Remember when leisure time was seen as a good thing? A healthy thing? It was a quaint old time when people closed up their shops or offices for a spell during the summer months while they went off to spend some quality time with loved ones, indulge in cherished pastimes or otherwise recharge their batteries in some meaningful way.
One of the great promises of communication technology in the 21st Century was that it would somehow transform our working lives by “freeing us up” from the shackles of the office. This, of course, turned out to be complete nonsense. Far from freeing us up, all it did was create more demands on our limited time and attention by blurring the lines between home and office. According to some estimates, the average worker now receives over 200 emails a day! Now the office follows us wherever we go. Up a river, down a mountain, watching the sunset in Belize: it does not matter. There is no physical place where we are “out of contact” anymore, even for a while.
Like many small business owners, I too suffer from the “more is more” philosophy of work. There is always something I can be doing. As Americans, we are conditioned from a young age towards activity. We share a powerful collective aversion to doing nothing and often feel virtuous the more productive we are, the more hours we can work, the more we can “do.” The problem in perpetual doing, without ever sitting still for a moment, is that we risk critical burnout. It is the equivalent of driving a car without ever changing the oil, or overfishing a lake without ever replenishing the stock. Paradoxically, sometimes the most “productive” thing you can do is actually nothing.
Yes, there is a time for getting things done – deadlines, emergencies, annual meetings – but there must also be a time for not doing. For letting things wash over us; for letting new ideas bubble up; for just being still. Leave it to the Italians to coin a lovely phrase for this. They call it Dolce Far Niente – sweet idleness, or the pleasure of doing nothing. Of course, this can be difficult in a culture that worships busyness as the answer to all our problems. Who hasn’t felt the subtle pressure to stay plugged-in, always be “on.” I know I have. Come in early, stay late, check your email incessantly. Be available.
Since starting this newsletter back in 2009, I have written over 60 posts on a broad range of topics. I always try to share things that I myself am wrestling with, in hopes that it may be useful to others. I feel blessed to have over 5000 readers every month. It is truly a privilege to have people from all over the world share lovely comments with me and tell me that the newsletter is useful to them. But I also believe in balance and the importance of getting good rest, which I why I will be taking a short break from writing the newsletter during the summer months to replenish my own well. I hope to indulge in some reading, reflection and maybe some delicious wandering.
Wherever you are in the world, I hope that you too can find some time this summer for Dolce Far Niente.
Happy Independence Day.
See you in a couple of months!