Removing Rush from my Life
The feeling of rush is incompatible with presence
The other night I had a profound experience while washing dishes. It was the end of a productive day, so I didn't feel burdened by any other responsibilities and was free to fully engage in this mundane task. As I stood there, scrubbing pots and pans, I realized that this moment was the happiest I had been all week – not because I had any particular affinity for dishwashing, but rather because it was the first time in 7 days that I felt no sense of urgency. In an effort to better understand why this was, I began to run through what my typical week looks like; I have a great job, and spend my free time doing fun, meaningful activities, but my schedule lacked the leeway for me to fully enjoy any of them. I realized that, if I wanted to truly cherish the rich life I have, I would have to start by removing things from my plate.
I talked to my roommate the following day and he asked me what things make me happy. I began to list some small things that regularly bring me joy. I thought about his question further and explained that all of my daily activities CAN make me happy, so long as they are done in the absence of competing priorities. I told him about the experience I had washing the dishes the day prior and his eyes lit up, saying that this was one of the central issues of his life too. I've been thinking about this a lot recently; how much joy has been obfuscated as a result of my wanting to engage in too many pastimes? What more could I eliminate from my life?
When I was in college I frequently over-allocated my time. I would commit myself to five or six different responsibilities during a semester, only to find myself deeply unhappy and stressed out, unable to do any of them particularly well. One day at my job working the front desk of the college advising office I had an experience that made me begin to question the way I prioritized activities. A prospective student from a local high school came to us to learn about the engineering program. Her resume boasted that she was a professional ballroom dancer, a scuba diver, played 3 instruments, had won awards for biology research, spoke 3 languages, was the head of her soccer team, and had straight A's. She stood there beaming but I was incredibly suspect. How could it be possible, healthy, or sustainable to be doing so much? We tend to applaud stories like these, though these are the exact tales that add fuel to the fire of our culture of overwhelm. After engaging with this student I had the opposite reaction than I did in the past, resolving to begin doing less rather than more.
The process of cutting things out of my life during college was an exercise in ensuring that I derived either joy or deep meaning in all parts of my life. While I don't believe that the pursuit of pleasure is a sufficiently meaningful goal for a good life, if you dread doing the things that you have chosen to do every day, reevaluating your priorities might be a useful undertaking. There have been countless times in my life when I've had to sit down and reconsider why I committed to a certain activity. These reflections often revealed reasons relating to money or prestige, rather than fulfillment or altruism.
Unlike my previous college experiences, my recent responsibility audit consisted entirely of activities that are truly important and meaningful to me; there wasn't any clear self-deception going on like in the past. Because of this, I was forced to listen more closely to that internal guiding voice that I so frequently overlook in favor of more rational decision-making methods. While letting go in this manner was not easy, I was instantly validated as the weight of unnecessary commitments felt lifted from my shoulders.
In this journey to remove the feeling of rush from my life, I've been confronted by the importance of seasonality; there isn't another living creature or plant that works year-round, they all have periods of toil and periods of rest. Seasonality can manifest in micro and macro ways: times of the year when you work more than others, times of the week when you work more than others, and times of the day when you work more than others. I've found that a natural seasonality emerges as it relates to my habits and activities; while I did have to make some tradeoffs to reach the ease that I currently enjoy, I am sure that the season for further investment into the areas that I am not currently prioritizing will come again.
I have been blessed with the chance to fill my life with fun, interesting, and impactful activities and opportunities. Failing to make prioritization decisions and being unable to fully engage in these opportunities feels like an irresponsible use of the life that I have been gifted. I have to continually make peace with the opportunity cost of letting go of some things that I desire to do and, instead, focus on less. One of the most impactful things I've found to better my spiritual and emotional life is to ruthlessly remove rush.
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