I come from a long line of addictive personalities. Alongside our drug of choice, we Morgans are also workaholics. It follows. So I remember being surprised at how well my father took to retirement when he stopped work at 65. Of course, he didn’t do completely nothing. Just almost nothing. But I remember too his own surprise and delight that doing nothing was so easy and so much fun. Such a shame then that he only got to enjoy it for four years, dying at 69.
Then my brother decided to give up work about seven or eight years ago when he was 47 and initially he did nothing too. For a surprisingly long time. My sister-in-law reported that after a long career in a high stress job working very long hours, with lots of international travel and time away form home, he spent most of the first six months just sleeping. And then improving his golf handicap. Eventually he signed up to help a charity. More recently he did a brief interim CEO job which turned into a chairmanship, and now they’re building their own house at the same time. D’s so busy doing nothing he couldn’t possibly have time to work for a living any more. Nor, I think, would he choose to.
And that’s what’s happened to me in my gap year, following exactly the same pattern established by my father and my brother. I havent worked since 1st December 2010. I have done absolutely nothing and I have loved every moment of it. I have slept and relaxed and rested. I have caught up with entire series of TV shows I have missed over the last decade, I have got pretty good at sudoku and done a teeny tiny bit of gardening. The rest has been entirely spiritual self-care, bordering on the zzzzz. And when in doubt, choosing to do nothing, seeing no-one, declining invitations and not going out. My other favourite game is learning to resist the needs of others in favour of my own, ‘cos this takes some learning for me it seems. And unsubscribing from junk emails, ezines, newsletters and online marketing of all kinds, getting my inbox down to below 40 most days from close to 200. My target is about 10, so I also have to resist brain farts from others who like to send an email whenever they think anything at all, and the email ping pong that ensures.
If you have read or seen Eat, Pray, Love – which I heartily recommend by the way, although I appreciate it’s not everyone’s cup of tea – you will be familiar with this concept. The Sweetness of Doing Nothing. In the Italian section of the story you learn that the Italian expression for this is dolce far niente. It’s about learning to be in the moment. To just be. To enjoy life as it was intended, without ego-driven pursuits. Without being driven at all. Without being addicted to anything, especially your Blackberry and without To Do Lists, the very antithesis of the juggling, high-achieving SuperMum as portrayed by so many women in popular fiction today. To nap in the afternoons in the sunshine. To take time out to read, walk, enjoy anything in a leisurely fashion and slowing down, literally and metaphorically. Anything I was too busy to do when being a workaholic, in fact, when I had to rush, rush, rush to fit everything in and get everything done. We over-commit so.
People didn’t think I could do it, which is fair enough as I didn’t think my brother or my Dad could do it either. But it seems its very easy indeed if you just surrender to it. There is time for everything and I can stop multi-tasking. It’s the only way to enjoy life and you don’t need lots of things to fill up your time with as that’s precisely the opposite of what’s intended here. In fact, you have to positively resist that. After years of doing it the other way, this takes time and patience to learn.
And, of course, there is a downside. You have to reinvent yourself, and re-discover who you are – all over again. But at least you now have the time for all that navel-gazing. The effect your life choice has on others can also be somewhat unnerving for all concerned, but hey, that’s their stuff.
In case you have never read or watched Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, here’s what it’s all about. Stop work. Put it all down. Go get your relaxing cuppa, put your feet up and enjoy: