Britain’s Conservative Party declared recently that the country’s salvation out of the global double dip financial fog would be if we all “work harder.” We must become better slaves to spread sheets or be chained to the desk a little longer doing whatever it is busy people do all day.
Yet recently, a highly successful friend of mine sent a general email round to all her friends saying:
” … much of the enjoyment (she) felt a couple of years back working in a top legal firm had gone as she found herself with less and less time and was forced to work most weekends… .”
Looking ahead, she acknowledged that this wasn’t something that she wanted to continue doing now that she had children. So she made a decision to resign and relocate to China.
She had been on the fast track that would have eventually lead her to partnership, but she left all that behind. In fact, she even rejected an offer to work for her firm in China. She says she will be doing something off the beaten track including staying with her mother-in law for a while as they figure out what to do next. The only thing she was sure about at the time of departure, from her North London flat, was that her children managed to get into a very good school there.
Less than a decade ago, the same friend’s unbridled ambition was zeitgeist. Then, she would would have been telling stories of how she rose at five a.m., adding more academic accolades on her door, prancing around in her designer wear and multitasking. It seems nothing captures our mood less today than the vision of a super harassed mother glued to her iPad/iPhone trying to stuff organic puree down her toddler’s throat.
We’ve come along way from the days when busy was seen as the badge of honor. A former banker turned spiritual leader, Richard Zimmerman, who runs courses in the U.S. and U.K. has observed a shift in mood. He said in an interview that, “The recession has given us a great opportunity to explore ourselves more fully and determine what truly matters in our lives.” He adds, “So the disruptions of the outer world, although scary and painful, provided an excellent chance for us to work out our inner world. This is what we are now seeing. The people are slowing down, re-examining their lives, healing old wounds, clearing limited beliefs and patterns and connecting to a deeper meaning. Along the way decisions are made to reduce the things that do not genuinely fulfill and increase those that truly inspire.”
A study looking at multi-tasking by Stanford University concluded that those who multitask achieve less than those who don’t. Another study by Harvard University concluded that the more the day is fragmented, the less creative the output. Couple that with the latest research in stress by the Life and Health Sciences Research Institute at the University of Minho at Braga, Portugal and we see why more people are booking themselves into silent retreats, where nothing is said or happens, which is of course the point.
In silent retreats the healing comes from walking in nature in silence, taking in the vegetation and wildlife and eating produce that is grown locally. Long gone are our cravings to ‘tough it out’ for the sake of money and status we are starting to question our motives. We are not willing to stick at something we hate. We want to feel better.
We want to get rid of stress, the type that comes with rushing around and directing us to do five- times more instead of thinking maybe it’s time to try something new. My friend’s move to China would seem risky and dramatic but again the general public cannot take an honest look at her life. She took an honest look at her life, at how she runs it or it run her and decided that ‘slowing down’ made her goals materialize.
The second time round seems to be about doing things differently. The new ambition is not about having it all. It is not also about just being good enough because that brings with it enormous dissatisfaction and a big gap away from excellence. The new ambition is about taking bits we like, doing them well and leaving the rest for those who are still hooked on being busy.