looking for a place that’s not owned by a scrooge and run by a lazy super.
Stop exerting yourself with niceties people won’t appreciate or have learned to take for granted and start finding folks who value your time.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to this:
If your life feels like a blurry, run-down, second-hand version of what it should be, it’s ‘cause you’re optimizing dumb shit.
You're wasting your potential obsessing over the wrong parts. Like my friend’s gift box and the story I told about it, your life is littered with decorations. It might look gorgeous from the outside, but on the inside, it doesn’t function.
We pour our hearts and souls into details that, ultimately, don’t matter, yet we degrade our most important choices — where we live, who we date, what we work on — to go-with-the-flow gut decisions. We settle for what’s there.
What good is having all your ducks in a row? What purpose does that really serve? Forget presenting a consistent picture to society. Make sure you’re painting. Doing what matters to you. Spending time on the important things.
But what I find most fascinating about all this is this: The line between dumb shit and true productivity is often incredibly small. I keep telling my friend to document her decor extravaganzas. To post her creations on Instagram. She could have thousands of followers by now. Make the money to buy $8 liqueur without blinking. But that she is afraid of. Too personal, she says. Is it, really?
Nowadays, a lot of our dumb shit wouldn’t be so dumb if we shared it. Because others obsess about the same things. Finally! Someone who loves Magic cards as much as me. Who wastes as much time playing Fortnite. Someone, who stepped up and told me my dumb shit is worth it.
One minute, one picture, one tweet can turn dumb shit into the bedrock of your future career. The foundation of something wonderful. Even if it becomes just a small part of your life, it’ll now be a part that contributes. That doesn’t just take. That won’t drag you down.
But if you don’t show up, we’ll never know. You’ll rob us of your gifts and yourself of your happiness. You’ll let your fear of looking stupid conquer your fear of living with regret. You’ll still be great at a great deal of things, but they’ll matter a lot less. To a lot fewer people. Because that part is up to you.
So please, share your contributions. Not all of them, but all those you care about. Those you’d gladly dedicate a whole afternoon to. Where wasting time won’t turn into memories of time wasted, but memories of time enjoyed.
Stop optimizing dumb shit. And start caring about what matters.