College went by fast for me. After graduating high school, it took me only four years to get my MBA, which went by particularly fast.
In that time, I would stress while I wasn’t working, constantly thinking about what had to be done in order to meet the next deadline. I didn’t realize I was so stressed until I graduated and suddenly had no more assignments to turn in.
The void was filled by worrying about 100 small things that really didn’t deserve the precious brain power it took to worry about them. In this new-found spare time, I realized that I rarely had time to listen to myself.
My attention was being taken up by emails, exercise, Spotify, Netflix, Xbox, books, etc. And when I did have quiet moments to myself, I was thinking about which assignment was due next.
This forced me to consider a balance between work and relaxation; or, rather, the mindset between the two.
Roosevelts and Hobbits
Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt were two of the greatest, most productive presidents this country ever had. Both led the country through tough times and set standards that are still in place today.
Both men shared a strenuous work ethic. When they worked, they were focused solely on the task at hand, without worrying about what needed to be done later. They let the tasks later wait, and focused on getting the task now done.
The opposite of this work ethic (a work ethic that isn’t exclusive to the Roosevelts, but shared by many great men and women) is the relaxation ethic of the hobbits.
The fictional dwellers of the Shire spend their days eating, drinking, smoking, and sleeping. And, in most cases (save for the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings), hobbits don’t let distractions get in the way of these comforts.
In my new-found appreciation of quite time, I have realized that a balance between Roosevelts and hobbits is necessary for a happy, productive life.
When we work, we must be 100% focused, meaning no social media, friends to distract us, etc. I’ve struggled with keeping social media at bay when I try to get work done (like writing this article).
When I let myself become distracted, my work suffers and I feel like I’ve done a sub-par job. When I focus and put distractions aside, I become much more productive.
The same is true for relaxation, except concentrating on it can be even harder.
When was the last time you sat alone somewhere? Quietly, without the distractions of social media or music? The ability to do this is so rare in today’s world, that it can be seen as something like a superpower.
In fact, the french mathematician turned theologian Blaise Pascal wrote “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Are we afraid to be alone with ourselves? Is that why we value distractions so much?
Neither a hobbit or a Roosevelt would agree with such distractions, and would instead recommend we give our attention to the task at hand, whether it be running a country or blowing rings of smoke.
Now, you might say that these are distractions themselves; defeating Hitler took time away from FDR that he could have spent in Pascal’s quiet room. The difference is in working — or relaxing — actively.
When we are active and aware in our work or relaxation, the task becomes something great. When we are passive and let distractions take our attention away, the tasks suffer.
Teddy Roosevelt would tell us to give our work 100%, and a hobbit would tell us to give our relaxation 100%. The goal in this realistic world is to find a balance between the two.
For eight hours a day, you may focus on work, but for, say, three hours at the end of the day, you may be deadly focused on relaxation, without a cell phone in sight.
This is the balance between working like a Roosevelt and relaxing like a hobbit.