I think of the many articles I half-remember after half-reading once many years ago, there is one that stands out in my mind right now.
It was in an Atlantic article about the lure of the Sahara. Europeans loved the Sahara back then. They likely still do. There was some charm it held over them. The writer combined stories of the desert’s enchantment of Europeans with his own travelogue of sorts.
It included a horrible story about a freewheeling French couple and their baby. They left Algiers to drive across the desert in a BMW, aiming to deliver it to a customer at some destination in central Africa. That was their family business. Well, they got lost somewhere in the trackless wasteland (which was not uncommon), the car broke down (because BMW’s don’t like sand dunes, I have gathered) and they left a stunningly verbose and well-written journal as hunger and thirst then madness gradually overtook them and died one-by-one.
But that’s not why I’m writing this. Everything is fine. Fine!
Anyway. . .
Actually there was another part of that article in the Atlantic that has been lodged in my mind for 25 years or so. Even the native truck drivers who weren’t feckless and freewheeling Frenchmen in sport sedans sometimes lost their way back then in the days before consumer-grade GPS and smartphones. When the driver of the truck (sometimes loaded with dozens of passengers–for these trucks frequently were “buses” of a sort) lost his way in the dunes, the accepted procedure was to just stop.
The driver would wait, sometimes for a day or two. I imagined he’d have needed to calm the paying customers and assure them that everything was going to be ok as their stores of food and water gradually depleted. Then, at some point the driver would suddenly realize the correct direction. He’d start the truck and away they’d go.
No statistics were cited, but I gathered that the native drivers who used this method (rather than the typical oh my God we’re lost try over there oh no go back my God my God we’re all going try that way over there oh shit aaahhhhhh just do something!!!! “method”) rarely lost their lives or their cargo.
The drivers needed to stop and listen. They needed to hear what the world was telling them to do. They needed to wait for the sign. Then they made their move.
So what brought this to mind this morning was this link on how to take action in life:
The advice it gives is solid as far as it goes. Your plan without a deadline is just a dream. You can’t take dreams to the bank.
You generally can’t take plans to the bank, either. But hang with me for a second.
You need to move into action eventually. It should be no later than necessary. . . but no sooner than you realize what action you really need to take.
I can remember many times when I rushed things. Not good.
I think living by the “just start” method has brought me a lot of things I didn’t want, which I now need to philosophize around. I think there have been times when the proper thing to do was nothing. I have — at times — acted anyway, sometimes on impulse, other times with what I thought was a clear plan in mind.
The problem was that the plan didn’t have anything to do with what I really wanted out of life. It was just one possibility among an infinite variety. Now, what’s done is done. And what was done taught me that sometimes it’s best to just quietly listen for next steps.
So anyway: Action is important. But just as discretion is the better part of valor, perhaps silence is the better part of speech. And perhaps inaction — long, wretched periods of inaction — is sometimes the best sort of action to take.
In other words: “Don’t just sit there! Do nothing!”