Last week, I shared some of the changes in my life. While they are making my life a bit hectic, they have been a welcomed return to a time when my work took nearly every waking moment of my life. The pace was exhilarating, and the constant struggle always reminded me that I was earning my place. While I am certainly proud of the achievements that came out of that time, I have since recognized that in addition to being unhealthy, it just wasn’t worth the pain. I can run on all cylinders for weeks, even months, at a time if needed, but when I finally look back on that time, I start to realize that my holding the throttle wide open allowed me to scream past some valuable insights and knowledge along the way.
In college, it was academics and extracurricular responsibilities that required more hours than there were in the day. Now, it is a combination of a full teaching schedule, attempts to keep personal writing alive, writing assignments for the Reach to Teach blog, maintaining relationships, and most recently, an addiction to podcasts. These bite-size audio downloads provide satisfaction for the new information and stories that I constantly crave. From a selected history of the world and a detailed recounting of the exploitations of the Mongols to the latest news broadcasts and in-depth reporting, my podcasts spanned the spectrum of intellectual indulgences. Every free second, I would pop in my headphones and let the inexhaustible list of unplayed episodes pump distant voices into my half-focused brain.
That ended yesterday. If you have an iPhone, you may have experienced the bug in the recent update that can kill your phone’s ability to identify and connect to wireless networks. Given that I do not have the money to pay for the network data required to download hours of audio every day, I started going to extreme lengths to solve this problem immediately. I even reinstalled the operating system, but it was to no avail. The only consequence was that all the data from my apps had been removed; my podcasts, my audiobooks, my PDFs, and my Kindle library were all sitting useless in the cloud. When I got on the long subway ride to Seoul to meet a friend for dinner, I quickly realized that my phone was more or less useless for providing entertainment.
After stewing in my frustrated self-pity for a couple minutes, I realized that it may have been the best thing to happen to me recently. Sitting silently, motionlessly staring at my reflection in the opposite window of the subway car, I allowed my mind to wander. Without direction, it floated through the requisite preparations for work the next day, texts I needed to respond to, and the week’s schedule. With gentle encouragement, I was able get my mind to let go of the immediate worries and venture off a little further. By the time the train reached my first transfer station, my mind’s journey had spanned decades both into the future and into the past. From memories of youth athletics to still comforts of home to unfinished travel plans years in the future, my mind had experienced a taste of freedom that I had withheld from it for the past few weeks.
As I walked to the next train, I remembered the sheer volume of writing I had produced during the first seven months of my new life. Between the 500+ words per day in my very first 30-day blogging challenge, the ghost-written book on economics, and my dossier on America’s problems, I had churned out tens of thousands of words. While I have continued writing, I am certain I have not matched that kind of volume. It became plainly obvious that the time spent clicking away at the keyboard was only a fraction of the time spent in actually drafting anything. When I first started writing, I had hours of free time to contemplate the meaning of the smallest events in my life. While that is certainly no longer feasible, filling the limited time I do have with esoteric broadcasts was useless in providing what I needed. I like to think that my brain is subconsciously compiling all of this information flooding into my ears so that I’ll be able to build on it someday, but I know that the vast majority is lost as soon as I wrap up my headphones and move on to the next task. The incessantly busy schedule was feasible during my undergraduate studies when everything was straightforward and getting more done simply meant working harder. Now, my career revolves around creative output, and creativity needs space for the mind to wander.
I promise I’ll begin posting more again soon. Beyond the necessity of creative lack of focus, the time I spend in relaxed contemplation allows me to be grateful for the life I have. Although I still struggle with some of my past decisions, I know that I am in the happiest time of my life, and I will not to let it pass by without notice.