The Future We Create
Ever since June last year I have been trying to develop my inner character. This commitment was prompted by a complete restructure of the organisation I had worked for at the time. The majority of the staff had been made redundant, including myself. This led me to take some time to travel to Europe, walk the Camino and visit friends and family.
Losing external stability has been a common experience for many of us this year. Covid-19 certainly has shaken things up. Losing the external structure of my 9-5 job provided lots of time for me to reflect and think about what really mattered most for me. Initially, I replaced one external structure with another (i.e. work for travel). That was the easy part. The hard part came when I returned home without having anything to do.
I have been fortunate to experience the struggle of returning home three times in my life. The experience of returning is the hardest part. I went from having a very clear purpose to having no structure at all. It is way more challenging than travelling in a foreign place. I expect that this experience is probably similar to other experiences in life (i.e redundancy, retirement etc.) It is during these times of incoherence that the most can be learned about ourselves. In these times we have to pick ourselves up and develop better habits. We find practical and enjoyable things to do with our time. We invest time in our relationships and face our pain. It is only in the darkness of the soil that seeds can begin to sprout.
David Brooks describes this condition well, “The Germans have a word for this condition: Zerrissenheit - loosely ‘falling-to-pieces-ness.’ This is the loss of internal coherence that can come from living a multitasking, pulled-in-a-hundred-directions existence. This is what Kierkegaard called ‘the dizziness of freedom.’ When the external constraints are loosened, when a person can do what he wants, when there are a thousand choices and distractions, then life can lose coherence and direction if there isn't a strong internal structure.” Without the hard casing of our external shell we reveal our vulnerable interior.
In a sense, Covid has been the revealer of hidden things. Earlier this year it showed the precariousness of our market as thousands of small businesses couldn’t cope due to the lockdown laws, it revealed the disparity of our communities when there was higher surveillance in lower socio-economic areas and it has also shown how quickly the federal government can put into place social policies that benefit us all. It has been a hard year internally as well. When I review my social media I hear of the pain many are feeling. In the winter I found I struggled with the isolation and motivation to do simple things. Part of me wonders whether this pain has always existed, but due to our normal fast paced lives, it has been hidden until Covid revealed it to us?
I was initially drawn to David Brooks writing when I saw this TED talk. His question, "Should you live for your resume… or your eulogy?" has stuck with me a long time and is something that I continue to think about in trying to structure and balance my life. “The resume virtues are the ones you put on your resume, which are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that get mentioned in the eulogy, which are deeper: who are you, in your depth, what is the nature of your relationships, are you bold, loving, dependable, consistency?” This consideration will be a perpetual challenge that I think may last a lifetime.
There are so many things I want to do. My mind gets excited thinking about the possibilities for this life. I also recognise that I need to put time aside for things that aren’t valuable by the metrics of GDP. I want to spend time with my community (family, friends and local acquaintances), I want to toil in my garden, do yoga, exercise, cook and eat healthily, walk by the river, and play music just to play music. I want to have time to volunteer and I want to study things that interest me. It is through these 'ways of being' that we develop our character and in turn work on the eulogy virtues.
We need to help the next generation imagine an optimistic future. It has been a hard year and we must push forward with optimism. Our choices make a difference. It’s a matter of taking the time now to reflect on how we want to be, what sort of lives we want to live and what kind of world we want to live in. If each of us can live at this deeper level, we will progress in the best possible way. Growing the community rather than the stock market.