The Top Idea in Your Mind

Paul Graham:

I’ve found there are two types of thoughts especially worth avoiding—thoughts like the Nile Perch in the way they push out more interesting ideas. One I’ve already mentioned: thoughts about money. Getting money is almost by definition an attention sink. The other is disputes. These too are engaging in the wrong way: they have the same velcro-like shape as genuinely interesting ideas, but without the substance. So avoid disputes if you want to get real work done.

. . .

Turning the other cheek turns out to have selfish advantages. Someone who does you an injury hurts you twice: first by the injury itself, and second by taking up your time afterward thinking about it. If you learn to ignore injuries you can at least avoid the second half. I’ve found I can to some extent avoid thinking about nasty things people have done to me by telling myself: this doesn’t deserve space in my head. I’m always delighted to find I’ve forgotten the details of disputes, because that means I hadn’t been thinking about them. My wife thinks I’m more forgiving than she is, but my motives are purely selfish.

This is actually great advice for public defenders. It’s so easy to get sidetracked by little disagreements with prosecutors or judges or to take adverse rulings personally and forget what’s really important — doing your best for your clients. If you allow your personal struggle with “the system” and its components to become the top idea in your mind you’re less likely to do all the best things for your clients because those things easily become obscured by those petty disputes that really just don’t matter.

I wonder if this is actually the difference between those public defenders who love their work and do it well for decades, and those who are always in anguish and burn out after only a few years. Those who let go of the petty, bullshit disputes and focus on what matters are happier, do better work, and retain their sanity. Those who don’t, well they have to find something else to do because the work just eats them up.

(Via Daring Fireball.)