In shape for what?
October 1, 2014 § Leave a comment
For the first time in almost seven years I’m not in charge of a make or break project at work, and I’ve been in a weird existential place for the last two months as a result (if the 4 half started blog posts in that time period are any indicator…)
Most of the time in my adult life, I have been thinking, “how do I do the minimal basic human things to survive so I can do the most to change the world in my job” – this meant reading 5-ingredient meal Pintersts, going for runs at midnight after work, and scheduling conference calls to catch up with four friends at once on Sundays for efficiency sake. It meant the job was life, and along the way I figured out what I needed to stay sane while doing it. A long bike ride once a month. A big outdoor vacation every four months or so. Dance parties whenever possible.
This was mostly great, and often exhausting. My life felt absolutely purposeful, my time well allocated and proportioned for maximum productivity. There’s a certain type of insane drive one gets when $1.7 million is on the line (maybe pennies for a big bank, but real money for a non-profit), and it feels really good to be in.
So rewind to August – I’ve got all this “free time” stuff, like, 60-70 hour work weeks, and I’m more than a little confused and lost. I feel a lot like this Atlantic article about happiness versus fulfillment .. .except instead of feeling happy, I felt like I was cheating. All of my basic needs were already met working ridiculous hours, all the free time seemed excessive. Of course there was more work to do – lists that needed revamping, how-to documents, and sample press releases to make – but all of it without the same urgency as before. I tried to find internal motivation to do it all anyways.
I wondered at who a person was without a greater purpose, what is the value of a person who does not fight for their values?
Purpose for purposes’ sake?
I bike by a Tae Kwon Do studio in my daily commute, Master Choi’s – the same name as the studio I went to when I was 12 in Maryland – and one day, I thought what the hell, let’s see what’s going on here. 5 hours later, I was running kicking drills with a 72 year old Grand Master, 1961 S. Koren Heavyweight Champion and 1968 European Heavyweight Champion, all the old forms coming back, red faced, k’iaping like a mad-woman.
I pause for a breather after half an hour.
“You’ve still got it! Perfect form! Just out of shape, we’ll get you in shape!”
Well, that’s it, I thought, a 72 year old just called me out of shape. Now I have to give him money so he can make me not a weenie. We talked prices and I told him I’d think about it. For a day or so, it felt good, this was something concrete to work towards.
And then at some point I thought, “Wait, but why?” What am I getting in shape for? What happens then? It’s not like a good political campaign – we fought for five years in California to ban the plastic bag, and yesterday Gov. Brown finally signed the bill. That’s 12 billion real pieces of pollution that will no longer be produced every year. You can feel proud of that, good about that. What is getting into personal shape compared to that? It felt like selfishness
I mulled some more.
“Fill your cup”
Last week, I was at wedding with a bunch of old work friends and I was talking this over with one of them. We both have a lot of friends who do easier things and find meaning and purpose in many things – family, their garden, a sport, children, etc. – and I was heartened that she has also has had this dilemma. Are you truly living a moral life, if you are not giving it your all to push forward the morals that you hold dear? If you value justice and lessening the suffering of others, how seriously do you take your values if you are not fighting for them?
If you have something that you think is worth fighting for, who are you to not give it your all?
Most people just don’t have that thing.
She introduced me to the concept of “filling your cup” – do what you need to do to be functional so that you have enough to share with others. It put a nice fine point on the question of where the work life balance belongs for me.
So last week I told my boss to put more on my plate and today I’m happy to report that I’ll likely be overseeing another person in the mid-west. I’m totally stoked.
I’m also coming to terms with living like a normal person – I think I can morally justify my existence if I spend the rest of my time doing things I can look back on and be proud of like reading good books, building good friendships, and running around and climbing things. So I’m bouldering every weekend and running longer distances, making one friend phone call at a time, and all the while still thinking about the pithy things.The jury is still out on this one 🙂