The other side of slow

I am a strong advocate of slow, simple living. Of taking time for quiet, stillness, and reflection. Of being present in the moment. I insist that it is possible to incorporate these qualities into one’s life as an ongoing process and practice and that it is not necessary to flee to the ends of the earth or conjure up extreme conditions for such purposes, as others have suggested. I did not always feel this way. I spent the first eighteen years of my life striving for constant activity and intensity. If I was not studying, I was dancing. If I was not dancing, I was working. And if I was not studying or dancing or working, I was joining a new activity. Rest and quiet time did not even make it onto my very long to-do list.

I hit a speed bump of exhaustion in my senior year of high school, which slowed me down a bit but not completely. I remember coming up for air momentarily before spending the next five years ramping up again until, by the end of my first year of graduate school, I had once again worked myself into a high-pitched frenzy of activity. Looking back, I see my grad school self as a sort of academic Road Runner, zipping all over Cambridge with stacks of books before finally running right off the busy cliff. In my case, the bottom of that cliff took the shape of many months of illness, exhaustion, and recovery. From that experience, I finally learned my lesson.

Since then, I have been careful to seek balance and to prioritize quiet time and cozy time and even time for nothing in particular. It is sometimes very lovely to curl up into the cave of quiet I have built for myself over these last couple of years, but it is always a tug-of-war. I am constantly brushing up against my inner overachiever, who confuses “quiet” with “lazy” and “restoration” with “lack of productivity.”

Lately, though, I am discovering the other side of slow: too slow. Since graduating in May, I have been cobbling together fragments of part-time and freelance work, arranging and rearranging them until I have to admit that the pieces do not make up a whole. My quiet self assures me that this is an excellent opportunity for contemplation. My overachiever self keeps measuring the gap between how much I am capable of and how much I am actually doing.

I know from experience how hard it is to let go of things, to admit that you have taken on more than you can handle and that your life is out of balance. I know now that it can be just as hard to admit that your life is perhaps a little too quiet and rather short on busy.

For now, I have mustered my optimism, reassuring myself that this is a temporary lull, an in-between time that I will look back on and be thankful for. In the meantime, I am mesmerized by the stories of other women’s lives and careers, tales of balancing acts and masterful feats of juggling. I scour these stories in search of clues for tipping the balance in the other direction, knowing all the while that the answer is probably not to be found on the outside but within.