The last few months I’ve been writing a lot about travel and taking time to slow down and enjoy life. But to be honest, up until a couple of years ago, I wasn’t very good at this myself. I grew up believing that my value as a person was tied to my achievements and productivity. Add to that a natural propensity towards perfectionism and, even though I love to travel, I felt guilty when I wasn’t being “productive.”
Then one day last summer all of that changed. As I wrote in my journal on a rainy Tuesday morning, I had an epiphany. I realized that all of this time I’d spent traveling and being in nature wasn’t wasted nor frivolous. It’s been a time of immense healing and growth. It’s been a time of clarity and creativity. It’s part of my story. It’s who I am, what I’m becoming, and part of everything I’ll create in the future.
I’m not suggesting that we should all quit working and live a life of leisure. I’d go as far as to say that leisure isn’t the key to living a life of joy and meaning. But I believe that it’s essential to make time to care for our minds, bodies, and spirits regularly. Taking time to slow down and enjoy life isn’t being lazy. It’s the natural rhythm of life and neglecting it isn’t helpful.
I wrote the following post as I was preparing to embark on my solo tour to visit every Minnesota State Park a couple of summers ago. While I’ve changed a lot over the last two years, what I wrote is still relevant to this always-connected-insta-perfect world we live in. I added additional commentary at the end that I hope will inspire you to make time to enjoy the little things this summer.
Are you making time to enjoy the life you’ve created? Or do you often lose sight of everything you already have while working on your next big goal?
Maybe you’ve built some wealth but have a hard time spending any of it. Perhaps you built some freedom into your schedule but continue with your workaholic ways. Or maybe you have that incredible family you’ve always dreamed of but are too busy working to truly cherish them.
It’s easy to get sucked into our daily tasks and go-go-go from sunup to sundown. Try an experiment tomorrow. Go ask 10 people how they’ve been. I bet half of them will mention something about being busy. It’s become our way of life.
Being engaged in life and having meaningful work is important. And having goals and dreams we’re looking forward to is a good thing. But so many of us struggle to find the balance between achieving and enjoying the present moment.
When I worked in the corporate world, we never had the opportunity to go camping until after Labor Day. And even after we created more freedom in our lives, we stayed stuck in this pattern. Then one day I realized that we already had the freedom we were working so hard to create but were failing to enjoy it. That’s when I decided to spend most of what was left of my summer hanging out in my tent.
Here’s the thing. I don’t know about you but I receive constant reminders of the brevity of life. I plan to live well into my hundreds, but none of us really know which day will be our last. I would be pretty upset if I found out that tomorrow was my last day and I never took time to enjoy my life.
The Angel of Death comes to you and says, “Come, it’s time to go.” You say, “But no. You’re supposed to give me a warning so I can decide what I want to do with my last week. I’m supposed to get one more week.” Do you know what Death will say to you? He’ll say, “My God! I gave you fifty-two weeks this past year alone. Why would you need one more? What did you do with all those?” If asked that, what are you going to say? How will you answer? “I wasn’t paying attention… I didn’t think it mattered.” That’s a pretty amazing thing to say about your life.Michael Singer, The Untethered Soul
I don’t believe that we were put on this earth to be miserable, pay bills, and die. We’re here to create value and enjoy life. When we find that balance, we become happier people. When we become happier, we become kinder. And when we all become kinder, the world becomes a better place.
It’s been nearly two years since I wrote the above post and I feel even more strongly about this message today. I just returned from a short solo trip up north and was reminded how slowing down can bring clarity, creativity, and healing to your life. And those three things are just as (if not more) valuable than any achievement.
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a little better; whether be a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is the meaning of success.― Ralph Waldo Emerson