03 January 2011

The Least Confessed - Most Often Pursued - Resolution

“The purpose of life is to fart around. Don’t let anyone tell you different.”
-          Kurt Vonnegut

I like the idea of new year's resolutions. I love the idea of using any excuse for a fresh start, for renewing or creating a new goal or way of being. I'm not a cynic about goals or resolutions, but I do find it curious that what appears to be most valued is least mentioned.

Left to our own devices, we will play. We will stare at monitors, out windows, and at wallpaper. We will engage ourselves in such meaningless tasks that should someone ask us, "What'd you do?" the only honest response would be, "Haven't a clue."

And yet no one says, "This year, I resolve to give myself, guilt free, hours each week to dabble, putz, and fool around," in spite of the fact that our actions would seem to suggest that this is something we value.

If it is guilt that keeps you from admitting to your love for idle time, it seems to me that there are at least a couple of socially redeeming justifications for such behavior - justifications beyond the simple enough justification of "it makes me happy."

Idling gives you more energy to sprint when you need to. I find that the more time I spend trying to be productive, the less productive I can be. If you are trying to be productive 26.2 miles a day, you'll go at a much slower pace than if you are trying to be productive for 100 yards. Some tasks are more performance than productive; you have to be "on" for 15 minutes or an hour. If idling into that surge of adrenalin and engagement makes you more powerful in that moment, idling might be the smartest thing you can do.

Plus, this is a complicated and confusing world which requires us to learn and change, something that play makes easier. Covey used to make the distinction between efficient ("he was fast up that ladder") and effective ("oops - his ladder was leaning against the wrong wall!"). The person who has his head down the whole time, working to be productive, has less opportunity to explore other possibilities, to contemplate other ways to be. Children play all the time and no adult learns as much or changes as much as a child. Play - or fiddling about - gives a child a safe space to experiment with other personalities, goals, and roles. Play is personal experimentation and facilitates development.

Perhaps this is the year to stop pretending that you don't like to pretend, to play, to daydream, and to fart around. Perhaps this year it is worth leaving your self some elbow room to develop, muse, and unfold in unexpected directions.

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