Think that overwork and burnout is a new phenomenon? Something that only came about with the dawn of personal computing and an ever-quickening pace of life?
Turns out, not so much.
Back in 1966 Thomas Merton wrote the following, in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:
There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork.
The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence.
The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”
My guess is that if you look hard enough, you’ll find examples of humans pushing the edges of our physical and mental capabilities from the earliest days of our existence.
What changed since those early days of human overachieving?
Looking at Merton’s quote, the word that stands out is “modern”.
We have reached a point in human evolution where the tools we’ve created allow us to do more, better, faster… but we as a society haven’t learned where our boundaries are. We haven’t caught up to our technology.
We’ve reached a place where we can actually choose to do less — without fear of death or physical harm. But yet a psychological need to stay ahead of the curve – to not become irrelevant – has caused us to fear that choice.
Some questions to ponder:
What if it was time to let go of your need to do more, more, more?
What if you could focus, pick the things that are truly important, and let the rest go?
What if, instead of burning the candle at both ends and rushing your life away, you could slow down and actually (oh, I don’t know) enjoy the ride?
Tame your to-do list
Here’s my challenge for you this week: take a look at the crazy list of things you have on your to-do list, and get rid of at least one of them. Not in a “kick the can down the road” way, but in a “let it go forever” way.
I know there’s something on that list you’ve been dreading or putting off forever. Let it go. Done. No more guilt hanging over your head because you haven’t done it yet, or you feel like you should.
Now take a deep breath, and see how you feel. Lighter? Less guilty?
Let’s start to take back this one precious life we’ve been given, and dedicate it to things that bring us joy.
No more guilt-ridden to do lists. No more causing yourself violence by committing yourself to too many projects.
Simplify. Find the things that bring you energy and enjoyment.
As Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”