Non-advice for Uncertain Times
“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
Transitions are hard. Now that I’m back in NYC and figuring out next steps, I find myself caught in a phase of “in-between”, a place somewhere between being and doing.
The days when I am most productive are the days when I am accountable to others, checking boxes off a list of things that require me to show up: getting coffee with someone, sending an email, exercising, applying to a job, writing this newsletter. I do it mostly to reassure myself that I can still function as a person in larger society.
Of course, there are days that go terribly awry: I start a simple task and end with 20 open tabs + a pounding headache; I say yes to another glass of wine and learn for the millionth time that an extra hour of sleep would have probably been more beneficial; I fall into a rabbit hole of social feeds and emerge hours later frustrated with my lack of self-regulation.
But truthfully, the majority of my days comprise of quiet, subtle, slightly indulgent ‘inner work’ that wouldn’t mean much to anyone else: reading old journal entries about dreams once dreamed, scribbling new plans, wandering aimlessly through the city, reflecting on the things I’ve learned.
Unstructured time means that you learn to set boundaries between these periods of reflection, productivity, and self-indulgence. I realize how lucky I am to have this time. I’m learning discernment, for knowing when and how to act. Self-forgiveness, for moments of weakness. Permission, to just be. It’s a pretty unscientific process of self-analysis + trial & error + course-correction, but it’s probably what I need most now.
It’s not all fun experimentation. If you’re prone to anxiety like me, having more free time can turn into analysis paralysis. Time, like money, is a finite resource, and can quickly drip dry. You try to remember what mountain you set out to climb to begin with and why it’s taking so long to figure it out.
So, what is time-well-spent look like in an intentional life? There’s no shortage of articles on how to be more productive, often modeled after the lifestyle of a hero CEO. Wake up early. Time block your calendar. Remove social media from your phone. Say yes to every opportunity. Actually, say no and set boundaries. Seek feedback from family & friends because you need to check your blind spots. Join support groups.
It is tempting to follow the experts & have others tell you what to do. But here’s the rub: only you can answer the question. Sure, we could all probably benefit from some time management tools, but this isn’t a productivity issue. This is a life. Simply put, you can’t delegate the direction of any one life to a generalized advice column.
Oprah always starts her Super Soul Sunday podcast by saying one of the most valuable gifts we can give ourselves is time, time to be present. I’d like to take this a step further: we should take time to be present, so we can determine our intentions and chart our future self. In fact, I’d argue that it is the most important work we can do because no one else can do it. Figure out what matters to you and from there, your choices, actions, and identities will flow. You can’t outsource this stuff, baby.
“It is the intentions, the capacities for choice rather than the total configuration of traits which defines the person. Here the stage is set for identity crises, for wondering who one really is, behind the multifold variety of actions and roles. And the search for that core person is not a matter of curiosity; it is a search for the principles by which choices are to be made.”
– What Makes a Person
I’ve come to believe that life occurs at a certain cadence – at times, we are thrust into circumstances that don’t give us much of a choice – but when we do have the privilege of choice, it is our responsibility to set a framework so we aren’t continuously sidetracked and pushed further and further away from our destination.
For those who think this is a question reserved for the privileged, it totally is. Embrace it! And if you don’t have the fortune now, just wait – your glorious moment to navigate this beautiful in-between territory will come.