When I first picked up this book I had no time to read it. The school year was wrapping up which meant I had multiple kid related things to manage, I was in the middle of planning a vacation, had several blog related deadlines, an article submission due, my fridge broke, and my son came down with strep throat. Sound familiar?
Well, Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time found her life in this all too familiar out of control spiral of busyness—trying to juggle time pressures and modern life—when she decided to apply her journalism background to the quest of rediscovering leisure.
“Leisure, who has time for that?” Indeed, it is almost a foreign concept, but that wasn’t always the case. Greek philosophers believed that “living a life of leisure was the highest aim of human being. True leisure, they believed, free from the drudgery of work, not only refreshed the soul but also opened it up. It was time and a space where one could be most fully human.”
And so, I unearthed my copy of the book which had been sitting on a shelf collecting dust for several weeks (I never seem to have time to get to that household chore). It wasn’t until I was on the plane bound for Italy that I really began to read it.
The Big Idea
Leisure is a choice
"The 'miracle of now' is to choose to do something with no other aim that it refreshes the soul, or to choose to do nothing at all. To just BE and feel fully alive."
When I read this quote my immediate reaction was, “Do nothing? That sounds hard.” But considering I was on vacation at the time I decided to purposefully put this to the test and choose leisure.
This wasn’t as easy as you might think given all the sights and places to see in Italy. It is quite easy to fall into the trap of ‘must see, must do everything since I may never be back here’ kind of thinking. In fact, some days it felt just like that. Lots of seeing and doing but not so much ‘being.’
Perhaps, in our culture, our perspective of leisure is not a positive one. We associate the concept with laziness or being idle or frivolous. So, if one goes to Italy you had better cram it all in and see and taste everything. But according to one of several leisure researchers that Ms.Schulte met with, leisure is “simply being open to the wonder and marvel of the present.”
And so I made some choices. Choices not to go to the Spanish Steps or the Trevi Fountain while in Rome even though they were on my ‘must see’ list. This allowed a more relaxed, less rushed evening watching the kids play on a bridge. I chose to end our day early in Pisa and go and just sit in a garden with a pool, doing nothing except admire my surroundings.
It was through reading Brigid Schulte’s book that this concept of choosing leisure being up to me became clear. I had to deliberately choose it. As she quotes Carl Sandburg, “time is the coin of your life. You spend it. Do not allow others to spend it for you.”
Let it go
"Sometimes it’s as if we’re racing to the finish line our whole lives, skimming the surface and never dropping into life, as if life is a problem to be solved rather than a mystery to be lived."
Ms. Schulte examines the concept of leisure within three facets of life: at work, in love, at play. She examines the pressures (both real and self imposed) on both males and females in the corporate world. She describes the model of an ‘ideal worker’ and how our culture has embraced this notion that we are 150 percent committed to the work place, so much so that we derive our identity from our vocation. Our culture has also come to expect us all to be the ‘ideal worker.’ Within this model there is no room to be human. No room to be good at your job and be a good parent and spouse.
In love we see challenges to leisure in the form of expectations on genders and how we often succumb to powerful unconscious stereotypes of “ideal worker, provider father, and the idea mother.” Because we have given all we have to give to the work place we often have nothing left to give at home or to our partner. Life at home can be just as crazy busy as the office, especially when you add kids into the equation. Leisure and play often have to be scheduled and put on the calendar as there is very little wiggle room for spontaneity.
There is a story that Schultz shares called “The Lesson of the Twinkie” that I think captures the essence of ‘letting go’ perfectly. She recalls how she signed up to bring baked goods to her son’s school concert and then forgot to bake them. She only realized this as she was driving to the event. She pulled over to a convenience store and her husband came out with two boxes of Twinkies. She was mortified as this was not what the ‘ideal mother/ideal worker’ would do. However, the embarrassment was unnecessary as those Twinkies were scarfed down in a heartbeat by a bunch of delighted middle schoolers. To let go of perfection is key to experiencing all life has to offer.
Just 'be' in the moment
"We are so riveted getting to the next thing that we miss out on life, miss out on love, miss out on being in the moment."
Ok, sorry about that, I left you for a few moments. I was sitting at my desk working on this summary when I realized there was only one hour before my daughter would leave for camp for a week. For a brief second I kept working but then I realized… I need to live this moment… right now… with her. So I left the desk and spent the hour with her.
It is these little things, these slight, but significant changes in our everyday life that Ms. Schultz advocates for in her book. One of her suggestions is that we consciously unplug or go off the grid for a chunk of time each day. Another idea is to choose one thing that’s most important to do every day. Choosing to spend uninterrupted, gadget free time with my daughter was definitely the most important thing I did that day.
And so, among some of the practical application points that I have put into effect in my life as a result of reading this book, the household chore of dusting will just have to get wait for another day. Ciao!