Time and I have always had a tenuous, love–hate relationship. Like many of my colleagues and coworkers, I’ve measured my life by the clock, and my happiness has been in no small part dependent on how productive I am day by day, yet recently I’ve realized the error of this mentality.
Recognizing that I was caught up in The Cult of Speed was the trigger for me to take stock and reassess my life after being in the workforce for a quarter century.
I’d been experiencing a general malaise that leaves you drained at the end of a working week, and mildly anxious on Sunday nights in anticipation of the week ahead. I knew something had to change, and that I alone was responsible for making that happen.
So, I bit the bullet and negotiated my role into that of a remote part-time worker. Then did the one big thing that needed to happen if I was to give myself the best chance for a real life ‘post cult’, I packed up my house and bought a ticket to Estonia.
As a writer, I find that books often play both a practical and a poetic role in my life. They inspire me to action, and likewise impel me to seek more adventurous paths. After re-reading Tim Ferriss’ #1 New York Times bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek I was (I admit somewhat naively) emboldened that Estonia was indeed the panacea that would help me reclaim my life as my own.
Within days of arriving in Tallinn I discovered the hard way how badly I’d bought into our cultural predilection and esteem for being productive and constantly connected.
I became frustrated because the pace was too slow, and my calendar was too clear.
Looking at the past two months, nothing could have prepared me for the ‘barrage of me’ the moment the clock’s hold over me waned. I found that the days that were once filled with a seemingly endless stream of tasks demanding my attention – days that all too often stretched into weeks and months – suddenly became quieter, simpler. But this quiet quickly became deafening.
The first sign that there was trouble in paradise was when I noticed a nagging self-doubt had surfaced. A new inner voice emerging that asked me what I was doing, what I’d achieved today, did I still think I was doing the right thing.
I honestly began to fear quiet moments.
I’ve had a 20yr love affair with efficiency and speed. I’m as guilty as the next guy in that every time I had a quiet moment for reflective thought, I almost immediately avoided it by escaping to my mobile devices. So, the first thing you do when you find yourself doubting yourself is you overcompensate. You discover – much like a recently released prisoner – that you crave structure, the safety of structure. You fill your calendar with little tasks, minor missions to accomplish, just so you have the satisfaction of ticking off another item on your to-do list.
At the same time, you notice that small things take on near epic proportions. Your ever so recently overextended brain goes into overdrive trying to fill the void, seeking distractions. Truth is that the sheer volume of free time is almost overwhelming…almost.
But something interesting happens between the nagging inner voices and the time wasted fussing over small things, you start to appreciate small moments: the way you’re pulled out of your head by the feel of snow against your skin as you cross the street; the taste of different foods in a country on the opposite side of the planet; quiet, uncluttered city streets.
As enough time passes – after you experience a few of these moments of fleeting happiness – you begin to let the voices in. You hear them, but you also start to challenge them. When I started this journey, I was awaking around 6am and realizing I didn’t have anything particular to get up for.
The thought was simply terrifying.
Same thing happened this week, but this time I laughed and let the thought go.
Living a simpler, unplugged, 4-Hour-Workweek lifestyle has turned out to be a blessing and a curse. It’s forced me to stop and listen to voices than are far darker than I could have imagined. Voices that are deeply rooted in a Western mindset that does not favor quiet introspection. Yet these very same voices, these softly spoken doubts that result from our ingrained mindset of being focused and productive, reveal the inherent flaw in our thinking.
We’ve become a hyper-focused species, yet our point of focus tends to be external.
Too often our attention is focused on something ‘out there’, with our attention and focus turned toward, engaged with someone or something outside of ourselves. Similarly, we’re so focused on the return we get from the investment of our time – on our productivity – that we’re fundamentally blind to the benefits of ‘down time’.
IMHO, we’ve inadvertently become a species who need to be constantly distracted and entertained; almost as if we fear confronting our own realities. Yet if there’s one thing I’ve learned in this time away, it’s that there’s immense joy to be had in unplugging and spending time disconnected.
Those thinking of taking on the nomad life need to be aware that it won’t always be comfortable or easy. But what would you give to have the opportunity to discover a quiet place within you that is yours and yours alone? I gave up an entire life, and I think the price I paid was fair.
It’s my hope for people who find themselves contemplating the ‘’nomad’ existence, a ‘no fixed address’ itinerant lifestyle, find the courage to take that first step, because it’s worth it…