That’s the thought that rattles around my head on too many occasions. It’s usually during the rare occasions when I have a period of time to sit down and *just* read a book or watch a movie or even take a nap. “What better could I be doing with my time?” I wonder as I look at the list of things I’d like to accomplish, both personal and professional. This kind of thought tears me up and wracks me with guilt over the missed opportunities.
It’s a dangerous path of thought, though, and it comes from what the lingering effects of what used to be called the “Protestant work ethic” I was instilled with. “Idle hands are the devil’s playground” was a message that was still in common usage when I was growing up, before the concepts of taking time for “self care” and other such notions came into popular usage. If you’re not busy, my generation was told, you were slacking and not living up to your potential.
Taking a breath and realizing that a half hour nap is not all that’s standing between me and unprecedented success has been hard for me. I look at missed opportunities and feel a mix of regret and shame, even if I realize that leaping in those moments would have likely turned out poorly. Still, after so many months of not being able to find full-time work, it’s hard to not feel like I made some bad choices at various points along the way and beat myself up over what might have been.
The problem, I realize, is one of perspective. Right now I’m staring at the enormity of what I feel I’m missing out on. That’s not only in relation to my current employment situation but also just everything that I haven’t done. I haven’t watched all the movies I want to, I haven’t read all the books I want to, I haven’t traveled to the places I want to, I haven’t spent as much time with my family as I want to, I haven’t attended all the events I want to, I haven’t learned all the skills I want to…the list is more or less unless. I look around at the world and see everything I’m not doing, almost to the point where I can’t enjoy what I *am* doing at any given moment because I’m always weighing the opportunity costs in the back of my mind. Scheduling is part of this, the setting aside of specific times for specific tasks in an effort to get as much done as possible, but it’s only a small part.
The term “mindfulness” is thrown around a lot these days. As near as I can tell that word in its current usage translates roughly to simply being present. That’s the notion and the skill I’m working on these days, just being present while I’m enjoying a bit of time outdoors during an unusually warm weekend or engaging in any activity, even writing this all down. There will be time to do all those other things, but *this* – whatever it is – is what I’m doing right now and I need to be focused on it. There are times when multi-tasking is alright and won’t hurt anything else and there are times it will.
For now I’m going to continue working on simply being in the moment. When I’m given the opportunity to go for a walk, I’ll try and take it and not feel the guilt of all the other things I could be doing that might be more productive. There will always be movies I haven’t seen and books I haven’t read, but there may not be another day as nice as this to get some fresh air and stretch my legs a bit. So I will take it and push the voices telling me that if I *really* wanted to be successful I’d be doing something else out of my head. After all, I’d rather enjoy the life I have than be subject to a success that requires maintenance to the extent that it pushes out everything else.