“There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.”
– Alan Cohen
This is a shout out to the people who fill each and everyday with activities. Whose weekends are stacked with plans and adventures. Who have three different hobbies they are working on at any given time, on top of their other normal responsibilities. The people who put so much on their plate that they sometimes overwhelm themselves, even if their life is filled with things that they enjoy doing.
I salute you, I understand you, and I feel sorry for you. I am one of you.
I don’t think there’s anything inherently right or wrong with loading your life up with things to do. But as a person who tends towards activity over relaxation I have learned that without balance the need to do everything means that everything starts to blur into nothing.
The other weekend, I walked with my boyfriend down to the farmer’s market by his apartment. The world was buzzing and the air was thick with humidity. It was so crowded that we could barely walk through the stalls. We pushed our way through throngs of people as we looked for a line to stand in to get some breakfast.
My boyfriend already told me that he wanted to have a chill day. He wanted to spend some time catching up on things around his apartment and maybe do some drawing. We’d just gotten back from a week in the Caribbean and his desire was to rest and recuperate before heading back to work.
Yet, as we walked along the crowded streets and he asked me what we should do, I laid out a set of plans: “Let’s walk down to the waterfront,” I said. “Then maybe we can go have lunch in Georgetown. We can just wander around the streets down there.”
The sun was sending heat waves up through the pavement. The sweat was already gathering on our skin and our clothes were sticking to our backs.
“I don’t know, Iz,” he said. “It’s a little hot to go for a long walk across town.”
My body filled with emotion.
I thought about going back to the apartment and my chest clenched. I tried to explain to him how I couldn’t sit in the apartment all day. How I’d go crazy. How it would bring on anxiety and nerves, and make me feel like I wasted my day, wasted my time. This reaction was unwarranted, because he actually is a do-er himself. For him going back to the apartment meant a full day of getting things done. But in that moment, I couldn't picture how I'd spend my time.
My reaction was so strong I almost surprised myself.
We’d just had a full week of travel, followed by a Saturday where we ran around all day, going from lunch to an appointment to a work party. Chill out. I wanted to tell myself. It’s disgusting outside, you don’t even want to be out here. But I had a full day ahead of me. I wanted to get things done! I wanted to have an experience. To go on an adventure.
Later, after we had made a happy decision to bring a blanket and hang out at the park, thus combining activity with relaxation, I examined what had happened.
Suddenly, the irrationality of the moment fell on me like a heavy weight.
This wasn’t an isolated instance in my life. I am always going, going, going – and whether I am rushing towards something or running away from something, I’m not sure. My resistance to taking the day to do "nothing" wasn’t a healthy reaction. It was symbolic of something larger. A sign of something in my personality; an inability to unhook.
I tend to approach life in one-hour chunks. As if I’m still at work, scheduling out my meetings. I can watch TV for an hour, but then I have to do something else. I will do my laundry. I’ll clean the kitchen. I’ll write a blog post. I'll work out. I'll check off boxes – check, check, check. When I have too many hours in a day and I begin to run out of things with which to fill the time, I panic. It's as if I'm apprehensive about what the spaciousness will bring.
It’s a beautiful life, but sometimes I stress myself the f**k out.
When I began writing this, I had a different intention in mind. I wanted to write about “the key to managing multiple hobbies.” I even created a graphic that laid out how I strategically mapped the activities in my life in a weekly calendar so that I can fit them all in. I was proud of this calendar. Proud of the way I have filled my life with getting things done. But what I’m starting to realize is that filling your life to the bursting point doesn’t mean your life is full.
Here is what I know:
I know that I have the tendency to overcommit. To say yes to every adventure, every opportunity that crosses my path. I know that while getting things done and fitting my hobbies into my life makes me feel fulfilled, oftentimes it also means that I move through my days without pause. That I fill each moment, so much so that I don’t leave room for peace.
I also know that I love the activities in my life. I know that, for the most part, these things nourish me. They motivate and excite me. They make me, me. I can't stop being who I am, but any piece of yourself overplayed becomes a weakness.
Finally, I know I’m not alone in this. I know there are others who feel the strong urge, the strong desire, to fill each moment with something. It’s as if we worry that by not focusing our minds on something to do, we might slip into some reality of life that we don’t want to see. We’re afraid of the quiet spaces in our minds. Afraid of what our thoughts might do or where they might drift if we’re not focusing them on other things.
Getting it “all done” has become synonymous with a successful life in our world. The more you fill your plate, the more you can accomplish, the more impressive it seems you become in society’s eyes.
But what I’m impressed with, these days, are the people (if they even exist) who can just be content where they are – with no belief that they are missing out on something else. I’m impressed with those who can live fully without distractions. I’m impressed by those who make relaxation a priority and self-care a mandate.
If you can’t take the time to watch your life go by, then how will you know what kind of life you have been living? Without space, how does something grow? How does the organic, creative nature of living fit in?
To sit in silence is a gift. That I know.
To be okay with doing nothing is a gift. This I also know.
Those moments that we don't plan tend to be the most meaningful; those times that catch us by surprise. It is in the quiet spaces that we tend to reflect on our blessings, and in that space new epiphanies arise, without us calling out for them. Those are the times when we can lift our head up from all of the distractions around us, and we can see the full beauty – the grandiose nature of life – coming into focus.
So, how do you do it all?
Instead, you rejoice in doing just enough.