Be An Idea

I’ve spent a few weeks downsizing my life to great effect. In early October, I was laid off a stressful media job at a company that was going downhill fast. While the sudden drop in income sucked, I had savings (and I qualified for unemployment), so it was fine. I’d been working so many hours towards the end trying in vain to plug a growing revenue hole that was a result of my boss’ bad decisions that I was burned out and ready for a break, anyway.

In other words, the universe was just rebalancing everything back to equilibrium. I was working too much at a job I no longer enjoyed, and poof!The job went away and I was instantly happier.

The whole experience has taught me that we are what we live. If you’re a miserable, stressed-out workaholic, you’ll become misery. (Not just miserable — -misery, itself.)On the other hand, if you’re relaxed and focused, you’ll become dignity. (Not just dignified, but dignity, itself).

I’ve been watching a lot of French movies lately. I minored in French in college, too. The French are really good at metaphors. They are what they live. Joie de vivre, and all that.

There’s a great shortage of dignity in American society these days. We all work too many hours. We are all worried about money thanks to our complete lack of socialist infrastructure. We’re hypercompetitive out of necessity. And we barely take vacations. In that regard, we’re all only one leg up from total slavery. Slaves to paychecks, slaves to work, slaves to keeping up with the Jones, slaves to artificial self-images. We all really need to get a life.

I’ve had two months of down time to keep on rebalancing things in my typical unbalanced American life before I head back to work in two weeks. (Just landed a great new job at a better company for higher pay — -yay!). Here are some tips on how to strike a better life balance that I’ve thankfully had some time to put into practice of late:

1. Sleep.

The American corporate world seems to have something against sleep. Between all the long hours and stress-induced anxiety and insomnia, it’s no wonder the TV airwaves are littered with ads for prescription sleep medications. Corporate America profits from our lack of sleep in multiple ways (drugs, overworking employees on low salaries, even escapist activities like action movies and gambling make companies money). But it’s not sustainable. If you don’t sleep, at some point you will burn out and either a) collapse from exhaustion or b) suffer a nervous breakdown. Neither outcome is conducive for productivity.

Instead, sleep eight hours a night, every night. You’ll find that you get more done because the quality of your work will improve. Ditto for your home life. It’s not about quantity, folks. And when you sleep well and often, you tend to have cool dreams, which is another sign of good mental and physical health. Sleep is just a damn good idea.

2. Exercise.

I’m a total gym rat and have been for years. It’s one of the reasons why I look younger than my actual age and have also developed a reputation for high productivity. As with sleep, you can’t function well over the long term without adequate exercise. Our bodies evolved over thousands of years to move constantly. Sitting on your ass at a desk all day without moving around vigorously a LOT will create all sorts of physical and mental health problems. Not only will you look and feel better, you’ll get more done in less time, because exercise not only improves physical stamina, it also improves mental focus. (And there’s quite a bit of science out there which indicates that exercise can also combat depression and anxiety better than many drugs do). People who are physically fit also often get better jobs and earn more money — -because they look, feel, and work better than those who don’t exercise. In that way, exercise is a way to make a good idea pay off in real currency.

3. Turn off social media.

Deleting my Facebook account was the best idea I’ve had in a long time. I’d been an admitted slave to the platform for over seven years, but it had really started to cause me severe emotional harm during the 2016 election. There’s even some evidence that fake news promoted on the site to generate ad revenue and the ever-elusive News Feed algorithm directly contributed to the 2016 presidential election outcome. While I was pretty good about keeping my privacy settings tight and policing behavior on my own page to root out bad behavior, by the end I was dealing with outright verbal abuse and threats from people on a near-daily basis. (You can only block so many people before social media becomes pointless.) Even without the abuse, social media is addictive by nature, because it’s designed to keep you on the site as long as possible, because that’s simply what advertisers want. I took a trial break away from the platform for about two months, and discovered after an initial painful withdrawal period that I didn’t miss it at all.

Without Facebook constantly sucking away my free time (along with my soul), I’ve discovered new levels of creativity and focus. I’ve been able to get a lot of work done on my house while also revisiting some creative writing projects I’d long left dormant. It’s amazing how much time and energy (even money!) you’ll discover that you already have when Facebook isn’t stealing it from you. Plus, social media makes you dumb. Be smart and turn it off.

4. Get a hobby. (Or four).

Look, work isn’t everything. When you die, you aren’t going to tell your loved ones (or your hospice nurse) that you really wish that you’d worked more. No, you’re going to regret not taking that dream vacation, not reading all of Marcel Proust, not learning a second or third language, not learning to ballroom dance. Take some of the time you freed up by not working overtime and not wasting your life on Facebook by getting some hobbies. (And no, social media is not a hobby. Neither is going to the gym or working out at home with videos/books/whatever, which should be a minimum requirement for existence along with food, bathing, and sleep). Hobbies are add-ons that are still essential because they keep your brain healthy, keep you emotionally balanced, and generally make you a more interesting, well-rounded person. (Which, in the long run, makes you more marketable to employers, but I digress). I have several hobbies that I float between, but lately I’ve mostly been concentrating on French cinema, reading historical fiction, and tap dancing. (Yep. Tap dancing. I highly recommend it. I even got a French tap-dancing instructional video out of the library and practiced with it. True story). I also like to paint. (Pictures, not walls). All of these things help me deal with all the emotional and physical crud that inevitably comes from being a working mom in a busy, stressful city. And gives me joie de vivre, too.

5. Meditate.

This is the most important thing to do by far. I practice Zen meditation a minimum of ten minutes every day. Sometimes I try to do an hour or more a day. Plus I try to do everything (and I do mean everything) mindfully — -whether it’s eating, walking, cleaning, or doing laundry. It’s a big reason I have been able to weather plenty of storms in my personal and professional lives without much disruption or upheaval since I took up the practice years ago. (Anybody who works in media, like I do, has to live with high levels of stress and uncertainty, for one thing). Meditation doesn’t just bring inner peace (though that’s a huge benefit). Meditation actually makes you smarter.Plus, being Zen is pretty hip these days. Meditate a few hours a week (or even just a few minutes a week), and you’ll be a lot more fun for others to be around. People will start asking you for advice and wondering where you get all your clarity and insight. It will pay off in spades. (And happiness).

This year, I made a New Year’s resolution to be an idea. The idea that I became isn’t just one idea, but many. But the general idea is wellness, and for that I am proud.



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