06 Jul My Wonder List
I‘m not sure whether I vacated my old life or whether it vacated me … but either way, I find myself here in this weird liminal space… betwixt and between two chapters of life, but not properly belonging in either. As I navigate this transition, it feels as though my identity has transitioned from ‘CEO and crazy busy doer of all the things’ to that person who lurks around the mailroom claiming to work in ‘organisational change’ … but no-one really has the foggiest notion of what they actually do all day (but also feels uncomfortable asking). And it’s true… the last time I had this much free time on my hands was circa 1981. Don’t worry, I haven’t resorted to colour coding my undies or alphabetising the spice draw just yet. I’ve still got ‘stuff’ to do; it just feels like I’m keeping myself busy by rearranging the furniture and plumping life’s cushions, not building the walls that will support what comes next.
But here’s the thing. The whole idea of consciously allocating time to designing and building the walls that will support life’s next chapters feels both formidable and flakey at the same time. Shouldn’t I just be ‘getting on with it’? If only I knew what “it” was. And how do I reconcile the societal script I inherited (that associates idleness with dishonour) with the unfamiliar but insatiable need I’m feeling to stop ‘doing’ and start ‘being’ for a bit? I need time to figure out what it is that I really want from the rest of my life, rather than filling it with hollow ‘fullness’ or with indiscriminate busyness. And yet, I’m so accustomed to going like the clappers and spread-sheeting the shit out of life, that the idea of just holding space for reflection and reinvention feels about as natural to me as twerking. And believe me when I say that you do not want to see me twerk!
For decades, I have critiqued my life using the crazy busy index of productivity. I wore busyness and exhaustion like badges of honour and measured my worth against the fullness of my days. Productivity was my drug and I was addicted to it. But the jig is up. The business of busyness, to which I’ve been a loyal and longstanding servant has gone bust and I am beginning to think that it was just a front all along through which I laundered my self worth and shielded myself from vulnerability. The ‘crazy busy shield’ I’ve been hiding behind has been unceremoniously ripped away, as has the identity that has defined me for so long, leaving me feeling exposed and vulnerable. I’m not ready to introduce the new me to the world, so when friends ask me what I’ve been up to, I equivocate, with an ambiguous list of tasks that have a tenuous link to the reality of my days. I’ve learnt that answering with; “admin” usually does the trick. Vague… but also believable and boring enough, so as not to generate further discussion.
A part of me is still pining for the familiarity and security that has warmed my world for the past twenty years and another part of me feels liberated and excited by the infinite possibilities of all the ‘unknowns’ that lie ahead. I feel simultaneously grateful for the life I’ve had, but also plagued by discontent and engulfed by a yearning for more. But more of what? I know that the model of midlife and beyond that I inherited doesn’t mirror the one that I want for myself and yet I can’t articulate what it is that I’m longing for other than an expansive life. To rediscover my wild heart and adventurous spirit that’s been dampened by decades of societal expectations to fit in and follow suit.
I first heard the expression ‘la dolce far niente,’ in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’ It’s Italian and translates to mean “the sweetness of doing nothing.” The philosophy behind ‘la dolce far niente’ is as ingrained in the Italian psyche as pasta is in their diet, but its significance runs way deeper than its literal translation. It’s about ‘just being’ … slowing down, observing, taking joy from small things, sitting with yourself and holding space for your inner most thoughts. And it’s not as easy as you might think. For lots of us, who have been programmed to normalise the perpetual pursuit of productivity, embracing a bit of ‘la dolce far niente’ requires focus and some serious practice. Our societal obsession with productivity, looking busy and ticking off ‘to do’ lists is so ingrained in daily life, that the concept of prioritising ‘being’ over ‘doing’ seems so bizarrely unattainable. So, where do I start with integrating some ‘sweet nothing’ into a life whose foundations have been built on doing all the ‘things’?
There’s this wonderful word – ‘Wunderkammer’ (wonder room) which dates back to 16th century Europe. The Wunderkammer was where anything that piqued curiosity or imagination was kept and displayed. This got me thinking about the intersection of sweet nothing and wonder and led me to formulate a plan (old habits die hard). As counter intuitive as it might sound, I decided to ‘redirect’ my obsession with ‘to do’ lists into creating a weekly ‘To Wonder List.’ I’m not sure if ‘structured’ sweet nothing is a thing, but as a recovering productivity addict, it’s a (baby) step in the right direction. While my new ‘rightsized’ digs might not afford me the opportunity to dedicate a whole room to ‘wonder’, I definitely have space for a ‘Wonder List’ in my life, as a reminder to prioritise ‘being’ over ‘doing’ and to make space for all the beautiful unknowns that lie ahead. My weekly Wonder List will be full of all the things I want to explore, think about, listen to, read, learn, experience or feel. Things that have nothing to do with the tireless pursuit of productivity and everything to do with an unwavering yearning to explore. As Glennon Doyle wrote; “Perhaps imagination is not where we go to escape reality, but where we go to remember it.”
PS If anyone is interested in exploring some weekly wonder, I’m happy to share my list!