Taking a look back through the past few moodboards from this year, I realized that really… as quickly as it feels like it’s all going by, each month has also been so FULL – and for many wonderful reasons. Last month, I let those reasons overwhelm me a bit, but now, here we are on the cusp of summer with its promise of sunshine and – hopefully – longer, slower days, and a little more perspective on my part…
I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about our current way of life – why we all feel stretched thin or like the days are flying by. I know I’m not alone in this – I hear my friends say the same thing all the time, especially at my age (welcome to your 30’s) when many of us are juggling our own young families along with aging parents, possibly the most important years of our professional careers, and the ever-growing chasm between friendships where we’re all trying to make time for each other but failing miserably. Heck, some days finding the effort to go to the grocery store or the gym feels impossible.
We can blame a lot of things for this – work and the constant consumption of media and information among them – but here’s the thing: I no longer believe that’s true.
You see, since the beginning of this year, work has actually been quiet for me. Our design work has picked up, yes, but over here on the blog side things have been slower, which would lead one to the conclusion that I’ve had more time to do things like catching up on emails and creating more content, and yet… that is completely not the case. I still feel overwhelmed by it all. I still can’t keep up. So guess what? I don’t really think it’s work, or social media, or whatever that’s the culprit here. I think the culprit is ME.
Buckle in for a sec, because I’m about to take you for a ride through realization land. We’re talking deep therapy analysis realization here. Ready? I like being busy because it makes me feel valuable.
As someone who was a) single for a lot of time in my 20’s and b) built my own company from scratch (no help from parents/loans/investors or even past jobs that paid well), I have placed value in myself in the act of being busy. I’m really good at being busy. Busy means that I’m successful – or at least moving in a productive direction. But you know what? BUSY IS BURNING ME OUT.
I recently read this article on why we work so hard, (along with a little history on the average work day), and it basically reiterated a lot of what I’ve been thinking about lately, along with some relatable thoughts, like this one:
“The dollars and hours pile up as we aim for a good life that always stays just out of reach. In moments of exhaustion we imagine simpler lives in smaller towns with more hours free for family and hobbies and ourselves. Perhaps we just live in a nightmarish arms race: if we were all to disarm, collectively, then we could all live a calmer, happier, more equal life.”
How many times have you had that exact thought (maybe not so eloquently put) about leaving all the hustle behind? Just this past weekend, driving through rural farms and wide open spaces with small towns, my fiance and I had a similar conversation. What if we left the city, got out of the grind, worried less about being able to afford things, focused on family more…
But that’s not really the solution because that’s not really the problem. Work is not the problem, it’s the pressure we are putting on ourselves that’s the problem. The way that we are defining success. The rate at which we expect success to materialize. The measuring of ourselves against that thing that we just absolutely need to be. And when we don’t get to that thing fast enough we think we must be doing something wrong. So obviously we must need to work harder to get there, right? Wrong. Because by doing that we are giving away the one thing that we cannot get back, and that’s time.
The point that I’m getting at is that you have a choice. I have a choice. (Let me just totally own this here.)
And with that choice, I’ve decided that it’s time to ease up on myself. To allow myself to take a step back from all the hustle and realize that I’m not working smarter, just harder, and not in a productive way. I’m burning myself out. I’m setting unrealistic goals and expectations. And that thing that I’m working so hard for? It’s not worth tearing myself down for. That while I’m trying to get to something that is somewhat unattainable, I’m missing out on LIFE. And you know what? My life is pretty damn great. And that unattainable thing? That’s probably not going to make me that happy anyways.
Here’s another way to look at it: I had a great conversation with a girlfriend not too long ago about perspective as it pertains to getting back in shape. We were both comparing our bodies and our workout habits to what they were before. And we were both getting so frustrated with trying to get back to what things were before. And during this conversation I realized that trying to be my 20-something self was pretty much setting myself up for failure. But doing something every day that made me feel one step closer to my goal of losing at least a little weight? That was something. That was a bite-size something that I could take and own and high five myself for doing at the end of the day.
So, I’m not saying give up on your goals and dreams, or stop working hard. I love working. In fact, that’s the other point that this article makes that I don’t want to ignore. That actually, most of us don’t mind work, or the ways in which its infiltrated our lives more, because our generation’s definition of work has changed so much. But it’s the way in which we approach the work that needs to change. It’s time to stop acting as if our lives are out of our own control, and instead embrace them for all they are while making choices that serve our quality of life.
As for that article I quoted above, here’s where it ends up on this work business:
“As professional life has evolved over the past generation, it has become much more pleasant … Offices in the rich world’s capitols are packed not with drones filing paperwork or adding up numbers but with clever people working collaboratively.
The pleasure lies partly in flow, in the process of losing oneself in a puzzle with a solution on which other people depend. The sense of purposeful immersion and exertion is the more appealing given the hands-on nature of the work… At the end of the day we can sit back and admire our work – the completed article, the sealed deal, the functioning app – in the way that artisans once did.”
The pleasure of work. Now that’s the title of an article I’d actually like to write. Let’s see if we can get back there shall we? And not just in work, but in life. Let’s make sure we’re taking pleasure in it all.
images :: vera iachia // matthias heiderich // rebecca de ravenel // article referenced by ryan avent for the economist