Tag Archives: balance

I Have a Favorite Shirt

I have a favorite shirt.  There.  It is good to have that out in the open.  We hit it off right away, and then we started spending an inordinate amount of time together.  Now, it has blossomed into a beautiful relationship.

The relationship began in early February when I received the long-sleeved technical t-shirt for running the Surf City Half Marathon in Huntington Beach.  “I Ran This Beach!” is printed across the front, which is a little embarrassing due to the sophomoric Blake Shelton-ish double entendre.  But I love my shirt.

It is attractive, I guess, sort of a denim-y acid-washed color, but that isn’t why I like it so much.  I just really like the way it feels.  In an “I’m-embarrassed-my-wife-will-read-this” sort of way, I really like the way it feels.

Speaking of my wife, she probably hates it by now since I put it on every day when I get home from work and there is a decent chance that it doesn’t smell like a spring meadow, but that hasn’t slowed me down because changing into my favorite shirt signals an important transition from work to relaxation.  The person who had the bright idea of tying something in a knot around your neck and calling it business (busy-ness) attire was, well, pretty spot on.  Untying the knot that threatens to disconnect my brain from my heart and lungs and putting on my favorite shirt is an important part of my day.

Now that technology has successfully obliterated the work/relaxation line, I consider this daily costume change an act of defiance.  I will not be dominated by work.  I may work a lot, maybe more than I should, and maybe even at home, but it will be on my terms while wearing my favorite shirt.  And that feels good in more ways than one.

Emancipation

An article in the online edition of the Harvard Business Review caught my attention: “A Modest Proposal: Eliminate Email: Reasonable Attempts to Tame It Are Doomed to Fail.”  Ironically, or maybe appropriately, the article arrived via email.

The author (Cal Newport, Georgetown professor) is apparently serious, and as one of the “inbox-enslaved individuals” he describes, I appreciate his attempt at a Technological Emancipation Proclamation.  He accurately portrays my people’s need “to constantly check their inbox and feel great guilt or unease about the possibility of unanswered communication awaiting attention” and that “the inbox-bound lifestyle created by an unstructured workflow is exhausting and anxiety-provoking.”

So, he suggests chunking it.  He writes, “The concept is simple. Employees no longer have personalized email addresses.”

I think he is crazy.  Which is partly why I love it.  But more importantly, and I’m speaking as one highly skilled in email management, I think the day is coming when the email problem has to be addressed.  As Professor Newport concludes, “if workplace trends continue as they are, [his crazy/stupid/fruitcake idea] might one day soon seem less less like an interesting thought experiment and more like a necessary call to action.”

Email allows us to be so stinking available, efficient, and responsive that we no longer have time to work (in fact, that becomes our work)–or, tragically, to live.  In his delirious alternate universe, Professor Newport envisions: “[W]hen you’re home in the evening or on vacation, the fact that there is no inbox slowly filling up with urgent obligations allows a degree of rest and recharge that’s all but lost from the lives of most knowledge workers today.”

Can you imagine such a thing?  I can imagine.  In fact, I can almost even remember.

Recurring Fluctuation

Rhythm: (noun) [ri-thəm] 3a: movement, fluctuation, or variation marked by the regular recurrence or natural flow of related elements.¹

You say routine, and I hear same. That’s boring. You say rhythm, and I hear flow. That’s magic. Routine is my middle name (or possibly Andrew), but I want to live with rhythm.

The end of the calendar year brings a holiday break to most people, and it arrived yesterday with much rejoicing for the students in my world. I like the rhythm of the academic calendar, the dependable circuit of fresh beginnings building toward grand crescendos and coveted breaks. Nothing lasts long enough for monotony to set in, but the variety is familiar. It is rhythm, that lovely idea with the oxymoronic definition of recurring fluctuation.

Our particular culture may be rhythm-impaired.

The American notion of work is hard to identify. From one angle it looks all workaholic with a capitalism-infused insatiable desire for more and a technological revolution that never really allows us to go home or on vacation, but from another it looks a little like laziness expecting two full days off a week and only eight hours of work the other days carefully divided by breaks and lunch hours and creative approaches to what counts as being on the clock (not to mention vacations, sick days, and other assorted flavors of leave).

So which is it? Do we work like crazy fifty weeks of the year and then take two weeks to run like crazy on vacation and never really rest? Or, do we never really get around to work?

Can it be both? I answer both because I think we lack rhythm.

The planner in me says that rhythm demands excellent time management skills, and it does, but the rhythmic life demands the creative side of the brain, too. Do not settle for a bland, routinized life. Do not settle for a rudderless, pinball life either.

Seek a life with beautiful recurring fluctuation, and then—and only then—go with the flow.

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¹ Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2015.