When I was a boy, my Dad signed me up for community hockey, although I only played a few years because we couldn’t afford hockey gear. I had to keep asking the arena manager if I could borrow some, which was difficult for a shy child. In the summer, at my request, Dad signed me up for soccer, which I’m happy to say I continue to play 46 years later.
That was pretty much it for organized activities in my childhood.
Mom limited the amount of television I and my siblings could watch. And she would circle the approved programs in the TV Guide. Happily, Star Trek and cartoons made the list. But TV wasn’t big in our lives.
Mostly, I just played outside with my friends, getting creative with a soccer ball that had a permanent bulge in it from torn stitching and playing street hockey using broken sticks with plastic blades. We climbed trees, chased butterflies, captured grasshoppers, and watched ants at work.
We played British Bulldog, Hide-and-Seek, and rode our bikes off little ramps we made out of some discarded wood. In winter, we would go sledding, make forts, have snowball fights, and make snowmen when the snow was just right. Our parents would yell for us at dinner time, and then after dinner, we would play outside again until bedtime.
Some of our playtime consisted of my friends and me sitting around complaining about being bored. But eventually, someone would think of something creative, like trying to find our way across the park with our eyes closed, and off we would go.
When I read my first novel at the age of eight, I was hooked and devoured just about every book I could read from the library.
I miss those days of idleness, self-reflection, and creativity.
Today, things are different. Things are much busier. It’s not uncommon for children to have their agendas set for them from the moment they wake up in the morning until the moment they go to bed. I asked a friend recently if she wanted to go out for a coffee, but it was impossible to fit it in because of all the activities she had organized for her children.
Family members who come to our seniors’ home often seem in a rush. “Just a quick visit, Dad. I have a million things to do. I’m very, very busy, you know. Lots on my plate.”
Work is busier too. Before cell phones and email, there was a distinction between work and not-work. When work was finished for the day, it was time for family and play.
But now the lines are blurred. I receive emails from work and from people in my professional network at all hours of the day. I get LinkedIn requests regularly in the middle of the night. I receive private messages on Facebook when I’m sleeping.
After hiking in the mountains where I do not have a phone signal, it’s not unusual to have texts awaiting responses when I’m back in signal range. This weekend, I received a phone call from one of my employees. “Sorry to phone you on your day off, Dave, but I didn’t want to bother you at work when you were busy.” Really?
And everyone seems to expect a response right away. Some people will question my work ethic and leadership if I don’t respond within a few hours of receiving an email, text, or voice mail, even on days that I’m off. Usually I resist the urge to respond. I need to create boundaries for them, but I admit that their judging attitudes can cause my stress levels to increase.
When I would go watch Rae’s son play hockey in the evenings or on weekends, the majority of the other hockey Moms and Dads would be on their phones periodically dealing with work issues or other family scheduling challenges. And as for my entrepreneur friends, well, they seem to always be on the job. It is rare for me to spend time with them that they don’t say, “Oh, just a sec, Dave, I need to answer this call.” Or respond to an email. Or send a text.
It’s always do, do, do.
When do we get to just ‘be’?
Would our lives really be worse off if activities weren’t packed into every second of our day? And if our spare time wasn’t filled with watching television?
Do we really need to fill our children’s’ lives with a level of busyness that we, ourselves, abhor? What kind of adults will they become? Would it really hurt them at all to take a step back and just give them some time for unstructured play and reflection? Wouldn’t that actually help to develop a more creative and versatile adult?
And what if we slowed down a bit in our own lives? What if we just sat in a chair in silence and reflected on how we got to where we are in our lives? And where we still might want to go? What if we wandered over to the library for a look around or called up a friend to go for a coffee, just to talk about nothing? What if we turned off the TV, or got rid of it altogether?
I got rid of my own TV and, yes, sometimes I get bored. But in the last two years, I read a lot of books, finishing my 116th book this afternoon. And I’ve walked over 4,500 kilometers and climbed another twenty or so mountains in the Canadian Rockies. And I’ve had great conversations with my daughter, my mom, and my friends over coffee.
Some might find these activities boring, but I find they provide me with a rich life, with less stress and more time for reflection, creativity, and building deeper relationships with my friends and loved ones.
Don’t get me wrong. When I’m at work, I’m rocking and rolling from the moment I walk in the door until the moment I leave. I rarely have time for a break and often I don’t eat my lunch until mid-afternoon. But seriously, do I want to live life at that pace day in, day out, from wakey-wakey time to go-to-sleep time? Not if I don’t want a coronary before I’m 60.
For most of us, work is busy and stressful while we’re at work. Why try to replicate it in our personal lives? Why don’t we give ourselves a break, slow down, and have a moment of reflection over a cup of hot tea?
And just ‘be’ for a while.