How’s gravity working for you? Yes, gravity—that force that keeps us on the surface of the earth. Do you like it?
Maybe life would be better if there was less gravity so we could gently float around. Or maybe gravity shouldn’t exist at all. It’s not right that we can’t jump as high as we want, or that it hurts if we take a tumble off the roof. Plus there’s that weight business; that’s pretty unfair.
We could find all kinds of reasons to be unhappy about gravity.
But it doesn’t matter, does it? On the face of this earth, there is gravity. Like it or lump it.
In their book, “Designing Your Life,” authors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans talk about “gravity problems.” Gravity problems are real problems; the problems that we can’t do anything about.
As the authors say, “People fight reality…And anytime you are arguing or fighting with reality, reality will win.”
We can choose to fight reality and we can spend a lot of time, energy, and money in that fight. But if it’s a gravity problem, nothing changes.
Why would we waste effort on a gravity problem? Well, it can be hard to tell the difference between a true gravity problem and a difficult but “actionable” problem.
Some examples of gravity problems are your past, your height, or your upbringing. You can’t change those realities. You might be able to change your perception of them to make your life more satisfying for you, but you can’t change their reality.
Take a reality such as age. Some people perceive age as a problem, and it’s a gravity problem because you can’t change it.
But the problems we sometimes associate with age are not necessarily gravity problems. Health, energy, employability, skills, even isolation; those may not be gravity problems. At least to some degree, they are actionable.
While an actionable problem may be extremely challenging, unlike a gravity problem, it’s a problem that you can do something about.
Some motivational mantras promote the idea, “You can do anything if you believe in yourself.” The implication is that if your passion is strong enough, if your dream is reflective of your essence, then you are destined to succeed.
It’s true that with good information, discipline, and focus, we can often achieve more than we would have believed. Exhortations such as, “Live your dreams!” “Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do!” can have some motivational value.
But just because you believe that you are destined to succeed at your passion doesn’t mean it will necessarily become reality.
For example, I could have a passion to become a wealthy writer of hilarious bad poetry. But I’m not going to make much money in the bad poetry business, no matter how much work and passion I put into it. Bad poets don’t become wealthy. It’s a gravity problem.
So, I could choose to write bad poetry. Or I could choose other activities that would be more likely to bring wealth. That’s the choice to be made.
Even if you don’t see penniless-bad-poets as a gravity problem, you know that we don’t have unlimited time on this earth. Our lives are largely shaped by our choices. What activities do we want to spend our precious life energy on?
Could I move a mountain with a teaspoon? Perhaps so. Do I also want the corresponding years of back-breaking labour? Probably not.
Perhaps the helpful question isn’t, “Can this be done?” but, “Is this activity an effective use of my time?”
We can’t solve true gravity problems but we can consciously choose where to direct our efforts.
Have you ever gotten stuck trying to solve a gravity problem? What was it?