I recently read Oliver Burkeman’s “4000 Weeks”. It’s a humbling book. Perhaps a hamster wheel stopper. The title derives itself from the number of weeks the average person has in their life (if you live to 76). Gulp. At sixty years old, I’ve got less than 1000 weeks left. It’s made me take stock. It shines a light on all the striving I’ve done in my life, the next raise, project, bonus check, prom, graduation, wedding, house, promotion, boyfriend, training, client. It’s an endless path full of hurdles that I keep trying to get past; and the more “efficient” I get at it, the more projects, tasks and duties seem to come down the pike. I so rarely, if ever, just coast.
I remember biking the Virginia Creeper Trail a few years ago. Most of the riding of the seventeen plus mile trail, is just coasting. It’s wonderful gliding through the autumnal trees with a meandering river below or beside. It’s mostly effortless and I was able to get back into the moment of the sheer joy of gliding through the air. That’s the feeling I want for my last 1000 weeks. Coasting.
Here are some tips on learning to coast:
- Find the awe. I try and snapshot moments in my life. Singing hallelujah at the vespers concert in Duke Chapel, a single dancer pantomiming a scream and some 30 dancers falling down like dominos in unison at a Spring Dance recital at the School of the Arts. Or the sweet smell of honeysuckle on a sunrise walk with my dog, the mainsail filling and the sailboat starting to heel on Jordan Lake with a bluebird sky, 83 year old Lena Mae Perry’s electrifying voice singing, “Oh Lord, come by me” at a mesmerizing Stay Prayed Up performance, and the grimace, shiver and might of my son lifting a personal best 176 kg over his head at the Queen City Classic. As Burkeman wrote, “The world is bursting with wonder, and yet it’s the rare productivity guru who seems to have considered the possibility that the ultimate point of all our frenetic doing might be to experience more of that wonder.” I’m trying to pay attention to the awe and wonder.
- Be curious. Curiosity is the antidote to fear. Being curious and fearful turn on the same reactions in the body, it’s just that reframing it as curiosity helps your mind repackage it. So instead of your prefrontal cortex shutting down to run for it, it opens your mind to take in the experience. It’s like reading a signal from your body in a different manner, a different language. As Burkeman espoused, “choosing curiosity (wondering what might happen next) over worry (hoping that a certain specific thing will happen next, and fearing it might not) whenever you can.” I’m trying to stay curious.
- Let time use you. This is complete blasphemy to my uber scheduled life of routines, appointments and structure. On the surface, it feels like letting go of the wheel while driving down interstate 40 at 70 miles per hour. As written by Burkeman, “There is an alternative: the unfashionable but powerful notion of letting time use you, approaching life not as an opportunity to implement your predetermined plans for success but as a matter of responding to the needs of your place and your moment in history.” It’s a matter of response and flexibility. Let things unfold and find the gift in the unfolding. The traffic jam, being put on hold, the long line at check-out, here is an opportunity to let time use you.
- Find what counts. “Follow your gift, not your passion” wrote Steve Harvey. This reframe has been very beneficial to me. I spent a lot of time trying to find “my passion”. Knowing my gifts is so much more obvious. I write well, I’m a phenomenal coach, I’m a good mom and I’m a great cook. There. Now all I have to do is use my gifts. There lies my passion. As Burkeman wrote, “Once you no longer need to convince yourself that the world isn’t filled with uncertainty and tragedy, you’re free to focus on doing what you can to help. And once you no longer need to convince yourself that you’ll do everything that needs doing, you’re free to focus on doing a few things that count.” I need to use my gifts to do what counts.
- Do less. I coach so many women who work more and more and more hours each week. Some work until midnight, eat lunch at their desk, or work all Sunday evening to “get ahead”. Only to be rewarded with more to do because, well, they are good at doing so much. As Burkeman posits, “Limit your work in progress. Perhaps the most appealing way to resist the truth about your finite time is to initiate a large number of projects at once; that way, you get to feel as though you’re keeping plenty of irons in the fire and making progress on all fronts. Instead, what usually ends up happening is that you make progress on no fronts—because each time a project starts to feel difficult, or frightening, or boring, you can bounce off to a different one instead. You get to preserve your sense of being in control of things, but at the cost of never finishing anything important.” Perhaps this is the most difficult thing to tackle. To limit what you are working on so that you actually accomplish something. The curse of multitasking is that you really are just task switching and losing ground each time you switch tasks. Embrace doing less.
I’m a recovering efficiency-aholic. I walk into a grocery store and I’ve already mentally mapped which aisles I’m going down and in what order to maximize my time. The concepts in this book are sobering yet in a sense, it’s all about just being in the moment. As much as possible to be here right now, balance yourself on your bike, lift your feet up and coast.