I’ve always been busy. I got my first job delivering a tiny local newspaper when I was twelve. I graduated from there to the Washington Post, which I delivered from the ages of 13 to 17. I woke up at 4:30 to 5:00 AM to deliver that morning paper every single day except family vacations. From there it was Bradley Department Stores (yes, Mrs. B’s joint). I then worked all the way through college, mostly in food service (i.e., waiting tables, working the grill and finally bartending). Yes, I was an earnest hard working boy!
I share this less to evoke Norman Rockwell images of industrious youth and more to share a simple observation that I make of myself: I like to stay busy and I like to work.
As life has gone on, I have found more ways to squeeze and optimize my busyness. This went into overdrive once I started working in the city, and it got even crazier when I started to workout every morning. It turned into the game of minutes.
The game of minutes! Let’s play!
- Wake up at 5:00
- Check email and caffeinate from 5:00 to 5:25
- Drive to gym, 7 minutes
- Workout for 50 minutes
- Drive back home, 7 minutes
- Breakfast from 6:35 to 7:00
- Shower and dress from 7:00 to 7:25
- Drive to train station 7 minutes
- Catch 7:34 AM train
- Get to Grand Central at 8:30
- Walk to office, 25 minutes
- Be at desk 9:00 AM
- Go to first meeting
There’s not a lot of room (perhaps no room) for any dawdling in there. It’s about running a tight ship with no messing around. Most of my working life became an extended version of the game of minutes. I’m not complaining about it. It’s just what it is.
The downside of the game of minutes is that I held anything that got in the way of my Swiss watch schedule with bitter contempt. Why is everyone driving so slowly? How dare you not jam on the gas the millisecond that the traffic light turns green? It’s like living in a NASCAR pit crew session. I’m OK with it, but it makes my family a little crazy and other drivers a little afraid.
So what happens when I go into half-time in the extended game of minutes known as my life? I’m not really sure as I have somehow been managing to keep myself oddly busy since I wrapped up with Weight Watchers at the end of August with lots of meetings, calls, planning, etc. and more than a little bit of non-leisure travel. It’s not quite as crazy as it was prior to departure, but I’ve still been harried.
Except! I had a plan to suspend the game of minutes by having a bunch of fun travel. I started in mid-September with a drive up the West Coast, which started in Phoenix at a Google conference (which was beyond cool & interesting, btw) and ended in San Francisco ten days later via the Pacific Coast Highway. That was followed by a flight directly to London to see friends and then about a week exploring the south of Spain.
In retrospect, I think I planned my travel time a bit too much like I planned my work weeks: too much. Case in point. I rented a convertible (because I’m a boy), and drove up from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon, which I had never seen. I arrived at 8 PM at night, grabbed dinner, and got to bed so I could be on the trail (South Rim) promptly at 6 AM. This would give me four solid hours to hike as fast and hard as I could (and I did!) so I could grab breakfast, get in the car, and drive to the Hoover Dam (four hours) before the last tour closed. From there, I could get to Las Vegas to spend the night before driving to LA. That’s one day.
I had an EXCELLENT hike in the Grand Canyon, making sure to capture LOTS of excellent photos. If I was going to hike fast, my plan was to have photos to relish the experience at my leisure, whenever that happens. Pretty sad I realize: take photos so I don’t have to waste time going slowly on the trails.
So something kind of curious happened in the midst of these 24 hours of leisure insanity. After an excellent (and big) breakfast, I got in the car, put the top down and began to drive. It was absolutely beautiful that day. The sun was out, the air was cool and dry, and the scenery leaving the National Park was stunning. I had groovy music on the stereo, and I found myself gazing around with a big stupid grin on my face. I suddenly had an epiphany. The point of the drive was not to get to the Hoover Dam. The point of the drive was the enjoy the drive. This did not equate with my game of minutes. Not even a little bit.
I’ve never been very good at living in the moment. I worry more about not being late and getting the next thing scratched off my list. After that Arizona drive, I went on to spend three weeks of living in the moment, and it was spectacular. I’m a little slow to the realization that life around us is pretty great if we take just a few minutes to be present and enjoy it.
I have not suddenly become a relaxed man, but it’s nice to know that I’m capable to achieving that state. I’m getting ready to do five excellent weeks of disappearing into Asia Pacific. More on this in later posts, but suffice to say, I am looking for a big Zen exhale. Better start planning aggressively to make that happen.