Have you ever noticed that our culture has something of a perverse pre-occupation with “catching-up” with this or that?
I know I do. Over the past few months, I have often lamented the reality that this little ranting forum of mine had faded into oblivion. I often told myself that I would re-engage, so to speak, and quite a few times opened up this “new-post” page which I am this very moment filling with gibberish.
I never made it though, until now I guess, and even now I have a fair way to travel before I click that little “publish” button and spring my gibberish on an unexpecting world. One of the main reasons I never made it was this crazy idea I had of “getting caught up.” That is, afterall, what these words you are reading are doing, aren’t they? Getting caught up? The thought of “getting-caught-up” can be daunting, don’t you think?
I live what must be the most transient existence of anyone I know, and still I find my life saturated with things to “keep-up-with.” E-mails, Facebook messages, personal finances, professional development, relationships with friends and family strewn across the globe, educational progress, and on and on and on …
It’s all a bit silly though, isn’t it. I mean, what am I trying to “catch-up” to? Who am I trying to “keep-up” with?
The answer to both questions seems to be some imaginary present/future satisfied version of myself, which raises the perfectly reasonable questions of: a) how is it possible for person to catch up with themselves and b) how is it possible for person to ever reach the future?
It seems that as soon as I “catch-up” with one thing, I have fallen behind with something else. What’s worse, if I do finally manage to “get-ahead” in a single aspect, the process of getting ahead almost inevitably creates an entirely new life-element which I must then worry about “keeping-up” with, on top of everything else.
Is it possible to “catch-up” with everything, and if it were, how long could one remain “caught-up” before somewhere, something, needed attention? The whole thing seems a lot like a trap to me: a perpetual state of “being behind,” of “need-to-dos” and ultimately of incompletion.
I suppose one could compare it to caring for a home. Lots of things require constant attention: the lawn needs to be mowed, the floors need to be swept, the dishes need to be done. Some things require a bit less frequent care: dusting, cleaning the bathroom, emptying the fridge. Some things a bit less still: cleaning the floors, pruning the trees. Some things can be ignored, but for those few weekends of every year that are dedicated entirely to keeping all neglected things working and clean.
For the sake of argument, let’s say a person dedicated a month of their life to “catching up” with their home. How long would they remain “caught-up”? Would they ever, for a single instant, actually be “caught up”? And if they did manage to get caught up, and stay caught up, with their home, what would happen to the many other elements of their life?
Of course, as one becomes ‘successful,’ that little old house won’t do anymore, so it’s time to get a nicer and bigger house, which inevitably will have more things to clean keep working. With the newer house comes the newer car, which also requires a little more attention. The better job takes up more time too. Maybe there is a boat, or a cottage, or whatever. And the growing family is definitely in need of constant care as well. With this, we enter into an entirely different, but equally futile, form of “keeping-up,” – that is, with the imaginary others, with whose life-progress we are apparently to be compared. (though it strikes me as I re-read this, that perhaps nobody is ever actually trying to keep up with others, but that the attempt is, in truth, an effort to “keep-up” with how they would like to be seen/thought of by “the Jones’.” – that is, keeping their public image up with what they would like their public image to be.)
So now we must not only keep up with everyone else, who are trying equally hard to keep up with us, but we must also keep up with an imaginary, ideal-future version of ourself. Doesn’t this seem totally insane to anybody else?
It almost seems as though we have come to collectively define success as one’s capacity to juggle the most balls – that is, to be perpetually unsatisfied with as many things as possible at one time. And that’s not even taking into account the moment after that, and the moment after that.
If I am trying to “catch-up” to the point in time and space at which I wish I could, in this moment in space and time, be located, would it not be infinitely simpler to just re-define the place I wish I could be as the place that I currently am located? In other words: to simply choose to be satisfied right now.
Then I am already caught up. And I don’t need to worry about all the things I need to catch-up with.
Then I can spend my time right now doing whatever I want to do, right now.
Considering I have only a finite handful of hours to live/enjoy on this earth, and they are disappearing rapidly and constantly, doesn’t spending my time doing what I want seem to be a much more practical way of living than striving eternally after some future that is impossible to reach now, and is becoming more impossible to reach the more I pursue it?
Of course, this is all crazy talk. Our so-called civilized world has sorted itself out in such a way that, in order to be normal and sensible, a person must weigh themselves down with concerns, and run always to keep from falling behind. To do otherwise would be partly lazy, partly pathetic, partly useless and entirely unproductive. These are adjectives which our society does not place a high value upon. Certainly such people are not ideal employees, desirable mates, or good people to loan money to.
Then again, if a human being were to look at two doors, one labelled “Successful and Productive” and the other labelled “Satisfied and Happy,” which door would be the more sensible choice for a human being to make?
Which choice would you make?
“Incomplete” or “Unproductive”
“Imaginary Future” or “Real Present”
For me personally, I can say that the process of simplifying my life continues to be rewarding in a very human way. I can say that my increasing refusal to feel obligated to “keep-up” with many of my former pre-occupations has engendered a profound joy in the activities I do choose to take part in, no matter how mundane. I can say that, being patient with time itself, and focusing my energy on only those things that fit most harmoniously with my humanity in any given moment, regardless of outside or perceived internal obligations, has revealed to me an entirely new, more genuine, more fulfilling and more powerful, side to myself and my potential. Best of all, in exploring that potential – not professional potential, but human potential – I feel peaceful, and unhurried, and experience great joy in each small part of the whole, regardless of where it may lead.
Then again, I’m an unemployed and homeless, formerly “successful” 27-year old, living primarily on the couches, and generosity, of family and friends.