Jan. 13, 2021, 12:22 a.m.

Life is not a race

(Another one of those ‘life is….’ posts I seem to churn out these days though…. N.B. I wrote practically all of this blog post under a year ago but perhaps rather aptly, in keeping with the theme, I’ve only just got round to tidying it up now.)

That’s it. We’re barely into the month of February and I’ve already reached the pinnacle of the year. 2020 has nowhere to go now (January 2021 reflection: this surprisingly turned out to be true – probably the only thing I got right about 2020!) I managed to do the one thing which I’ve failed to do for the past 5 months since I moved into my apartment back in August (despite the returns in time completing the task would have saved me) – I finally filled the dishwasher with enough rinse aid and dishwasher salt and used it for the first time. One small step for man, one giant leap for lazy people. Inexplicably, I clean the bog every weekend and yet I couldn’t be bothered to do the quicker and less arduous task of enabling the use of the dishwasher.

It demonstrates the power that routines and habits hold over us; I had got so used to washing the dishes by hand that it just seemed easier to carry on that way. Also, the first time I attempted to fill it soon after I moved in, the dishwasher seemed to require an infinite amount of both rinse aid and salt and it kind of hurt to be crouched down for so long. So I gave up (as you do) and promised to finish loading it another day, when I could be bothered……except that day didn’t arrive until 1st January 2020 when this mod con finally saw action.

Here I am with all these life goals of wanting to learn how to play a musical instrument, to swim, to speak a foreign language to a conversational level, to create a beautiful painting……..all of which will take a considerable investment of time and effort……..and yet, it’s taken me almost half a year to complete the very simple, 2-minute task of filling the dishwasher. Goodness knows how long it’ll take me to start one of those undertakings, let alone to finish it. It’s all the more galling when, after finally having the resources to work its magic, I realised how much easier it would have made my life; not only no more scrubbing of residue off plates, but the 10 minutes it now saves me every day does add up, especially on the odd day when I’m feeling particularly tired and/or lazy and thus doing the dishes requires a greater emotional effort.

Tortoise on countryside road with a tree sprouting from the top of its shell

Well, I may be a snail (or a tortoise) but life isn’t a race. Part of my anxiety comes from the realisation which we all have that life is short and a resultant desire to make the most of it, since it can easily be snuffed out…….but it certainly will be shorter if I constantly stress myself out trying to do too much at once. This is also true on a minute level, in the daily routine. I have to remind myself of this when I try too hard to make the most of my spare time and do too much by trying to cram all my hobbies in while taking care of life admin and meeting the compulsion I feel to keep up to date with the news through reading the Metro (something I’ve always feel, not just in light of the recent coronavirus outbreak). It’s ok to put some things on the backburner. I’m not always going to find or be able to carve out time to read, practise Mandarin, watch a cartoon and start learning how to paint every evening, while also making the time to cook a healthy dinner and to meditate. I seem to see life as one big, long to-do list, an approach which has now infiltrated my hobbies, but the danger of trying to apply structure to ‘free’ time is that activities which should be fun almost become more of a chore. In attempting to optimise your life, you can overdo it and end up sucking the joy out of spontaneity of (just) simply being.

Life isn’t a checklist of milestones to be ticked off as fast as they can. Everyone is on their own journey, with different starting points, different obstacles along the way and different destinations. In the words of Confucius, “It does not matter how slow you go so long as you do not stop.” Enjoy the ride and embrace the serenity, possibility and freedom of an afternoon with absolutely nothing to do. Or as Socrates put it, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life”. If we don’t want to continue along the pathway to destruction, we ought to slow down and recalibrate…..now, more than ever in the midst of the Covid pandemic, you get the impression this is what Mother Nature is desperately trying to tell us. Will 2021 be the year we finally learn our lesson?


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