I read an article recently about how a renowned economist toward the end of the Nineteen Century predicted that by the time we are now living in, production would be so advanced and our standard of living so secure that the average workday would be only a few hours. Our challenge would be how to handle all that leisure time, and, I assume, feel purposeful.
Obviously this hasn’t happened. Not even close. Americans are busier than ever, and it’s become a badge of honor to be a very busy person. Busyness has, for many, become synonymous with worth. The busier you are, the more important and valuable you must be.
And so I found myself walking our little Westie, Nellie, one lovely morning, aware that I didn’t have to look at my watch every few minutes to be sure I wasn’t running late for a client session. I only had half as many sessions as I usually have on a typical workday, and I felt a pang of anxiety. I was accustomed to being on the run day in and day out for so many years, feeling proud of how much I could manage, but also harried much of the time. It meant I was in demand and therefore successful, even though I complained about not having enough downtime.
So what does a lighter workload say about me now? I wondered. The ease I’d said I wanted was here. But what do I do with myself? I’m not used to empty spaces in my day. Anxiety niggled in my chest—this was all so unfamiliar. There has always been something to get done, necessary tasks to fit between appointments and obligations. Sure, now I could sort through my clothes and decide what to give away, or clean under the beds, but I didn’t want to do any of that. I would have been filling time to push the anxiety away, instead of choosing how to be with this new experience of myself.
As Nellie sniffed her way along the path by the lake, I watched a trio of ducks glide along Seneca’s glassy surface. I breathed in the fresh air and talked myself down. It’s okay, I soothed myself, you deserve to enjoy more ease in your life. It doesn’t make you less. I reminded myself that I’ve been envious of our friends who have retired with ample financial resources, never thinking there was something lacking in them for not working.
I look out the window at the lake sparkling with the late afternoon sun and remind myself to take it in and be grateful. It’s time for Nellie to have another walk, and for me to reflect on who I choose to be as I begin leaving my life of perpetual motion and the identity it gave me behind.