There’s a dread in us that builds as we age. We feel it’s physical grip in our bones and tendons, our heart and lungs. We’re slowing down; dying. Every breathe, every heartbeat and second we get closer to inevitable and final shutdown. Mentally, that’s pretty dismal, isn’t it. That thought. We don’t like to think about it if we can otherwise distract ourselves.
It’s weird, as a relatively fit, young person to have these thoughts. You never really think about them when everything is going perfectly fine, when your body hums along like a perfectly oiled machine. Then, one day, you wake up and notice a squeak and suddenly you feel different in the mirror. The man on the back of the bathroom door is squeaky. Uh oh.
So we assess everything: am I getting enough sleep? Yup. Enough fruits and veggies? Better stock up on bananas, but sure; check. Exercise? Usually. Unusual or otherwise high stress? No, I’m pretty good. Work-life balance? Well, that’s a hard one, since they’re one in the same. Interesting.
My work stops when I leave the door at 4:30 but my sitting for hours in front of Photoshop or a page of CSS doesn’t. I just work on different projects. Personal projects. Fun projects. My work life and my life’s work are in the same medium.
And I wonder, is that ideal? I’ve found, throughout the years of doing design work during the day and night and doing menial work during the day and night and each mix of the in between that I do feel best when I have a mix, but only in the right speeds.
I compare this to walking.
We have a left and a right leg and since no races are won by hopping, we tend to use them both. With each step we throw our body weight over one and wait for the inertia to bring us over. We start falling. The other leg comes forward to catch us and as the original foot kicks off again we repeat this process. Walking, really, is just falling side to side with the illusion of control and the end goal being somewhere in front of us. Have you ever watched a toddler toddle? It’s fascinating.
Now, these legs, perhaps, are the mediums of action. I say action because “work” and “play” in this context are meaningless. But I wonder if, like my work and play lives are in the same medium, I’m actually walking with two left legs. Sure, it’s somewhat sustainable, but is it useful? More importantly, is it healthy?
One one hand, I – and I’ll bet you too – feel better when doing something productive. That’s why I do it. I like it. Some people like lifting weights; I don’t understand this. Some people like making money or wooing members of the opposite sex. I like making things. Is this argument enough for continuing to do it? Is there truly any more to life than finding the thing you love and then doing it until you can’t anymore?
Or! a third option, which shatters the leg metaphor (or perhaps merely replaces one of the legs) and it’s simple: doing nothing.
As a lover of history, we see many rises and falls of doing nothing as virtue (or, at least, goal). Even within the same American Dream we see the New York “You can do anything with a little hard work” ideal and the jet age “You’ll never have to work again, thanks to technology!” sloganeering come full circle. Here we are roughly 100 years later and we see this boom of “Hustle, it’s the only way to make your mark on the world” startup mentality. Entirely valid, sure, but is making a mark truly the same as enjoying life? What’s the actual goal here?
Another transportation metaphor: the car with the one bad wheel. At slow speeds you feel the vibration, the bump and trouble but at some point you can drive fast enough that it becomes one constant frequency too fast for you to notice. Too fast for you to realize that there was ever a problem with that tire. Until one day, it breaks. Or! Until you slow down enough to feel that old shimmy again and you can do something about it before catastrophe.
So, arguments for an against never slowing down: sometimes you can ignore that wheel and just go on going on. Maybe you’ll even get ahead that way. Maybe running with two left legs isn’t so bad. Maybe that’s simply what makes you happy.
But maybe, maybe you want to slow down and make the opposite step the silent one, the introspective one. Maybe you’ll learn something about yourself as the people around you are lauded for not stopping and wouldn’t stoop to what they see as “lazy”.
This is my first post back after a summer of just that, and I’m still not sure which one is best. But someday I’ll die and if I put myself in that bed I want to know that what I did to get there was worth it.