The Unbearable Madness of Being: A Conclusion

I started this series as an exploration into why so many of us—theoretically well intentioned and intelligent professionals that we are—seem to manage to maintain a state of being overwhelmed most of the time. As I close out, the inescapable conclusion is the one I suggested at the outset: that, for the most part, this is a state of being that we have created for ourselves. We may not hive intentionally manufactured this state of being, but we own it nonetheless.

Much of the tendency is cultural, and we are nothing if not creatures of our own culture. But we also have the opportunity to choose how we respond to the cultural, social and work pressures that surround us. While the default position might be to accommodate expectations, or to compete with those around us, these reactions come at a price. We lose control of what we want, in favour of what we feel we need to do.

So how do we regain control? How do we make choices that are more in line with what we say we want to do, not what we’re supposed to do? A key consideration is simply being aware; of recognizing when we feel we ‘should’ do something, not that we desire or value it. It is consciously choosing, and recognizing and accepting the implications and trade-offs associated with that choice. And it is being comfortable with the choices that we have made.

The choices are not easy. It is tempting to stay always on, always connected, always available in case we miss something. But what are we missing in our present to be available for a possible future event that may not occur? What really is the price of turning off our phone, of connecting with those around us, and of not feeling the obsessive need to measure each instance? What happens if we experience our life events, rather than simply sharing them on Instagram?

For some, this might sound like something that is easier to say than to do. We’ve heard, for example, of people that have taken a ‘social media’ holiday. We have heard of such activities, of course, because they have come back to share there experiences online of not being online. Ignoring the inherent irony, there are some useful advantages to be gained. While the number of potential links I could share here are numerous, an early example is a relevant one. Particularly the insights about reassessing and reevaluting priorities, and choosing to be present with those in his immediate circle of family and friends.

The implication, of course, is that while we are tending to our broader social networks (or work email accounts) our loved ones are watching us interact with a piece of technology. Stimulating for us, perhaps; not so much for them.

It’s the start of a new year, which is always an opportunity to make new choices and adopt new behaviours. The key is determining what those behaviours should be. A recent article that shares the productivity strategies of several CEOs instructive here. The article is a comprehensive survey of the habits of a number of individuals, and what they have found that works for them. Few of the examples discuss technology choices and tools, however. Instead, they highlight behaviours regarding intention, priorities and taking time for themselves—so that they can be more effective in interacting with others.

Being busy is a choice. Busy is not a shortcut, however, to success or happiness. All too often, it is a roadblock and a distraction from what really matters. The challenge is that we are often so consumed by dealing with what’s in front of us that we don’t take the time to step back and assess what does really matter.

Be clear about priorities. Decide what is important to do. Establish appropriate boundaries, make realistic commitments, set understandable expectations and follow through. These are the essential strategies to getting—and maintaining—control of our lives.

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