Heyo! I’m back with this month’s issue of Tam’s Jam, a collection of books, videos and (my personal) lessons learned around living a meaningful life.
I missed last month’s issue for a myriad of reasons: testing positive for COVID and needing to take care of my body, being away from home for six weeks which meant living with family/friends & at times sleeping on couches/floors, mild fatigue & brain fog while I still recover from the lingering symptoms... you get it.
It’s been a rough period for me.
I set all these grand intentions at the end of last year to make 2022, my year. But so far, things have not gone surprisingly to plan. Surprisingly, I don’t mind what happens next.
Living a finite life
I recently finished an incredible book called, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management For Mortals by Oliver Burkeman.
Burkeman explores many uncomfortable truths that humans tend to avoid when thinking about how to spend their life (~4,000 weeks) on earth. The one uncomfortable truth that felt most relevant to me (and possibly for you as well) was my need to dictate my future.
I have an immense desire to plan everything. For fun, or more accurately, to try to reduce my anxiety, I’ve drafted up at least seven different paths that I could take in 2022.
I had each month planned out of what I was going to do, where I was going to be, and who I was going to be with. Because I believed that once I knew what was going to happen, I would be at peace and I didn’t need to worry about what was going to happen next.
Even in the most unpredictable moment in my lifetime–my VISA to Canada still in limbo, not knowing where I’m going to live long-term, COVID restrictions, my health struggles–I still believed that I can impose a perfect plan for myself.
But this is a lie that has made my life more anxious and arguably unhappier. I rediscovered this uncomfortable truth again when I learned about the origins of “time.”
Our impossible desire to maximize our time
Time is a social construct. We didn’t have a clock back in the day so guess what? People got up when the sun was out and slept when the sun went down.
They milked the cow when they needed milking and harvested the crops when it was harvest time. Anyone who suggested to do a month’s milking in a single day to get it out of the way, or by trying to make the harvest come sooner, would have been considered a lunatic.
The one big drawback in giving little thought to the abstract idea of time is that it severely limits what you can accomplish aka “productivity.” The factory owner must use his workers’ hours efficiently, squeezing as much labor as possible from each employee, to make bigger profits than one who didn’t.
Wasting time or optimizing time wasn’t a thing. But now, time became a thing that you used.
When faced with too many demands, it’s easy to assume that the only answer must be to make better use of time, by becoming more efficient, working harder or longer–as if you were a machine in the Industrial Revolution–instead of asking whether the demands themselves might be unreasonable.
“Instead of simply living our lives as they unfold in time...it becomes difficult not to value each moment primarily according to its usefulness for some future goal, or for some future oasis of relaxation you hope to reach once your tasks are finally ‘out of the way.’”
My favorite quote from this chapter:
“The more you try to manage your time with the goal of achieving a feeling of total control, and freedom from the inevitable constrains of being human, the more stressful, empty, and frustrating life gets. But the more you confront the facts of finitude instead–and work with them, rather than against them–the more productive, meaningful, and joyful life becomes.”
What’s the alternative? It is to let time use you, approaching life not as an opportunity to implement your predetermined plans for success but as a matter of responding to the needs of your place and your moment in history.
None of us can single-handedly overthrow a society dedicated to limitless productivity, distraction, and speed. But we can stop buying into the delusion that any of that is ever going to bring satisfaction.
I really like the idea of doing things “as a matter of responding to the needs of your place and your moment in history.” It embodies the spirit of acknowledging where you are currently and what society needs right now vs. sticking to a plan you envisioned for your life and being stubborn to make changes when needed.
Getting COVID and experiencing fatigue and brain fog afterward was not part of my plan. I don’t have the energy to dance salsa or practice Muay Thai like I had planned to lean more into this new year.
On the days when I had some energy, I tried my first home workout to maximize this window of time and quickly felt like crap the next day.
I pushed myself too hard and spent the following day on the couch recovering. If I didn’t follow the “plan” that I set last year to work out more, the question would shift from “What can I do to maximize this energy?” to “What does my body need right now?”
What would have been more helpful was to practice yoga or go on a walk. To be OK that I didn’t “maximize” my energy/time because a workout was not what I needed at that moment.
How can I respond to where I am right now? I found this mindset reaching many other parts of my life.
Instead of asking myself, “What can I work on during my most ‘efficient’ hours of the day?”, I’ve recently found myself asking, “What do I feel like working on or what would be fun to work on right now?” knowing that the more I focus on using time well, the more each day begins to feel like something I have to get through, en route to some calmer, better, more fulfilling point in the future which never actually arrives.
Instead of asking myself, “How can I reach my goals faster?”, I’ve recently found myself asking, “What’s the next most necessary thing I can do?” knowing that we grow anxious about not keeping up, and so to calm the anxiety, we move faster... ignoring the uncomfortable truth that our speed addiction is not the solution and to simply take small and sustainable steps in the right direction.
The uncomfortable truth is that I have to change my 2022 goals given the new circumstances. I have to accept the reality that I can’t work out with low energy. Will I be OK with this? What other opportunities does this open up for me?
All these changes won’t make me more “productive” but that’s no longer my goal. I want to make choices that will serve my mind, body, and soul in this exact moment in time.
That might mean resting instead of forcing myself to write this newsletter. Slowly solving a jigsaw puzzle instead of reading more self-help books. Or simply eating when I’m hungry.
This might sound strange but I really love the idea of living in a world without time. To wake up when the sun is up and go to sleep when it’s dark. To do your specific work when the right season is here and do other work when the seasons change.
While today’s world is significantly different from my weird romantic view of life before time, I love the idea of listening to your body/the world and doing the things that life requires you to do.
“It is to let time use you, approaching life not as an opportunity to implement your predetermined plans for success but as a matter of responding to the needs of your place and your moment in history.”
I’m honestly still figuring this out (as is everyone, I’m sure). I’ll keep you updated on how this feels as I start to implement more parts of this book into my life.
Thanks for reading along to the end here. If you have any thoughts or reflections after reading this, I would love to hear about it.
Below the fold
- 💃 Dance Video Library for Teachers — My lovely friends recently launched The Culture Corner, a library of 100+ videos of follow-along dance tutorials designed for teachers to share with their students.
- 🎤 Musical Improv (30 mins) — I just watched the most mind-blowing performance from the show, Game Changers, where three contestants create a musical from scratch. I’ve seen it at least four times this year because it was that amazing.
- 🇲🇽 Spanish with Nate — In the spirit of changing plans, I took a break from a lot of physical activities and started to learn Spanish for the first (real) time. It has brought me a lot of joy during this low period of my life. I’m very impressed with the Fluent Spanish Speaking Academy course that I’m taking created by a YouTuber named Nate. I’m also complimenting the course with private lessons from iTalki, a platform where you can book an hour of Spanish tutoring for less than $10 USD (you get a free lesson if you use my link). It’s great to practice with native speakers PLUS you get to support the teachers where your USD goes much further in the countries where they live. This makes me feel better about spending money to book lessons haha. 😇
🙂 Final Thoughts
My hope with Tam's Jam is that you (1) learn something useful and (2) live a happier and more meaningful life.
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As always, let me know what you're reading (or watching). I'll share my favorites in the next issue of Tam's Jam.
Tam Pham's Blog
I write about my adventures, learnings, and reflections on living my weird, unconventional life. Subscribe below!