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What You Drift Away From

My spouse recently deprioritized potato chips and Diet Coke from her life. For me, I could pass the rest of my days without ever consuming either of them, but for her these were a big part of her eating ritual. You make a sandwich for lunch, you need something crunchy and salty with it. And of course something to wash it down with. Dropping each was hard for her but she’s finding her stride.

I’ve got my own demons. A love of great cheese, pasta, rice and beer — wonderful foods that I’ve largely eradicated from my life in 2022. In previous years I used to have cheat days where I’d eat all of this stuff in a binge of epic proportions. Now I let things drift away. I’ll have an occasional beer with friends, and I’ll sprinkle a bit of grated cheese on a meal now and then, but surprisingly I don’t miss it much.

Food in this way is like old friends you don’t see anymore, you just fill the void with other things that bring you delight. Jennifer Senior wrote an article called It’s your Friends Who Break Your Heart in the latest edition of The Atlantic that speaks to the drifting away of friends in your life. We’ve all experienced it: In school or in your career you collect friendships. When you’re a parent of active children you tend to collect fellow collaborators who become friends. It’s only when the nest empties and a pandemic grabs a couple of years of your life that you look around and find that only a small core group remains. The great reckoning of what’s really important in your life is a harsh judge.

I have long work relationships that fell away like a bag of chips with lunch. I have some people in my life that I haven’t talked to since it became clear how different our worldviews were on science and politics. Friendships of convenience always drift away with physical or emotional distance. The ones that stand the test of time are honed on common interests, deep roots and a shared commitment to keeping it going.

Lately I’ve been struggling with my daily rituals. The morning has always been about writing, but work increasingly pulls at me, prompting me to cut short my writing and jump into the fray. The workouts and long walks became a casualty too frequently. This won’t do. We become what we prioritize, and you must fold positive habits into your daily life or you’ll eventually find yourself overweight, unproductive, uneducated and void of meaningful relationships.

We are what we repeatedly do.

You are what you eat.

We are the sum of the five people we hang around with the most.

There’s truth in these statements, which is why we all know them by heart. So why don’t we do more to prioritize the positive actions, food and people in our daily lives? I believe it’s because we all live in a whirlwind, and sometimes it just feels easier to turn on the television and distract yourself with other people’s problems than to deal with your own. Grab a bag of chips and beer while you’re at it. Habits and rituals work both ways. We’re either improving our lot or slipping sideways down the cliff. You just don’t notice it right away until there’s some tangible negative momentum in your slide.

Maybe the answer really is all things in moderation. But you know even saying that that it isn’t really true. The real truth is some things in moderation, some things not at all. Some things in abundance, and nothing in excess. We ought to stop drifting through the whirlwind of life and decide what brings you closer to who you want to become. In doing so, we must allow some things to drift silently away from us. And hold on to other things for dear life.

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