Humans weren't made to tick off checklists and clear inboxes. We've lost sight of who we are, amid the mindless excesses of hustle culture and a drive-thru existence. Here's the case for slowing down.
A timely reminder, especially the one about photographing, not seeing. We once were lucky as a family enough to go on a two-day safari in Kenya, at which point we discovered that neither I nor my husband had brought a camera. We had one of those disposable ones which we ran through in about an hour. So the 24 photos we had were all "See that brown blob over there? I think it's an elephant". Then we just looked. That is the most memorable holiday I have ever had. It's easy for me now. I'm retired and comfortably off. But I wasn't always, and the tyranny of the checklist had its death-grip on me for many years. However, something of this approach kept the flickering flame alive throughout. Thank you for this. I love Uncle Alex, and would like to give a big shoutout for "the merely pleasant bits of life", cos those ones rack up.
Brian, this is a timely narrative for me personally. Thank you for contemplating it and writing (out of passion rather than as a check the box exercise). Before I had the responsibilities of being a father, husband, son looking after his aging parents, I used to muse that the whole point of life was about the experiences, travels, people we meet and to be able to tell others about those wonderful things sitting on bar stool. The material stuff simply did not matter. Almost a cross between Jimmy Buffett and Kurt Vonnegut.
I have told my daughter, nephews that the most important thing in life is to do what you love and have passion about. And if you can do that, the rest will open up for you and work itself out. It was the path I followed. Definitely not the path my father or my grandparents would have liked me to take. But the fun thing about that path is the people you meet and the forks in the road that you can never imagine from the current point of “You are here.”
If you told “younger me” what I would be doing for a living in 2023, I would have quipped, “be dead,” or if not that “working in a field I enjoy” not knowing what that would be. The journey, to quote from Buffett’s Last Mango in Paris, “some of its magic, some of its tragic, but I had a good life all the way” is what it is about. The destination will always be a mystery.
What a thoughtful piece. It’s so true that nowadays just sitting, thinking and watching the world go by is considered ‘wasting time’. Thank you for the link to Eric Pickersgill’s Removed which shows how easily we can be together but absent.
Someone else once suggested that I sit still for a bit and notice how I turn away from the experience of life. Sobering. Changed my life. That practice gradually changed more lemon moments into more lemonade.
It's all lemonade.
Fear-based life; part of this checklist life is because we fear the results if we do not do as much as we can to make sure we have enough, whatever that means to each individual. A home, a decent apartment, a car, maybe just health insurance. I turn 80 yrs. old this year and look back sometimes to a simpler time. Yes, we have come a long way with human rights since the 40s and 50s thankfully, but we have also been introduced to a way of life many of us were not prepared for, like in 1983 when my boss put an Apple Computer on my desk and I had no clue how it was going to affect our mainframe, let alone me and my staff. It seemed that was when it started for me all the noise, and the 7 days a week work and 12-hour days, and as the decades rolled by it got worse, not better.
My partner and I went out to dinner about two weeks ago to a fairly upscale restaurant, two young women came in and sat at a table not close to us, but close enough for us to hear. They had a tech thing that they stood on the table and continue to talk on their phones while we were there.
I often wonder if we changed our educational system to be based in humanities from PreK and continued through at least the 12th grade how that might change and improve our attitude towards one another and life. One of the things I truly believe, is when we are taking our last breath we will have one big regret, if only we had more time.
Thank for this very timely article, I sent it to my granddaughters.
This reminds me of a poster my 8th grade Algebra teacher had in her classroom.
It read, “Sometimes I sits and thinks” above a drawing of a stickman wearing a thinking cap and sitting like Rodin’s Thinker.
Below that another frame reading, “And sometimes I just sits” said stickman on a stool sans cap.
At the time I thought that was preposterous! But I get it now...
I also love what you wrote about today. Very thoughtful and provocative. Too many of us are that hamster on the treadmill, always running, always seeking out something more. I agree being in nature is the most important daily activity one can participate in. Checking off to-do’s that one should be at the top of the list.
Thank you for this piece! Even chores can be fulfilling if we focus on them single-pointedly. I agree that means putting our phones down. When we split our attention, we lose the opportunity to feel joy. So much more so when we are doing something inherently fun, like hiking, cooking or eating.
This excellent piece brought me back to my work life, where I had the hamster on a treadmill feeling every day. The implications of this red queen trap go much broader than breeding unhappiness. They make organizations much less effective (and productive) than they could be. I was an executive in the Canadian government for nearly 15 years and I always thought that we could make better decisions if we had the time to reflect on the issues instead of rushing from meeting to meeting to have off the cuff conversations or just nodding to power point presentations. Now that I am retired, I have more time to read outside of memos and emails and I learn new things that I can see would have helped in my previous life. I did not think the problem was bullshit jobs as much as administrative bloat, lack of prioritization, and a culture of using email / chat as a substitute for planning and thinking. We all knew we were caught in the treadmill and that there are better ways to work; however, nobody knew how to get off the treadmill long enough to actually do something about it. What I see on LinkedIn for example is a plethora of self help recommendations, but these problems are structural and require collective solutions. Without tackling those, self help approaches, which have been around for decades, will continue to disappoint.
Thank you for this. It’s exactly what I need right now.
I love that you ended with Kurt Vonnegut’s Uncle Alex. And then there’s my favorite Vonnegut quote - “We are here on earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.” He is missed.
Bravo, excellent piece and so timely. Thank you!
I swear these darn phones have us on a leash. I resisted a cell phone for years in the late 90s because I didn’t want anyone to be able to pin me down. Seems quant nowadays.
This piece brought to mind the excellent research of Todd Rose on collective illusions. He finds massive differences in what people want to do vs what they actually do (because of common misconceptions about what other people want.) check it out here:
So true and so sad. My granddaughters are too young for me to send this article to, but I can try very hard to be an example of how I would like them to want to live and love their lives and hope they can see some value in it. Thank you!