Tag Archives: busy-ness

What Has The World Done To Us?

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” –Oscar Wilde

“Just read a great quote and thought of you.” There is no better way to grab my attention than to start off a message with that line. Of course, I love a good quotation. And I always appreciate when someone not only thinks of me but also makes the effort to let me know. So it warmed my heart earlier this week when that text arrived from my brother, whom I hardly ever hear from. In those milliseconds between sentences, I was already on pins and needles to read the words that brought me to his mind. Here they were:

“The danger of civilization, of course, is that you will piss away your life on nonsense.”

Those words are the opening line of a book called “The Beast God Forgot to Invent” by Jim Harrison, the guy who wrote the more famous “Legends of the Fall” in the days when Brad Pitt was big.

Let his words sink in.

“The danger of civilization, of course, is that you will piss away your life on nonsense.”  

When I read those words, something in a deep-down place went, “DING!” Maybe it is because I exaggerate the importance of my brother’s thoughts. Maybe it is the particular place where I am in my life’s journey right now. Or maybe it is because I have always been suspicious of this bargain that our ancestors began and that we have all willingly (and probably unconsciously) joined in. Whether it was one of these reasons or some combination, that quote really resonated with me.

It is a huge, can-of-worms kind of thought, I know, and I am sure you and I could write dozens of letters back and forth to try to unpack the multitude of directions in which it could explode. Difficult ideas like this are the easiest ones to give up on. But, as much as I have tried to ignore this thought over the past few days, it won’t give up. It gnaws at me.

I suppose it is best to flesh out what aspect of “civilization” seems to be weighing on me and why I feel like my existence is threatened with oblivion if I keep buying what the world is selling. The answer is, of course, murky and complex, but if I could pull out a couple of aspects, I would say they are 1) Increasing Busy-ness, and 2) Decreasing Depth of Connections. Both of these point to a shallow form of existence, perpetually chasing the next shiny object. Or, as Harrison says, pissing away our lives on nonsense.

As for the Busy-ness, this seems to permeate all that we do and only seems to be increasing as we get more “civilized”.   When we adults get together, we have boasting contests about how many hours we worked in the last week, as though being consumed by a job and kept away from family and other pursuits were a badge of honor. I see the kids in my neighborhood—including my own—too busy running from one scheduled activity to the next that they cannot find time to just hangout and play.

And what are we so busy chasing? What is so darn important at our jobs and in our cars and at our events?

I am not suggesting that earning money to feed our families is not extremely valuable and necessary, but what I wonder about are the methods we choose and how much more time and energy we give them than they are worthy of.

And I am not suggesting that it is unhealthy to expose our children to lots of different new skills and sports in the hopes that they will stay healthy and find something they are passionate about, but what I wonder is, How much is too much? And also, How much of it is just doing it because everyone else seems to be doing it?

Our current version of civilization is shoving us along at a breakneck pace and seeing to it that we check all the boxes—make money, mind your status, have your kids signed up for every activity, dress right, do it all—for a life that can be deemed acceptable. But just because civilization gives its stamp of approval does not automatically make one’s life fulfilling. Does working all those hours to get rich actually make your life rich? I wonder…..

Don’t get me wrong. I know that working a ton at something that lights you up inside can be totally fulfilling (and sometimes it can even make you a lot of money). I am just wondering if that is the case for most people who are trying to do what the world tells them to do.

For me, I have been in Job Search Mode lately, and I really want to get it right this time and not hate my work. I am having an awful time finding a job description that excites me, even if civilization might have my resumé flying out left and right and taking anything that pays enough to check all of those boxes. I know I am picky, and I know I want it all—no compromises—but this is testing me.

I am beginning to think I don’t fit very well in this civilization. Oh wait, I have always thought that. Carry on!

As for the Decreasing Depth of Connections, I probably don’t need to regurgitate here all of the arguments about how this age of social media has created a world of people who “share” a lot but still don’t know how to actually talk with one another or make a genuine, thick-or-thin commitment. While our screens seem to allow us to reach more people, which I love—it lets me write to you—I also sense that these screens do more to insulate us from each other than they do to connect us with each other.

I also see that in the way we “civilized” people tend to gather in cities. Larger metropolitan areas have so much to offer—a variety of ways to find that career passion I mentioned above, greater diversity, tons of new experiences—making it seem obvious why we have become increasingly centralized throughout history. And yet, I can’t help but notice in my own journey—as a smallish-town kid who has lived in our nation’s biggest cities and is now a suburbanite—that the larger the population center, the more anonymous and disconnected the inhabitants seem to be.

