Resting State

One of my superpowers is figuring out how to do something big and cumbersome and specific, breaking it up into smaller (but still incredibly boring and exhausting) pieces, and then—importantly—settling in to just finish the thing.

Imagine being good at strategically slamming your head against a wall over and over and over again, and that’s a pretty decent approximation of what this looks and feels like in real life.

This capability seems to be associated with a near-compulsion to finish things: to close loops that would otherwise taunt me, lingering on my to-do list (and in the back of my mind) until I make the time and expend the energy to rid myself of them, liberating me to move on to something else that needs doing.

This capacity to endure (and even, bizarrely, seek out) productive punishment is pretty great if you want to (for instance) write a book, learn how to do something new, or prepare a talk, all of which are multi-stage endeavors that can soak up gobs of one’s attention, require unusual volumes of maintained focus, and tend to necessitate facing one’s own self-doubt head-on, over and over (and over) again.

What structure I have in my life is partially a response to this tendency, as it allows me to guide my efforts toward larger goals with decent accuracy, but also helps me turn these same propensities toward offsetting, healthful undertakings, like stepping away from work to read, exploring someplace unfamiliar to me, and getting plenty of sleep: things that might otherwise fall by the wayside if I allowed myself to succumb completely to more overtly “productive” inclinations.

This has been on my mind recently because I’ve been engaging in what feels like a psychological marathon, making changes to the guts of several projects that are financial capstones of my larger portfolio of efforts, and while part of me has wanted to sprint the whole thing, to just get it out of the way, I’ve been forcing myself to pause periodically, catch my breath, metaphorically (and at times, literally) stretch and eat and rehydrate, so as to not overstrain my system, and to ensure I’m doing things optimally at each stage along the way.

Extending this sort of arduous undertaking is not ideal when you desperately want to just finish up and move on, but sometimes it’s the best-fit option, both for the project and for one’s health and overall lifestyle balance.

Moving too fast and too mono-focused would leave me prone to mistakes I don’t notice till later, requiring a lot of otherwise unnecessary revising and rebuilding, and it can also destabilize the things to which I don’t pay as much attention while in the depths of drudgery—vital concerns like my health, relationships, and the other (non-work) things I enjoy doing.

There’s part of me that worries I’m losing my edge in focusing on balance in these undertakings, as there was a time when I was more cavalier with such things, the writing of a new book or other major production approached more like a period of heavy drinking than a process meant to be healthfully replicable; I told myself I’d recover when it was done, and as a consequence would semi-regularly flop pendulously between extremes.

I typically frame this transition as an evolution rather than a diminishment, though, as my life today is richer and more sustainably and consistently satisfying than what I was able to muster a decade ago, and I suspect that finding a more moderate (if still quite unusual and me-shaped) resting state has been a key component of that growth.

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