Updated: Jul 18, 2019
A while ago I asked my grandpa, “If you had one piece of advice you’d give me, what would it be?”
He paused, looked off to somewhere far away, and smiled softly. His pause wasn’t because he didn’t know what to say. It was because he did, and he knew the weight of what he was about to give me. He says quietly, “Figure out how much is cake and how much is icing.”
I smile, too. Leave it to the ex-journalist to drop such a wonderful little phrase filled with meaning right into my lap to such a spur-of-the-moment question.
I smile not just for the modest eloquence of these words, but also for all the different directions I could go with the possible interpretations. I’m sure he has his own explanation for this advice—his own specific circumstances that once gave him this epiphany.
But, because of how loaded this small sentence is, I sit on it. I don’t quite know what his personal reasoning is behind this piece of advice—if he had a desired meaning to be taken from it. But I came to my own conclusion for what I think that is.
Our world is filled with so many things. When you stop and think of all the objects, all the possessions one could own, all the people, habits, news, hobbies, books, voices, etc.—it can be a bit overwhelming. No wonder why there’s always so many undecided majors in freshman year of college—how does one choose from all the paths available to take?
Anyway, not long ago, I decided to spend a full day to be consciously aware of all the things that present themselves into my life—all the things that I used to just passively absorb.
In another life, I was at a bar when I got into conversation with a guy. We started to talk about all the advertisements flooding our lives. “You ever notice that most good things don’t need ads? I mean, how often do you see an advertisement for a tomato?” he asked. I’ve never been able to forget that.
I drove through the city and looked, and I mean really looked, at all the billboards and signs. It was amazing how many of them were trying to sell me things I don’t need—things I never would’ve thought about wanting, but now I’m all the sudden considering.
Then I turned on the radio to hear a story about a girl in Hollywood going through yet another problem . Hearing it makes me think I should care. So does the fact that other people are talking about it. So I start to.
I scroll through Instagram, seeing everyone’s lives. Their milestones, their favorite moments, and their accomplishments. I begin to wonder—how much of life do we spend trying to craft moments into something symmetrical and aesthetically pleasing for our “followers”? It’s kind of funny, really. And weirdly addicting. To constantly be up to date with what’s going on and how other people are spending their days—when there’s a day right here, waiting to be spent.
I continue to scroll and I come across an ad for some boots I was looking at on a website a few days ago.
I check my e-mail to pay a bill and I can’t even find the e-mail, because all I can see are promotions and deals and discounts to all the places that have my information. A few seconds later my phone rings and it’s a health insurance company trying to ask for my time and money and consideration.
After putting Charlie to bed, we turn on the TV and, what do ya know, a commercial for another gadget to make life easier and quicker. But wait, what if I want to slow down?
And I can’t even focus on my favorite episode of "Parks and Rec" because all I can think about is each and every thing that my life lacks. All day I was told to have things that I don’t.
That would be like having a twin sister who was perfect and did everything better than you, and all you hear, day in and day out, is how your sister has things that you don’t and how much better she is at them.
After awhile you start focusing on the divots in your garden, thinking they are holes that need to be filled.
What this feeling made me see at the end of this exhausting day of experimentation and realization, is how many distractions are in my life—distractions from what’s truly important in my life.
Time. Time is my cake.
All the distractions are the icing that was piled on too high and gave me a temporary sugar rush and minor headache. Now, if you’re a really huge fan of icing, you might be like, “But wait, icing is a good thing. It’s very, very good thing.” And believe me it is, but for the sake of food metaphors, the icing is the extra sugar added on top that tastes really good right now but ends up taking a toll on your health and waistline.
So I asked myself, how much is icing in my life? How much stuff looks awesome and delicious and just plain delightful, yet isn’t really necessary?
I had too many things rush into mind. Suddenly, all those things that I used to think mattered so much became expendable. They became—well, things.
And suddenly, all those holes in my garden have now become the perfect places to plant my budding sprouts.
I begin to realize that distractions are everywhere. Not just in ads for products, but other unexpected places, as well.
Like in arguments.
I’ve noticed discussions turn into arguments when we get distracted from the main points and it’s no longer about finding a solution, but about winning. It’s become about the icing and not the cake.
Newspapers give us headlines for the things it thinks we should know. A whole world, billions of people, yet only a few pages—a few stories told.
How many are distractions? How much do we really need to know? And how much should we know that isn’t being given to us?
Or maybe our to-do lists. I often busy myself with things that I know can wait and put off the things that I hope to one day start but don’t due to fear of failure and my anticipation towards beginning risky, long-term tasks.
But now, now I see.
No longer am I going to worry about having the perfect yard or the best car or the cutest clothes. Yes, these things are nice, but do I want to give my time and money to things that aren’t a part of my greatest dreams just because they are nice?
I think once we can decipher between what’s the icing and what’s the cake, we can not only devote ourselves to the things we really want and desire, but we can also genuinely enjoy life and all it has to offer.
We can fill our garden with those sprouts that will grow and flourish into blooming bushes that bear many a juicy fruit for us to eat, so that we can have as much cake as we damn well please.