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I can’t do downtime

A letter writer is struggling with feelings of guilt every time they stop being “productive”.

It’s all about balance, explains our elder.

Dear EWC

Hello! I have recently noticed that I have a hard time enjoying my hobbies. They still interest me and I love doing all of them (drawing, reading, playing video games every now and then, playing with the pets…) but I notice that every time I am doing one of those, I punish myself mentally. I feel like because I am not working or ‘grinding’ as people say these days, that the off time is being wasted instead of gaining money or succeeding. It’s a terrible mindset that I am aware of, but I can’t stop. I know that to be healthy, one needs time for themselves. That depriving yourself of your hobbies will just lead you to a dark place, but I can’t just stop. I draw, I think: “Why aren’t you working right now?” I read, I think: “What have you achieved today? Now is not the time to read.” I lay down for a bit, I think: “You don’t deserve to lay down. You could be studying right now. Get up.”

It’s horrible. I am sad often these days and I feel like they are dark. The only times when I have good days is when I have done an excellent job at work or finished homework, but everything else is grey… Any advice about how to find joy in the things that I love again? I don’t want my life to be ruled by the desire of succeeding… Thank you for reading. Have a nice day.

Dave-Scott replies

I’ll start out by telling you that for my entire life I have had some of the exact same feelings that you describe. I constantly wanted to accomplish things I deemed “worthy” and, whenever I wanted to do something I simply enjoyed, I worried I was wasting my time. Eventually, however, I learned that those “important” things were no more important than the things I just plain enjoyed.

I was driven to do well in my job and always wanted to effectively handle those other life jobs that responsible people did as well. But I enjoyed fly-fishing, photography, backpacking, writing, watching TV, reading, friends, family, and an host of other things and wanted to do those too. Like you, I had a bit of anxiety over my feelings to do both. But what I eventually decided was that these two approaches to life were not mutually exclusive. In fact, they complement one another — both were necessary in order for me to feel I had a happy, enjoyable, satisfying life. I could simply not just work and work and then do more work without doing the things that quite frankly were just “fun.” I could work hard, but I needed to reward myself in order to be able to do my best work.

I saw other people who followed a course of work first and made it the only priority in their life. Most burned out after awhile. Some were remarkable in how bad they eventually failed. I saw others who put fun first and they did just as bad because they played too much and their work suffered. Many of them also flamed out.

What you need to try to achieve is a balance. Work and work hard. Play and play hard (or just take a nap). I found that if you set priorities for both work and play and accomplish them, you do not feel guilt.

One thing I did to help me balance my life in regards to work and play, was to always have a list. A list of what I wanted to do for the next week (or month, or whatever). I generally never prioritized the list because I always wanted the freedom to constantly decide what I needed to do next. The list was both a guide for accomplishing my job, the job of running my life, and also made sure I was leaving plenty of room for fun. I always took great satisfaction in checking off items on the list — both work and fun related.

After devising this strategy, I alleviated almost all of the guilt I felt about not always doing something constructive or “valuable.” I truly do not feel I could have accomplished as much as I did in my life (completed one project after another in my job, was substantially promoted in my job, received many awards for performance, wrote and published books, etc.) if I had not also made room for fun experiences (fished most of the great streams of the west, photographed dozens of sunsets, explored the backcountry of Glacier National Park, wrote and published poetry in literary journals, etc.).

I don’t know if this helps you or not. I think your realizing you have this conflict early in life is a very good thing. Realize that life is not all work and not all play. There is a place in your life for both. Achieve the balance that makes you happiest.

If you want to talk more, feel free to get back to me.

Letter #: 435871
Category: Self-Improvement

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