“The world is a glass overflowing with water.”
– Pablo Neruda
As much as an over-abundance of technology has limited the scope of our worldview by committing us to spending days looking at screens, it has also (paradoxically) opened our minds to a striking variety of “things” that the world contains. Combine this with a generally rising level of income and affordability, and we have an ever growing number of options for spending our free time. Options for things to be passionate about. Options for things to do, observe, create.
I had a mentor once who mentioned that her philosophy was to ensure that the number of things in her life never numbered more than five; otherwise she knew she would spread herself too thin. For other people the number can be different but the principle is the same. A relationship is one thing, an ongoing home improvement plan is another; a job is a thing as is a continuing education course. This stuck with me because at the time I was an over-achiever in university who perpetually felt like more projects/clubs/jobs/courses/opportunities could be taken on, ad infinitum. After hearing her theory, I thought maybe it’s best to do only a few things but very well. To a degree I managed to curb the excessive involvement and was happier allowing myself to do fewer things.
Some people follow the strategy above, which can be described as ruthless prioritization. Continually dispose of the least important time investment, stop when you reach sanity. And yet I realize now that maybe there are other strategies for dealing with the quantity of options that life tempts us with. Here are a few more.
Some people indulge in lining things up and jumping from one time investment to another. This is difficult because human beings are drawn to stability and become complacent. Dramatic moves such as major career changes require obvious bravery; but all changes are challenging regardless of size. People who seem to go through “phases” are sometimes seen as eccentric, though I can’t help but admire them. The ones who are into adventure travel until they decide to open up a small business until they begin to write as a freelancer for a living.
Some others are great at living vicariously. They observe the world and manage to absorb everything it offers. In Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about her sister as such a character: one who can talk about anything in the world intelligently and with interest. There is something appealing about people who are both naturally curious and capable of retaining all the information they come across. (I’m convinced they are in on some secret methods or mind tricks that the rest of us aren’t privileged enough to learn.)
It can’t be denied that another legitimate way to do more is by minimizing the emotional investment in each thing taken on. When projects aren’t taken too seriously they aren’t quite as burdensome. And when it comes down to it, anything that is done for variety and leisure should not be anything to weigh you down. This is for those individuals who can spend their evenings and weekends flipping a house while writing a novel and learning a musical instrument. If the opportunity is there, why not casually go for it?
In a way the four methods above can be turned into a psychological profile. By assigning a percentile weight to each of them, and by committing to using them continuously, we can take advantage of all the options laid out for us in today’s world without losing ourselves in the current. I think that for the moment I’m a 30/20/40/10 respectively; but as time goes by I will be seeing how this will change based on the activities I find myself drawn to and the people that I will meet with different viewpoints and yet different philosophies.