A wiser workaholic

Yesterday I woke up, turned on the phone and read a long post about Elon Musk – the raddest man in the world. I felt so motivated – this guy is devoting his life to something really worthwhile i.e humanity! Then I saw this quote by C.S Lewis – “The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.”. I told myself: “Motivation is rising. I have to act on it fast.”

Then today when I visited a new place, ate good food and relaxed, I started to feel a bit guilty. I’m chilling and it’s weird…

Why can’t I relax like other people? Why can’t I just sit and watch Youtube for hours? “It’s holiday duuuude!” – part of me yells. In the past, I would cave in. I would binge surf the Internet, reading random articles and feeling not completely satisfied afterwards. I hope I’m wiser now. In my past dealing with all sorts of temptation from computer games to delicious food, I know that swinging from extreme abstinence to absolute coma-inducing feast is not sustainable in the long run for me. A relaxed yet disciplined approach works much better. Lifelong learning is a marathon, not a sprint.

Where on earth does this guilt of not working come from? Perhaps it is an influence from the workaholic culture here in college. People work hard here. Perhaps it is just me — I don’t think I’ve pushed myself that hard during the year and therefore don’t deserve an extended break. More importantly, “the soul’s joy lies in the doing.” I don’t want to work hard, play hard. I want to work smart, play smart. In fact, I don’t want to separate work and play. Call me idealistic, because I am.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist most well-known for his work on flow, wrote in his book Finding Flow that we have a problem with leisure. Simply put, many of us don’t know how to really enjoy ourselves either alone or even with others. I’ve surfed the internet, watching clips of video game trailers until I crashed just to wake up the next day feeling I’ve wasted the whole day before. Worse yet, I’ve been part of pseudo face-to-face conversations with each person swiping their smartphones. I think I have enough of such stupidity to become wiser now.

For those who are feeling guilty for chilling (I guess there aren’t that many…), here are some comforting thoughts, a few reasons for being hard-working instead of idleness when alone:
Focus: If you have ever kept switching TV channels without settling down to any, you know how lousy it feels. Having lots of energy without a focus simply makes us restless. Planning everyday on what, when and how long to work, with time to breathe, to play, to pursue creative endeavors and most importantly for connecting with people is much more enjoyable. Plus, planning is not a plan. A plan will always change, yet planning is still necessary because it gives us a sense of direction so that our energy can flow smoothly to where we want rather than leaking via idleness.
A sense of achievement: We humans are experts at adaptation. If you are a normal person, the 30th ice-cream scoops you have may not be as tasty as the first one. Spacing out pleasurable treats gives each pleasure more potency because of the added element of desire. we get more pleasure from eating after physical training. Similarly, we get more pleasure from chilling after doing work. We feel like we have earned it.
Minimizing regrets: Yes I’ve read researches saying that the top regrets of people by their deathbeds include “Not spending enough time with my loved ones” and “working too hard”. But I don’t think writing this strictly fits in with my definition of “work”. I see it as a constant practice, which is a key to long term satisfaction. I know I have to keep training my writing muscles or else they will atrophy. As of writing this, I’m feeling the discomfort. Laziness is kicking in, and I have to fight against it in order to grow! Moreover, I believe this writing may offer a perspective useful to people who are chilling hard, binge watching series after series. With that belief in mind, I don’t regret time spent on this post.

On a final note, a common fear I and many friends share is FOMO – the fear of missing out. I have to face it. What am I missing out? Some pleasures. Is it bad? Maybe. Or maybe I’m taking myself too seriously. I’m still scheduling time to call and keep in touch with friends and family. I count time with people as fun and I make sure I have a bit of that everyday. At the same time, I need to have time in isolation forcing myself through discomfort of learning and discipline because it makes my day worthwhile.

What does it mean for this summer? I will work hard and learn as much as I can while still spending quality time with friends and sleeping well. I plan everyday to read, write, build and learn. And keep people updated. Balance will be the real challenge this time