As a global community, we have been forced to slow down. Many are out of work, many have less work to do. Many have experienced illness and loss. We we all have seen the space we occupy in our daily lives become significantly smaller.
This is so, so hard. There are innumerable sufferings occurring all around us.
But what if we could find a lesson from this?
I hear from many people that is has been really hard to slow down their pace of life. They are bored. They feel useless.
I completely understand feeling this way. We are taught in the U.S. that we need to be productive to matter. When I start to slip into this feeling of worthlessness, I try to remember the lessons I learned a few years back after stumbling into a slower pace of life.
Taking a New Path
I hated to slow down for most of my teens and adulthood. There were too many things to do, too many people to impress. I needed to be useful at all times. I needed to justify my existence. My days were planned out with maximum efficiency to get the most done possible. There was no room in my schedule to be idle.
After moving across the country without any job prospects, I was forced to apply for any and all positions I was even remotely qualified for. I never intended for the job to be long-term, just enough to pay the bills until I found something in my field.
The job I found was an entry level administrative position. The tasks were simple and straightforward. The hours were consistent and never over forty a week. I wouldn’t make much money, but I would make enough. I accepted the position grateful for what I believed to be a temporary lifeline.
What I didn’t know is that I had stumbled into something that would change my life.
Before the move, I was working in the sciences at what I was brought up to consider a dream job. It was stable and prestigious. My research would be published. I was exactly where I “should” have been. But the hours were long and travel frequent. The work was often tedious. I was exhausted and unfulfilled.
Yet, I still planned to eventually move back into a similar job once I got back on my feet. It did not occur to me I could have any other career. But as I got into the grove of the administrative role, what I found surprised me. The work was not boring as new problems arose every day. My type A personality, love of organization, and problem solving skills made me naturally adept at many parts of the position. And most of all, I had discovered what it was like to not work or be worried about work for the majority of the day.
I began to see the benefits of slowing down.
With a consistent schedule that left weeknights and weekends free, I was able to get to know myself again. I was able to take the time to explore my true wants and needs. I was able to see the wounds in myself and in my relationships that needed healing and to take the time to heal them.
The transition was not without struggle. I disappointed numerous people with my career change (including myself) as I had chosen a new career that was less lucrative and prestigious. It is so very hard to separate identity from career. I still struggle with the decision at times, but I know that ultimately I chose a path that is bringing me the balance I want and need.
It was because of this career change that I was able to start the wellness practices that help me live a life that is meaningful to me. I began meditating, exercising more mindfully, and eating intuitively. I was able to make more time for friends and family, and I was able to give them my full attention.
I began living a life that has deep, personal meaning. I began to let go of a life dictated by the external expectations that I had internalized.
It is a life that still contains suffering. It is a life that still contains mistakes and regrets. It is a life that is still flawed. But it is a more rich and connected life than the one I was living before.
I cannot take away the various sufferings we are all experiencing right now, but I can hope.
- I hope that we can take this time of slowing to get to know ourselves once again – to identify what it is we really need/want out of this life.
- I hope that we can take this time of slowing to really connect with loved ones – to be truly present with them.
- I hope that we can take this time of slowing to connect with our communities – to see the beautiful people who’s lives are so intrinsically linked with our own.
- I hope that we can take this time of slowing to appreciate just how adaptive humans become in times of adversity.
- I hope we can take this time of slowing to learn that our value as human beings does not come from activity, our identities are not defined by our careers and salaries. Work is a valuable part of life, but it is not needed to justify our existence.
- I hope that we can take this time of slowing to find ways to not become disconnected from our deepest needs when we return the previous pace of life.
- I hope that was can take this time of slowing to learn lessons that stick with us.