Three Lessons Doing Nothing Taught Me
Updated: Nov 2
We live in a world moving so fast, we can not catch up. We live in constant stress. We lose ourselves in the machine. We live our life on autopilot. We live the same day for thousands of times and we settle for that to be our life. We are always in a hurry, and we are always late. We run mindlessly. We chase what can’t be caught. We never slow down. We forget to be present. We forget to live.
But life has it’s own ways to tell us we are losing that battle. Something happens that takes us off our track and “the world crushes on our heads".
A jobless-faceless story
For me it was the last few months. I wasn’t hoping for a break, I was aiming for an upgrade. An upgrade happened, just not the one I was aiming for (a better one though, I came to learn later).
Several months ago I left my job and moved to a new country. I did not speak the language. I had no friends. All I had was my love for the “new world” and my high expectations.
Relocating got slow, but I thought I needed to learn to be more patient anyway.
My job applications were sent to some kind of a black hole that never sent anything back, but at first I didn’t lose hope. I knew it will take some time. Then, ‘some time’ got way longer that I hoped, and it got even more complicated – I got stuck in some senseless bureaucracy and couldn’t even think about starting anything job-like any time soon.
I didn’t know how or when my situation was going to change. Weeks went by. My enthusiasm was abandoning me. Two months later I felt like I was disappearing. Slowly and then all at once an existential crisis kicked in. I felt my existence pointless. I felt worthless. Hello depression.
Luckily, I had been through bad times before and I knew I had to do something about it. I tried to distance myself from the bad feelings and think clearly, looking for the real reasons for how I felt.
Lesson 1 – Who I was (not)
What I learned was that the sole reason for feeling like I had no identity, like I was a noone, was that I had no job. It was the first time, well… ever. I was put in kindergarten at nine months, then moved from school, trough college and straight to work. Never stopped. Never took a break. Now, for the first time in my 30 years, I had nothing to do. I didn’t know what to do with myself.
I learned that my whole life I identified myself (and others?) with what I did, what I studied, what I earned, what I wore… I identified myself with how people recognized me. Suddenly, I had nothing to identify with. I was unrecognizable.
Having “nothing” to do was all the opposite from my life before. Before, I always had to be somewhere, always had something to do, something to rush to. For 30 years I slept little and ate in a hurry. I always had a reason, something to stress about. Now all that was a fading memory.
Then I saw it. Only a few months after I quit my job I couldn’t even remember the person I was there. I couldn’t believe that for one third of my life, I identified myself with someone I couldn’t even recognize now. At least half of every day, for ten years, I stressed over things that didn’t matter even the slightest now. (Because I had other concerns now? Will they also be irrelevant in several months/years? Of course they will) The realization was a devastating, but at the same time very liberating.
Finally, I saw that I was none of that. I promised myself I’ll never do it again. Never again I will think of myself as being a title, or a desk at a office.
I was something else. I was so many different things.
Finally I saw that. I am so much more.
Lesson 2 – what was(n’t) important to me
Later I learned, I was neither the jobs I was applying for. Because when I thought about it, after all rejections, I honestly couldn’t care less about any of the positions I applied for. They were all the same thing I did before, only in a different place. And I decided to leave that. I didn’t like it before. Why would I go back?
I realized, I was just applying for the feeling of purpose to come back. I didn’t really want to be there. I am now so grateful for all those rejections. They don’t hurt at all. On the opposite, they gave me the opportunity to learn what I needed. I didn’t need to find a job that will take all my time and not make me happy. I needed time to focus on myself and what I really want. Those jobs were not that.
What was important, what I desired in my heart had nothing to do with a job. What is important to me has nothing to do with working hours, dress codes or numbers on the bank account. None of that matters to me. (They may matter to other people and that is ok)
What matters to me are people. My family, my friends, everyone I meet every day.
What matters is being a good person. Being a better person than yesterday.
Lesson 3 – (how to) slow down
Finally I had the time to think. Time to focus on myself. Question my beliefs, reconsider my stands, face my fears. Remind myself of what I value and what I love, and learn how to honor it. Find what serves me. This break wasn’t meant to brake me, but to break the shell I didn’t know I had.
I realized finally what this time meant for me. It was time to recover. Recollect and regroup.
Time to reinvent myself.
I know now I needed this break for a long time. I needed to stop and think. I needed to see that there was so much more to life then rushing from one place to another, stressing over one deadline after another.
Before I got it, I never knew I needed it. Having the time made me realize how important it is. I am grateful for having it and I appreciate the lessons it taught me.
I finally saw the purpose of the time I was given. I embraced the opportunity and started exploring. Learning about myself and what I wanted from life. Suddenly, a wide open space was in front of me.
There came the thought – I could do whatever I want!
A meadow. I could run barefoot, there was nothing there to stop me.
This wasn’t just turning a page, I’ve done that so many times before. This was a whole new book. And it was empty. I got to write it. I had still to figure out how, but I had a great opportunity and all the time in the world.
I learned so much more since. Having the time off was the best thing that happened to me, but I had to pull the patch to realize that. The time I had “doing nothing” taught me that.
The most valuable lesson I learned was that I needed to slow down. Now, more often than not I deliberately choose to take a break. A minute every hour, an hour every day, a day every week. That is when I can get back to myself and check if my path is the right one for me. If my choices and my decisions are serving me good. I slow down, I am mindful, I am present. I finally live my life and not chase it.
Life always finds a way to slow you down
From what I know so far, everyone, everywhere at one point needs a break “from their life”. Whether they know it or not. We all, no exceptions, need to from time to time have a prolonged period of time to “do nothing”. And most probably, life will find a way to provide that break, one way or another.
I met a 20 year old girl recently in a friend’s hostel. She was traveling around. She was an amazing person by the time I met her. She was so young, yet she seemed like a wise woman. She knew what she was talking about. We ended up discussing this same topic. Before this trip she too had her time “doing nothing”. Series of unfortunate events put her in a hospital bed for more then a year. Not that she had nothing to do… she could do nothing. For a long time.
In her words, the true recovering was not her body, but her mind. She had to accept that she might never fully recover. She might never go out with her friends again. She might never go to college. She was an 18 years old girl, stuck in her bed and had nothing to do. It was a big bite to swallow, but she had her fight and won.
Although her circumstances were much worse than mine, she too was grateful to have had the time off. It changed the way she looked at life. It changed the way she look at herself. The most valuable lessons she learned were who she really was, what matters to her the most, and how to slow down…
I saw the same change in my mom after recovering from cancer… A geshtaltist even said that “the sickness leaves, when the need of it is no longer there” (Apologies, I could only find the linked text in Russian and Serbian)
I’ve seen this over and over, in many other people after unfortunate events in their lives.
One more thing
Lately, I’ve had the honor to meet and talk to young people from around the world. Especially the ones taking a year off before or during college, or people traveling around “doing nothing”. They have the most interesting stories. Also, they are, life-wise, the wisest people I’ve met. Young, funny sages, full of life. They are delightful to talk to.
I’ve noticed that they look at life differently (than “regular” people). They are not in a hurry. They have no “plan”. For now they are here. Present. Exploring the world. Exploring themselves. Having this conversation. Telling me their story.
What is different about them is that they take their break on purpose. They don’t wait for life to do it for them. And that is what I think we should all do.
Take that break
Why wait for life to make us take that break? Why not make it ourselves? We don’t have that many years to live.
That year off, if you haven’t already, take it!
(Few months, weeks or even days will do if you know when you need it, and how to do it)
If you have, then take it again.
Make it possible, it’s a priority.
You are a priority.