I hope I am just projecting from my own experiences, but it feels like we are getting poorer and poorer at deep, meaningful connection and relationships of quality and substance. Between our electronic insulation and our population-density anonymity, civilization seems to be pointing us that way. Add that to the busy-ness of a life spent chasing through the traffic—vehicular and electronic—in our rush to get to our next event or next “must-see” post or Netflix series or gym class or job opportunity. Before we know it, we will have frenzied ourselves all the way to the end of our lives.

And what will it all look like from that angle? Will all of these shiny objects, these must-see, must-have experiences still look so valuable, so necessary? Or rather, will they look simply like a lot of unfulfilling filler, a lot of “nonsense”?

Maybe all of this doubt and suspicion is just part of my existential crisis stemming from my search for my Next Big Thing. But maybe it’s more than that. Maybe it’s a question I only dare allow into my consciousness every several years because I cannot bear to face the inevitable answer.

I just want what Henry David Thoreau wanted when he built his cabin in the woods near Walden Pond: “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartanlike as to put to rout all that was not life.”

Most days, I feel like to do that is to buck all that civilization is requesting of me.

How about you? Is this thing called Civilization helping or hurting your efforts at making a meaningful, fulfilling life? Open up your journal and see where this gigantic topic leads you. If you are like me, you probably won’t be able to tie a neat bow on this one but will turn over all sorts of new stones in your mind while trying. Let your mind and your pen wander. You can write for days on this one. Go back to the Jim Harrison quote: “The danger of civilization, of course, is that you will piss away your life on nonsense.” What is your immediate, gut-level response to that thought? Is it at all accurate for the population in general? What about for the people in your circle? How about for yourself? To what degree are you “pissing away your life on nonsense”? Does your busy-ness match your fulfillment? How many deep, meaningful relationships do you have that truly make your life worthwhile? What types of things qualify as “nonsense” in your mind? How much of your assessment of this whole idea comes down to something like, “Well, people should just personally choose to live better—pick more noble pursuits, build deeper bonds with others. Civilization has nothing to do with it.”? Which way does civilization lead us? Is our world, our civilization, just a load of empty promises, perpetually selling the glitter of greater busy-ness and broader brushstrokes but really just delivering a shallow existence, devoid of both quality time and meaningful connections? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are we wasting Humanity on nonsense?

Give yourself the gift of Truth,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please pass it on. We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to examine this thing we have going on here.

The Storm Before the Calm? Does BUSY Ever End?

DSC_1155“Our life is made up of time; our days are measured in hours, our pay measured by those hours, our knowledge is measured by years. We grab a few quick minutes in our busy day to have a coffee break. We rush back to our desks, we watch the clock, we live by appointments. And yet your time eventually runs out and you wonder in your heart of hearts if those seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years and decades were being spent the best way they possibly could. In other words, if you could change anything, would you?” –Cecelia Ahern, Love, Rosie 

Hello friend,

Busy. I cannot stand that word. Busy. Everyone is busy. Whenever you ask someone how they have been or what they have been up to, the answer is the same: “I have been so busy!” I get it. I see how scheduled up everyone is. I see how the kids don’t just play much anymore the way I did when I was a kid. Instead, they go from one scheduled activity to the next. Adults keep working more and more. It is a busy world. Period.

I guess I just don’t like it when BUSY is the reason that important things in our world get left out. I like it when kids get to simply play. I like it when adults get to relax and connect with one another. I like it when extended families get together for long weekends to continue traditions. I like the concepts of leisure and self-reflection. These things take sacrifices, of course. People have to step out of their busy-ness—the stuff everyone calls essential–to carve out this quality time for one another and for themselves. Important things require sacrifice. Life balance is worth that sacrifice.

So, why have I been running around like an absolute madman lately? I have put enough on my plate to fill ten tables! So, I have to occasionally remind myself, as I am going around like the chicken with his head cut off, that I actually chose all of this stuff. Let’s face it: I already knew I have two young kids who I want to shower with attention. I already knew I have a job. I was already trying to squeeze in this weekly letter to you with the last bits of my time and energy. So I can see why my sanity would be questioned when I decided to also return to school to become a Life Coach. It was a huge undertaking and cramped my already suffocating schedule. Then I began to actually start to build the business of it, too. Constructing websites, business cards, bank accounts, government filings. Then, while beginning to go underwater with trying to fit all of that into the day—and stubbornly not wanting to give up anything else from my priority list—this other great business opportunity came along. Any sane person would have either passed on the chance due to lack of time or cut something else from the priority list to make room for this new gig. Not me! Like a man drowning with a load of bricks in my arms, instead of letting go of them and swimming up for air, I simply grabbed another brick on my way down. I am swamped!

