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[BIFSS vol. 1] Rest does not require artifacts
Big ideas from small sabbatical
Life update: I’ve been chilling for 5 months – reading incessantly, taking random design courses, finally learning how to make a good curry, hanging out with my good friends Tolstoy and Dostoyevksy and slaying items on the bucket list (like bungy jumping and running my first half marathon!) Back in month 2, I floated the idea of publishing a week by week overview of the things I’m learning and, well, that sort of fell by the wayside.
But I’m back. Ideas abound! And this time, I think I care a little less about how they’re presented. It also just so happens that I will be turning 25 soon. I often lie in bed reminding myself that 25 is halfway to 50, 10 years from 35 and just 5 from 30. Surprisingly, rather than throw me into linear, obsessive thinking about whether or not I’m doing enough or “on the right path”, I’ve observed my perspective shift to a more grounded place that says precisely because I am halfway to 50, 10 years from 35 and 5 from 30, all I really have is the present. It’s a call to live within, not towards.
In this spirit, I owe it to myself to return to the Very Important Thing that has felt critically urgent during this time – which is to write, write, write. I can’t run away from it anymore. And I fear that I’ve neglected the habit for so long that the prodigal return will be a messy one.
But here we are, and that’s all that matters. I really want to challenge myself to share more of the unfiltered big ideas that have emerged from this small sabbatical. For example, one of them is that everyone should go on sabbatical (if they can) – especially young people who were overachievers in high school and spend way too much time thinking about their careers. Kiss your income goodbye for a few months and find your creative language. Fall in love. Do things for fun. Get comfortable dancing with uncertainty, and then embark on the courageous and responsible journey of transforming that beautiful chaos into gentle order.
With that being said, here’s today’s Big Idea:
Rest does not require artifacts
Early on in this journey I had a conversation with Sean Thielen-Esparza, in which I was mostly spewing out my anxiety about embarking on a “creative sabbatical” and feeling like I didn’t know how to go about it and I was fooling myself about the value of radical whitespace and was this not the most Gen-Z thing you’d ever heard, when he gently reminded me, “well, you know, your rest doesn’t require artifacts”.
Sheesh 😅 😮💨
Just like that, my desire to turn my sabbatical into an intensive 4-month life redesign sprint, culminating in a 100-part blog series (maybe a podcast?) and a personal rebrand seemed absolutely ridiculous.
Sean’s simple, quiet comment has been a mantra I keep returning to on this journey.
My friend Ana (who is also on sabbatical) shared this similar reflection: not all progress looks like change. And, even harder to accept: not all progress is legible to the world.
I want to save thoughts on legibility for another post, but for now let’s just say that we who choose to be hermits for a while have a hard time being truly okay with this when so much of our conditioning says that our worth is directly correlated not only to a) how much time we spend doing things but also b) our ability to produce readily digestible artifacts for others to consume.
The latter is a particularly insidious internalization born of the instrumentalism so typical of young technologists . [05/24/23 edit: I can’t believe I actually wrote that last sentence – what utterly ridiculous structure!]
One of the hardest parts about this time has been telling myself it’s okay to have spent a day just painting or pottering about the house or spending time with friends and family or lazily skimming through a few books. On the outside, no “work” has been done. But on the inside, there is a whole garden blossoming filled with the fruits of meaning-making, warm sunlight, fresh ideas and an expansiveness I haven’t felt in ages. (I’m yet to read Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing, but needless to say it’s been recommended by several people.)
Don’t get me wrong. I have read books – copious volumes – and I have taken on some big and rewarding goals (like running my first half marathon and finally doing courses in architecture and design), but all these emerged from a place of being quite alright if the things I do/process/learn/achieve are never known to the world.
Process > artifacts
As I’ve learned to let go of my prior fixation with outcomes, I’ve found myself more inclined to explore and play, and in this is another lesson: play does not imply lack of purpose. Quite the opposite, it honors the most meaningful kind of purpose: that which arises from process. We don’t find meaning, we make it.
When we are truly committed to the present moment (be that a literal or figurative “moment”), the world becomes an entirely different place. One of my favourite quotes is from Eden Phillpotts (or Bertrand Russel, or William Butler Yeats, depending on who you ask) and it captures this idea perfectly:
The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.
It is with this spirit of commitment that I’ve chosen to share more of my inner dialogue while being on sabbatical.
This, too is a process. So here I am, ready to play.
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