The virtue of doing nothing

Rainy Monday mornings: Nature's way of telling us to chill.
Rainy Monday mornings: Nature’s way of telling us to chill.

Laziness gets a bad rap. It’s a rainy Monday morning–the kind of morning everyone at work grumbles about and mutters they wish they could have stayed in bed. I can actually stay in bed. I love the unique darkness inside a house on a grey morning. It’s like the day itself is slow to wake…sleepy…lazy.

One thing I haven’t done since quitting work is spend a lazy day in bed. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been lazy, but only after getting dressed, making the kids’ breakfast, driving them to school, making the beds, starting a load of laundry. I pay some dues first before laying on the couch with my iPad to check out what’s new on One Kings Lane, or else the guilt gnaws at me. It sort of gnaws at me anyway. I don’t really enjoy it.

What will I say when people ask what I did today? I can’t say nothing. We are our stories. There are no stories to tell when you waste a day. Waste a day. That’s a terrible expression.

We feel a need to call our doing nothing something enlightening, like meditation…or educational, like retreat.

Why do we deny ourselves the bliss of doing absolutely nothing for its own sake, ideally in our pajamas, without needing to belittle it, explain it or earn it?

Have you ever watched a dog just lay around, finding the right cold spot on a marble floor or squishy pillow on a couch? They lay around with no qualms. There is no guilt, not even when you give them the evil eye for laying on the couch. They just stare back and stretch.

It is their natural state as much as it is to run or eat or work.

Did our prehistoric ancestors lay around on a beach or in a tree thinking, I should really be foraging for food or sharpening that spear? Probably.

But what if it’s just fine to do absolutely nothing at all? No planning. No problem solving. No working. No reading. No bill paying. No talking.

What if it’s great, in fact? What if much of the anxiety in our modern world, requiring so much medication, is just a natural response to the scarcity of laziness in our lives…and the unrelenting demand we place on ourselves to do more, achieve more, have more. With smart phones, we can’t even unplug from the office on weekends, at night or while on vacation.

I am going to practice doing nothing today without a shred of guilt. I am going to learn to unapologetically answer nothing when asked what I did today.

It isn’t depression. It’s just wonderful, blissful laziness…the glorious resting of our minds, bodies and souls. Try it.

It will do you good.

Day One

View from my new office
The view from my new office.

No one knows how they got to the top of the hill.
Since we’re only here for a while, might as well show some style.
Isn’t it a lovely ride? Sliding down. Gliding down.
Try not to try too hard, it’s just a lovely ride.

—James Taylor, Secret ‘O Life

At 55 and at the pinnacle of career success, I realized I needed out not up, less not more. I couldn’t do it one more day. So I did it for six more months, setting myself up financially to exit my job as vice president of marketing at a college.

I used to tell my team members to “trust your gut” but I had been ignoring mine a very long time. The turning point? The morning I sobbed the entire way to work…and could not stop.

It seems to me there are two very different kinds of work challenges. One kind requires you to grow and expand who you are…the other to diminish or reduce yourself. Tackling them may initially feel the same, calling upon the same ingenuity and discipline, intelligence or grit, but they are not the same.

Here’s a clue: Are you invigorated by the energy invested…or depleted? My big job with its big salary and big title had started to require me to become smaller. Over time it caused me to mute my voice. Avoid conflict at whatever cost.

There was a cost. I finally listened to my gut that morning when the floodgates opened. Get out.

I missed my kids too. I missed chunks of their days. Everything was compartmentalized, squeezed into Outlook calendar entries. Each week was a different carpool arrangement, finding moms or dads to pick up and drop off. I came home late, too tired to cook, resentful of the scarcity of time and energy. My daughter was struggling through Middle School social issues and problems I had missed. Teens don’t just tell you what’s going on in their hearts on your timetable. Your antenna needs to be tuned in to the nuanced signals they send. My antenna had collapsed.

Nothing felt like a lovely ride.

So I have bought myself time. The funds may only last for a couple of years. But I hope what I gain will stay with me my whole life. I escaped from something that over time caused me damage. Now I will take the time to figure out why…and what really matters…what makes my soul expand.

I have these two great kids, a very good man as my husband and partner…and wonderful family and friends supporting me…on my great escape.

What would you do if you just had the luxury of more free, truly free time?