My journal entries of late are littered with commentary on this latest run of overwhelm. Every day I use the journal to unload thoughts and baggage from the day. It relieves me of stresses and things that might otherwise linger to disturb my sleep. Journaling is my therapy. Lately the most frequent comments are about “chipping away at this enormous To-Do List,” “I am in such a rush,” and “This is exhausting, but I have to stay focused and be efficient to keep afloat.” And on and on and on. It is a daily challenge, and I need that journal entry to both unload my fears and to remind me of why I am doing it all.

In paging back through the last week of entries, besides seeing those themes run over and over, I struck upon a passage that really sums up what is becoming my main concern in all of this busy-ness. After writing out the million things I had done that day to advance my new businesses, and then relaying my fears and stresses about when it was all going to start working, I wrote:

I just really want to change my life for the better. I want to DESIGN the change. I will keep plugging away. It can’t be this challenging and anxiety-producing, can it? I want to break into something that feels like a clearing, without the slogging, grinding feeling. I want to come up for air. Sure, I could do that now by not taking on so many things, but I feel like I need to in order to break out of this mire. I want to be on my time and my purpose. So, I keep plugging away, grinding in order to become free of the grind. I suppose it is a parallel to the argument that in order to have peace, we must make war on the bad guys. Fight so you won’t have to always fight or be oppressed. That seems to be me now, slogging away at a handful of big rocks so that I can get to the spot where I only need a few. I don’t know if it is logical or wise, but it feels like my best bet right now. I will keep at it, trusting in the sunshine on the other side. 

That is me right now in a nutshell: hoping that this crazy busy-ness that I have chosen is just the storm I have to pass through in order to see the rainbow. I guess I just want some assurance that it is 1) just a passing phase—that it won’t always be this busy and stressful; and 2) that I really am going to reap the benefits of all of this effort. I want to see that glimpse of sunlight at the edge of this storm, to know that there is an end to it, and a lovely one. I want to believe that the Universe is going to acknowledge my commitment and my deeds, that I really am going to come out on the other end of this with the thing I am doing this for: a chance to pursue my passions on a full-time basis.

Of course, I know that there are no guarantees in life. I may work and work and work and still never make that breakthrough. I may fail to move people as a writer. I may never make the connections to get my two new businesses off the ground. For all of my efforts to improve people’s lives and make the world a happier, more connected place, I may end up broke and burnt out from driving myself too hard. Maybe being this busy is my new normal, that there is no rainbow in the form of a balanced life to look forward to. Maybe BUSY never ends.

I can’t buy that. Maybe I am being too optimistic—or even delusional–but I really believe that good times are on the way. I believe in paying your dues and earning your way, and I hope that is what I am doing now with the gas pedal continuously down and juggling all of these big rocks at once. This is my storm, and there is a rainbow coming. BUSY is a phase, not a lifestyle. So yeah, I am going to keep chipping away at the giant To-Do List and doing without television or down-time. I am going to test my limits. I have to. The reward means too much to me, and the alternative is an unfulfilling life. I want to play a bigger game. So, I am breaking out the storm gear. Rain on!

What about you? Are you busy designing the life of your dreams? Open up your journal and think about how much you are willing to endure to live the life you have imagined. How busy are you? Is it busy doing things that you are passionate about and that are improving you, or just busy to be busy (e.g. busy on Facebook, busy binge-watching television series)? How busy does your career keep you? How much of that is up to you? Could you spend less time and be equally effective? Do you work as long and hard as you do because you want to advance, because you are just trying to keep your job, or is there something else involved? How much does it exhaust you? Do you allow yourself some true leisure in your “spare time”, or are you more like me and just drive yourself continuously? Do you have the right balance in your life right now? Have you ever created a storm like my current situation, where you took on too many projects—“big rocks,” I like to call them—at once in the service of making a major life move? How long did the storm—the busy-ness—last? Did you find the rainbow at the end? Was all of the hard work and sacrifice worth it to you? When you consider your current schedule, what sort of changes would be beneficial for you to make to improve your life? Is it being more efficient, setting better boundaries, changing jobs, removing yourself from a storm, or perhaps jumping into a storm in the service of a greater long-term good? How busy are you willing to be? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you distinguish between a healthy challenge and running yourself into the ground? 

Be the light you seek,

William