Live life and make a living

2011-05-14 13:47

If you took advantage of the extended Easter break, as I did, you might be feeling somewhat unsettled: as if there was a subtle shift in the tectonic plates of your brain.

It’s a nagging suspicion at the back of the mind, like wondering if you left a light switched on as you headed off on holiday.

I know I’m not alone on this as I’ve come across many people who have a slightly stunned, post-holiday glaze in their eyes.

And it’s not just a case of back-to-work blues.

Everyone agrees that the start of this year was punishing.

The first quarter played out like a high-speed, adrenaline-fuelled, action movie on fast forward.

It is not so much the pace of our digital lives – although it is a large contributing factor – but interestingly, has more to do with the latent ripple effect of hosting the World Cup.

Unless you were directly within the orbit of World Cup activities; business, in general, slumped last year.

Everyone lost focus – and time – and there was a last-minute scramble at the end of the year to catch up.

As we entered the year, the mood was fresh and positive.

It seemed as if the recession was easing and everyone was raring to go. In hindsight, however, all that happened was that we ran around being “super busy” but not very productive.

The confidence with which we started the year has since deflated like a day-old party balloon.

So by the time the Easter break came around, and with it the opportunity to take a 10-day break, many grabbed the chance because it felt like we had already worked an entire year in three months.

Taking an indulgent break after such a punishing start to the year is a shock to the system to say the least.

It was much needed, but the side-effect was surprising.

The overwhelming need was to decompress, and the first long weekend served as that pressure valve.

The week that followed was when the brain finally registered that it too could shift into cruise control.

Life in the 21st century is like running on a treadmill: you are rarely allowed to step off and as you run, you kick up a lot of dust that obscures your vision. For many, work becomes life and you grow accustomed to that tunnel vision.

When you get a chance to stop, the dust settles and you see a broader landscape.

It can be quite jarring because you may just discover that you have been running in the wrong direction, or realise that you’re simply tired of running.

During downtime, long-forgotten ideas, plans and aspirations usually make themselves known again, and remind us what our priorities should be.

But inevitably, like old Post-it notes, we discard them and promise ourselves (again) that we’ll get to them “when I have time”, knowing full well how empty that promise is.

The irony of 21st-century living is that we experience these lucid moments less.

When your brain is clear of clutter, you think rationally. When your brain becomes bored, you start thinking creatively.

That’s when the really good stuff comes forward.

But in a digital age, we never allow ourselves to get bored, and therefore experience less and less brain food.

There is always something to read, reply to, browse or consume on our smart phones, laptops or tablets.

It is our abnormal “always on, always connected”, lifestyles we’ve come to view as normal.

That is why the extended Easter break proved to be unsettling.

Most people felt so burnt out that they happily stepped away from their machines and unplugged as much as they dared to.

The brief respite was not quite enough to push one to the point of boredom, but it did allow for a rare glimpse of our former – or real – selves, which provoked much wistful thinking.

Globally, there is a growing trend for forward-thinking companies to offer a high percentage of “personal time” to their employees.

These companies have realised that they will get more from their employees if they are well-rested and clear-minded.

A drained and burnt-out workforce is counterproductive, but it’s a reality of a post-recession environment where more responsibility for less pay is the norm.

I didn’t quite achieve total boredom during my break, but I certainly felt the benefits of an unplugged mind.

One lazy afternoon I came across a quote, which read: “Don’t sacrifice your life to make a living.”

It’s funny what wisdom boredom can bring.

» Chang is the founder of Flux Trends

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