“When people stop believing in an afterlife, everything depends on making the most of this life. And when people start believing in progress—in the idea that history is headed toward an ever more perfect future—they feel far more acutely the pain of their own little lifespan, which condemns them to missing out on almost all of that future. And so they try to quell their anxieties by cramming their lives with experience.” — Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals
Burkeman’s statement isn’t something you just fly by without contemplation. I have people in my life who would be indignant about the very idea of there being no afterlife. You might say I’m more open to the concept. But no matter what your belief about what happens next, most would agree in the concept of the infinite unknown. It was here before we were conceived and began our march through borrowed time, and it will envelope us again sooner than we’re comfortable with thinking about. Really, it’s all around us, we’re just stubbornly alive beings bumping up against infinity every day until we rejoin it. Giddy-Up.
We get busy in life, marching through our days and obligations. I was just thinking to myself that I’m a bit short on micro-adventures lately. Blame it on my day job running parallel to this blog. I have a few friends that question my sanity for trading so many of my four thousand weeks for a career. But life is more than chasing waterfalls and sunsets. You’ve got to make something of your time, don’t you? Or do you need to do something in your time? Can you do both? Can we really have it all?
Burkeman recommends “strategic underachievement”, which is simply “nominating in advance whole areas of life in which you won’t expect excellence of yourself” to mitigate the underlying stress of living for both commitments and experience. Focus on what you want to excel in, and gently put the rest aside on the priority list—placing the not-so-important stuff into tomorrow is a gentle way of punting what doesn’t really matter in this brash act of living life on our own terms.
“Tomorrow is for the lazy mind, the sluggish mind, the mind that is not interested” — Jiddu Krishnamurti
The answer, I believe, is to focus on the things that make you feel most alive, things that put you right in the mix of a fulfilling, satisfying life. That might be a sunset in the tropics or washing the dishes with your favorite song playing louder than it should. Embracing the mundane and the remarkable as it comes, but prioritizing that which places you squarely where you might maximize these experiences. We ought to decide what we want to savor most, and what to let fall away.
Let’s face it, passively waiting for life experiences to come your way leads to a whole lot of waiting. Strategic underachievement in one area of your life means you’ve got to proactively work to strategically overachieve in other areas. Be interested in this business of living! Get up off your passive expectations about living and go out and meet the things you most want to achieve, be and do in this short life. Not so much “cramming experience”, but rather, strategic, and interested, experiencing. Wherever we might be.