In my mid-20s, while I was in grad school and my first job after, the pace of life was rather different. It feels incredulous but I had oodles of time. Of course, it helps my universe was rather small. But small or not, your Universe is all that matters to you.
I realise it is not only the time but the energy and the space. There was one activity that I did at a time. If I am in class, then leading up to class was all about prepping for the 2 or so hours. Post-class, we'd head out to the bar and get some food and drinks. Conversations would be wide-ranging. Building on what we had discussed to more mundane and juvenile stuff. But at no point were we rushed.
Even in my job at a start-up in the Valley, this pace and "one deep activity at a time" was the norm. If I was working on a difficult problem, that was all there was. I might step away from my room, grab a beer and chill with my room-mates but one beer later, I'd be back at it. If we fired up the grill, the evening was about cornhole and grilling and beer and chilling.
When I'd head to play Ultimate, it was always for a few hours. It was not a cramped one hour of rec league, but the drills before that an experienced player would teach and head to the Lion after.
Moving to India
My entire life changed when I moved to India to start a fitness company. Being half the workforce and a new business owner, my partner and I did everything. Since we were figuring out the entire thing, our day was not under control.
Fast-forward a decade, and as the organisation grew, our roles and responsibilities grew with it. And in 2019 (before the pandemic), my day was unrecognisable from what it was a decade earlier. Dubbing these as good problems made me hide. But my gut knew this was not the way forward.
Unfortunately, I did not know how to get out of the tidal wave that was sweeping me away.
I knew something had to change. I thought I was being a silly romantic when I looked back at my creative, productive self from my mid-20s. I figured that was not an option anymore because, well, one grows up.
A wake-up call
Then, the pandemic happened.
It brought with it a lot of scary and terrible things to the world. I am not going to discuss any of that.
It was a wake-up call because it yanked me out of the normal way of life. The tidal wave. The powerful current of modern life and entrepreneurship was sweeping me away.
Going over my journals, I realised that a lot of my wishful scenarios were back. It no longer felt like a struggle to stay afloat. Coming up for air was happening with more frequency.
A new normal
But 2 years on, we are at a new normal.
It has all the crappiness of the old normal, with some extra crappiness thrown in.
You can "work from home" but you are now working across more timezones than before. You are now working around dinner, around your time with family and squeezing work in wherever possible. You don't have to drive to meetings anymore but you have more meetings. And you need to figure out when to do your actual work, as your meetings own your day.
You are context-switching - emails and projects and prepping lunch and dropping the kids and picking them up and telling the cook what to do and it is all a giant fucking mess. But hey, welcome to the new normal.
Your kids can ask their teachers a doubt at any time. Your employees can reach you anytime. You can reach your boss and get your issues sorted. Any time.
A new perspective
I might sound like an alarmist. Or a conspiracy theorist.
But the brief wake-up call has given me a different lens to look at things.
I still get sucked in. I am not under full control of my day, my time, or my energy.
But I know that it is imperative to not buy into this hustle bullshit. This "constantly connected" nonsense.
Working hard, being immersed deeply in your work, doing what you are here to do, living a fulfilling life - yes!
Not being in control of your time, being swept in the tidal wave, bandying busyness as a badge, overstressed, overworked, sleeping less, not having time for friends or family or yourself or your health or your fitness - absolutely not!
The right answer
I don't quite know the right answer. But I recognise the wrong answer. And figuring out "not that" seems to be a good starting point.
I also have the advantage of knowing a handful of successful people whose day and perspectives I'd like to emulate. The right answer, to me, is around us. The people who've rejected the rat race and the hustle culture. People who are not wallowing in busyness. The people who are embracing slow work. People who * gasp * don't multi-task.
I think we are all being pulled down a bad path. It is on each of us to reject it and fight the current. Swimming upstream is awfully hard. Or get out of this river and find another one.
It sounds hard. It sounds impossible. But it also feels right.
You can sleep when you are dead. But are you alive today?
Stop to think for yourself. Do not assume this is how it has to be. You have to be in control.
To me, it feels similar to seeing glimpses of The Matrix. Once seen, it is impossible to un-see. I don't have tips or techniques or tactics. But I know what I need to do - get off this fast train going in the opposite direction of where I want to go. And pick a train going in the right direction.
As big a crisis as the pandemic was (and is), it is also an opportunity. Don't let a slap in the face go to waste.
Never let a crisis go to waste.
— Rahm Emmanuel