On Downtime

Thoughts

This weekend was filled with downtime. A little play on words here, but I think of ‘downtime’ in two ways: the first is what we’d typically think of – time to just settle down and hang out; the second is somewhat more literal – a time when you’re feeling just a bit down. Interestingly enough, I’ve learned that too much of the former downtime inevitably leads to the latter for me – it’s a repeated pattern, and one that I’m not sure is ‘healthy’ (spoiler: probably not).

Those life quotes about wisdom (you know, old-school memes) often differentiate between being ‘busy’ and being ‘productive.’ Starting from my time in New York, I’ve gotten into an unfortunate habit of conflating the two. Being fresh out of college and living in one of the biggest cities in the world, I kept myself incredibly busy with a determination to make the most of my new home. I made plans with friends, I volunteered through three different organizations, I even joined a rock choir – all with the goal of staying busy. Being busy served a dual purpose: it provided a facade of seeming productive, and it also ensured that I would never feel lonely during my time in the city.

Unfortunately, neither of these purposes was a healthy way to live life. Both were distractions from tackling the underlying fears, which were rooted in an insecurity about the general direction my life was taking. I was worried that I wasn’t living New York City life to the fullest. I was worried that I wasn’t taking steps to move forward in my career. I was worried that I would drift from friends if I didn’t see them often enough. I was worried that I would be missing out. I was worried that I would be lonely. And I was worried that – God forbid – I would be sitting there with nothing to do.

So for the past few years, I’ve been in the habit of minimizing downtime. When weekends like this past one come around, where I find myself with swaths of untouched time, I make plans to do productive things: read a nonfiction book to learn something, write a meaningful blog post, work on my career goals, even organize the bookshelves in my apartment. This weekend, I had all intentions of using the time to make progress in my personal life.

Instead, I sat around and read a semi-trashy fiction book. I stalked people on Facebook. I clicked around Reddit aimlessly.

By Sunday night, I was hit by the other kind of ‘downtime’ – that is, a time when I just felt a bit down. I felt upset that I hadn’t been productive, I felt upset that I hadn’t ‘accomplished’ anything (although, in my own defense, I cooked three giant batches of meals for the week, so I guess that’s better than nothing). What surprised me was how negative I felt after the weekend: rather than feeling relaxed, I was disappointed in myself and regretful at the ‘wasted’ time.

One of my goals this year is to be intentional about my downtime. Movements like Ariana Huffington’s Thrive are modeling that it’s okay to rest, that it’s imperative to avoid burnout; I don’t disagree. However, I do think that being intentional about downtime will be helpful in making the time more meaningful and actually restful. The next time I have a weekend of untouched time, I hope to go into it with some ideas on how to spend it so that it doesn’t just disappear into the dark abyss of the internet. It seems contradictory to have ‘planned’ downtime, but I believe that by planning it out, I’ll be setting myself up for greater productivity with the rest of my hours.

Here’s to actually enjoying future downtimes – the good kind – and for continued productivity!

On Feeling Restless

Thoughts

Around a year ago this time, I started mentally preparing myself for “repatriating” back to the United States – that is, coming back home for good after being abroad for two years. I Googled and read articles talking about the dark side of repatriation (I’m not sure how I read this article anymore seeing as how I’ve never subscribed to WSJ) and I worried about how difficult it would be for me and my nostalgic self to ever stop missing my life in Asia.

Turns out it was a lot easier than expected – at first. I bounced around on couches and Airbnbs for two months in New York while I figured out whether or not to quit my job. I moved home to Chicago to hang out with my grandparents. I networked and job-searched, blogged and soul-searched. Found a job (not sure about the soul, though), and moved down to Chicago. And so here we are.

Through that period, feelings of nostalgia ebbed and flowed – but things were changing frequently enough that I was constantly distracted. Now that I’m settled in downtown, it’s suddenly hit me that maybe, missing Asia isn’t what I should have feared (although honestly, that still does hurt quite deeply some days).

I wish I’d been prepared for what it would be like to feel restless amidst stability.

For all those times in Asia that I’d wished I had a home I could decorate, friends I wouldn’t leave, a club I might join for good – for all those times I’d wished for stability and longevity and business as usual-ty, I find myself now constantly wondering these two dangerous words: “What’s next?”

Dangerous because they take away from gratitude for the present, from appreciation for my current state. And it’s not about about my new job, which is fun, or about Chicago, which I adore. It’s not even about being back in America – and it’s definitely not the travel bug (if you know me well, you’d know that I actually hate the word ‘wanderlust’ with a passion).

No, it’s because, for the first time in my life, there is no clear “next” – I could be in Chicago for two years or twenty, and I have literally no idea right now what that means. It’s not the not knowing itself that terrifies me; that in itself is, I think, liberating. But this restless feeling IS worrisome: I’ve been in Chicago all of four months and already worrying about my “What’s Next.” What if I can never actually feel 100% settled because I’ll always be wondering what comes after? What if I’m one of those people who complain that they can’t find The One (city, not soulmates) because I’m too busy looking for something…different?

I’ve written before that I – humans, really – have a tendency to always want more. I always thought it would be in relation to what I wanted, not to where I lived. This is the dark side of repatriation that I never considered: I got so used to having an expiration date for my location that I don’t quite know what to do without it. I feel lost and somewhat anxious; I’m disappointed at myself that I’m so easily entranced by all the “What if’s” rather than that “What is’s.”

Here’s to accepting that it’s okay to not know, that it’s okay to stay somewhere a while – or not. Here’s to facing the “dark side” of repatriation with the “bright side” of being thankful to even know what that word means. Here’s to not living in the past, not even living in the future – but living as hard as I can for the present.