Are you enslaved by your calendar, do you never stop running? Does it feel like your life is passing you by?
Throughout the years I’ve taught Good Life Engine, the main challenge has always been the “wanna-be-efficient brain” that doesn’t leave the students at peace with how they spend their time. “Throughout my whole adult life, I have had this feeling that I do not do enough,” wrote one of our students in their reflection essay.
Students are not alone in having this feeling of not doing enough. Most people from western cultures living in big cities often feel time-restrained. “Variously termed ‘time shortage,’ time crunch,’ ‘time famine,’ ‘time poverty,’ ‘time pressure,’ ‘time scarcity,’ ‘time squeeze,’ and ‘time stress, the feeling of having too much to do and not enough time to do it is prevalent in modern society” (Melanie Rudd 2019, Feeling short on time: trends, consequences, and possible remedies).
The feeling of time pressure comes from our desire to squeeze too many things into our life: study or work achievements, self-development activities, keeping in shape and healthy, traveling, spending time with loved ones, entertainment, and so on. “The greater feelings of time pressure resulted from the exceedingly high aspirations of what to do with the time people have available and argued that the problem of ‘time famine’ is, in most instances, ‘a perceptual problem’” (Sanford E. DeVoe, Jeffrey Pfeffer).
But why do we want so much?
Reason one: being fooled by success stories
In the past, we were comparing ourselves to the people around us. Now, due to the global network, we compare ourselves to everyone — including truly globally exceptional individuals. We are bombarded by stories about self-made men and women making fortunes, about ideal parents who are able to spend enough time with kids while keeping on with great careers, about overachievers who can dedicate time to self-development, professional sports, and spiritual practice on top of running their startup. We read about them and think: what is wrong with me? As a result, we decide to work harder to achieve our goals. We cut our leisure time and our sleep to move faster in some illusionary marathon.
In the past, we were comparing ourselves to the people around us. Now we compare ourselves to everyone — including truly globally exceptional individuals.
Are these success stories the right comparison base for us? In most cases, they have the same narrative — work hard, and you will achieve success. However, they omit many crucial details that would reveal that the comparison base is actually not relevant to you.
Reason two: the hero’s journey
“It is difficult to be happy if you are constantly striving for something that only the future can give you” (Aki Hintsa 2015, The Core).
In the past, it was much more likely to get into direct life trajectories. Stability was a value. Now we have new widely spread values and expectations around them: dynamism, progress, success. “Modern Western culture has introduced us into approaching our lives as projects. You’re taught to set goals, make plans, aim high, and prioritize your efforts, all in the name of achieving the maximum outcome, that Holy Grail of Western life: success.“ (Frank Martela 2020, A Wonderful Life) The hero’s journey pushes us away from experiencing life in favor of striving for success and achievements. Reinforced by contemporary culture and the advertising industry, this narrative creates pressure on us to push harder, like everyone has to be a hero. In the media, the discourse keeps on saying, “you can do everything,” “you can achieve everything,” “get what you deserve,” and so on. That leads to the constant inner assessment of our work, activities, and ways we spend time. We think that we don’t do enough.
We sometimes experience being swept up in the rat race of everyday life. At the same time, our sense of meaningfulness dissipates, leading many people to a vague dissatisfaction. (Aki Hintsa 2015, The Core) However, a constant marathon is harmful to us. Humans can not operate like machines. We shouldn’t live with a delayed life mindset that one day after we will achieve everything that is expected of us, we will start living and enjoying life. Very soon, being excluded from positive emotions, we will start to suffer, and sadness and frustration will accumulate.
The main mistake here is to think that getting joy from life conflicts with moving on the study and career ladder.
A GLE student wrote in their reflection essay at the end of the course: “I realised that pushing myself over the limits can definitely achieve academic and professional goals, but it will leave you empty, without a will to live and a life outside work.”
The main mistake here is to think that getting joy from life conflicts with moving on the study and career ladder; that having free time and a social life hinders work achievements. The solution for many students will be to work on their mindset. Work smart, not hard, don’t expect yourself to have a less busy time in the future and don’t delay living until some illusionary future moment.
Another student feedback says: “One of the main things I have learned from this course is how to balance between work and life. I can work hard and at the same time enjoy my life. This concept is unfortunately missed in my home country. People move and keep moving but they forget to live.”
And that’s why one of the learning outcomes of the GLE course is this: You will understand and — maybe — achieve a study/work-life balance without stopping progressing towards your strategic goals. You will learn how to live, not run a marathon.