Eight months ago, Tim Kreider wrote an opinion piece for the NY Times advocating a reassessment of our schedules because it seems today we are all ‘so busy’. I’d agree with the sentiment but find it too simple…
It’s like this statement we hear all the time;
“The key to life is finding a balance between Work and Play“
The inference is that work is just-off-pointless but necessary whereas play is unnecessary and the stuff ‘real life’ is made of.
Now, being on the journey of discovering what life is all about and what makes a good one as I am, I’m fortunate to be in the position of actually having put this theory to the test…
At the same time the article came out, I left to travel Europe and South America for a year under the caption “Climb Mountains, Eat Good Food, Fall In Love… and work out what the fuck life is all about” Would I become a hippie yoga teacher in Costa Rica, loving moments and staring at stars? A gazillionaire entrepreneur in London, working life away? Maybe a creative writer hopping around from city to city always on the lookout for new experiences?
Before I go any further, full disclosure. I’m a Type A personality. I have always been busy. I love being busy. If you needed something done, you’d give it to me, because guaranteed, I was busy. I am most proud of myself when I manage to effectively multi-task three things at once, such as cooking dinner, watching a TED video and replying to my emails. I literally sleep better when I’ve been super busy that day.
So travelling Europe wasn’t difficult. A new city every three days, a deadline when my Eurail pass ran out and as many cities as I could possibly fit in in that time frame. I wasn’t ‘busy’ as such though unless you call visiting churches in a semi-hungover state busy. I rode a bike around Copenhagen for three days before having lunch with a hippie busker because he and I didn’t have anything better to do that afternoon except get to know each other. I had sex on the beach at sunrise, partied with millionaires, drove quad bikes across a Grecian island, discussed philosophy on London’s rooftop bars, sweated out a sauna in Finland, rode through Paris at midnight on the back of a scooter, learnt to drink beer in Germany and stood tall at the edge of a Portuguese cliff on my 27th birthday, the wind whipping my hair across my bronzed skin, drinking in the ocean breeze from what used to be known as The End of The World. My biggest decision in a day was where and what to eat.
It was everything Life Is Made Of, except for one thing…
By the time I arrived in South America for what should have been six more months of travel in warm weather and the ‘climb mountains’ part of my trip I was itching without knowing where to scratch. Another ‘once in a lifetime activity’, another personal challenge, another bar with a sea of faces, another view, another tour. I felt I was just observing life instead of living it. My facebook updates of sun, fun and men had made all my friends jealous but they didn’t realise that some of their updates were making me jealous. The ones where they announced their book launch or an article in the newspaper or a new project they’d begun to improve life for someone somewhere. TED videos, The Nantucket Project and Entrepreneurship groups screamed at me ‘What are you doing with your life?’ and more than anything I wanted Something To Do.
This lifestyle dream of retiring to a beach community and working from a laptop… for personalities like mine, it’s not what you want. You may be working ‘enough’ as Tim suggests and playing ‘enough’ as Tim suggests, you may be getting your paragliding license and even deepening new friendships and learning more about yourself and about life but… it won’t be enough. Living for yourself won’t be enough.
I came back to Europe and am now living in Spain, ‘living the dream’ he describes. I am learning, I have friends, I ‘work’ about 4 hours a day and write or read or drink or eat the rest of it. I can ping off to another city or to learn to snowboard whenever I want to and if I met someone I’d have time for a relationship.
And yet it’s not enough. To feel good about myself at the end of the day, I’m creating to do lists to knock off, calculating the amount of hours I’ve been ‘productive’ in a day, signing up for courses to learn new things and searching for an answer to the question ‘Who are you?’. Maybe this is a sign of someone who needs a lobotomy because the societal pressure of ‘doing’ is so ingrained that I’m not happy unless I am.
Or maybe it’s just a sign that I’m young, I’m healthy, I’m creative and I can make some impact on the world in some way… so come on, get to it!
Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t change the last few months for the world. Or a mountain of Oreo cookies.
What I’ve discovered though is that there’s a third leg to this work/life equation that brings balance and its this thing called Purpose.
This has nothing to do with whether you are busy or not. This is about what makes life meaningful for you.
Maybe that makes you work long hours. Maybe that makes you spend time with friends. Maybe that makes you form lifelong friendships with the people you are working long hours with. There are a million combinations that make up a healthy lifestyle and everyone does it differently according to what is important for them.
Call me arrogant but I think this is actually what Tim is trying to say. Take a step back and assess your life for its meaning.
“Too Busy?” is not the question. “What’s the Purpose?” is.