Too busy doing what?
The sources of pressure increase unremittingly. They have been variously ascribed to The Climate Crisis, Covid-19, the Delta Variant, The Shortage of Chips, Mail Order Purchasing Growth, WFH, Draconian Privacy Laws, Former President Trump, President Biden, The Rarity of Rare Earth, The Collapse of The Hospitality and Travel Industry, Too Many EMails, Too Many WhatsApps, Too Many Instagrams, Too Big Container Ships, Too Much Democracy, Too Little Democracy – and frankly, Too Much or Too Little of Too Many Things. There is no knowing where the next “Too” is coming from. The only certainty is that it is coming.
It is a pretty formidable collection of pressures. And that is before you start on the day to day demands of living, possibly married, maybe even with children. All those require effort enough to keep you busy. And here’s the problem. We all prefer to keep “working” at an increasingly frantic pace rather than face the bald fact that our lives, our careers and our storerooms need sorting out. I now hesitate to provide extra space anywhere because I know it will be a source of (new) things to store. Some people realise this and there is now a fad for people to find a small plot somewhere and build their own minimalist abode – a sort of fixed caravan. The less space you have, the less you can store. There’s a certain kackhanded logic to that.
Minibuilding is about as frantic as you can get. It may solve immediate problems like the housing shortage in developed countries. Sadly, it is often in reality, as well as metaphorically, an excuse to avoid the problems that beset us all. Where do I recommend that you start, then? Very simply, is the answer. I want you to watch a sunset for half an hour. You can do it in real life or you can see it on the television screen. There are many versions of it. Listen to the silence, smell the setting sun, inhale the rays. “Sunset and evening star, and one clear call for me.” I’ll leave you to finish the poem. You’re not setting out to sea yet but a brief reflection of when you will be, however far off, is worth a thousand phone calls or a hundred Zooms.
The person who packs a comfortable, neat suitcase of clothes and other things for the journey knows where they are going. The person who stuffs a case full of everything they may need, doesn’t. And yes, there are times, particularly when young, when you should go on a voyage to nowhere, when you should explore by walking, when you should shove off for adventure. But those are times when you are trying to work out what you want to do. They usually don’t last much beyond twenty-five by which time responsibilities demand attention. This is now a new phase of life. By the time you are middle-aged you are virtually carrying the world. You earn all the money, pay most of the taxes, bring up the children, sit on the committees, run the department at work. The list often seems endless, but it isn’t. In practice it ends where you decide to end it.
Taking charge of your life is your real emergence into adulthood. Now you have to start thinking about your children, maybe even your grandchildren. The world you leave behind you is probably what they will have to clean up, pay for and sort out. You should be responsible beyond your death. The truly great people recognise that and are. Do you care enough to do so as well? If so, your contribution to the strategy of the world may not be great but it will be very well worthwhile.
The art of questioning is not about asking other people questions, though that is important. It is about asking yourself the right questions at the right time. We ask ourselves trivial questions often. We can get overwhelmed by them if we are not careful. But when do we ask ourselves the questions that really matter? Someone who worked with me when she was still very young, thirty years ago, told me she reviewed her life every six months. It will come as no surprise that she is now a top thinker for governments. But she is also a top thinker for her own career.
Peace, contentment and good mental health are mostly not golden gifts that some people have and others don’t. They are the prerogative of the thoughtful, of those who watch the sunset, of those who know what is the heart of the matter.
As they teach, they learn. As they learn, they care.
And as they care they grow beyond who they are to who they can become.
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