Shedding Light

Yesterday was the equinox, one of only two days in every year (or in every orbit around the sun) when the amount of daylight we receive is basically equal to the amount of darkness. Where I live in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s our “autumnal equinox” because it signals the official transition from summer to fall.

This means that for the next ninety days or so—every day from now until the December solstice —the amount of daylight I see will be reduced. Soon it will be darker when I am up in the morning to write, and it will be dark when I leave the office at the end of the day. It will get colder, and trees will shed their leaves just as the Earth begins to shed off sunlight in exchange for a longer cloak of star-filled nights.

But yesterday, for one brief moment in this orbit, we were on a planet of equipoise, the sun directly at our equator, with both ends of Earth receiving an even balance of light and dark, warm and cold, energy and stillness.

For one day, in a moment that we could never really notice or feel, we all got an even share of something bigger than ourselves.

Time Passing

Sixteen years ago today, I married my wife here in the beautiful town of Ithaca, standing under cover of light fog and misty rain just up the hill from the college campus where our lives first entwined.

Just three years later we moved to Ithaca for good, and it was this week nine years ago that we bought our first home, our own little parcel of the city we love.

It’s the same home where I now sit beside my favorite other person in the world, typing out this little thank you to the universe for all of it.

Let me always be worthy of all of this.

 

Vacation Work

Apparently, I’m not good at taking enough time off throughout the year because it took me until last week to realize that I have ten days of vacation time banked that I have to use before this month is over or I lose it. But now that I’m being forced to use it, I intend to make the most of it.

For starters, I’m taking a full week off from work at the office to stay at home and do work instead. That is, I’m leaving behind my office email and calendar and meetings so I can retreat to bigger, deeper projects; pulling myself away from the demands of others to focus on the demands of my soul.

And I really do mean that. This is time off to feed my soul, my larger self, what makes me me. It is time indulge my creative hunger, dive deeper into the ideas I want to research and explore, and fill in the gaps of home projects that I’ve neglected for too long.

I will probably use some of this time to work on stuff related to my job as well, and that’s okay. We often think of that as a bad thing – we tell each other not to do “work stuff” while we’re away. But I’ve been in my job long enough now that so much of my “work stuff” is also “me stuff” that I care about. There things I want to learn and practice for myself during vactation time because I know they will make me better at my job when I return to the office. Why would we ever discourage that?

We understand the benefits of semi-annual offsite retreats for a leadership team or organization to focus on in-depth discussion and exploration of big ideas, long-term plans, and get to know their colleagues better. So why not use personal time away for the same purpose? Paid vacation time away from the office alone is a perfect opportunity to catch up on reading and research that has piled up; to explore my own creative ideas, make long-term plans, build skills, and find clarity.

I realize it is a priviliged situation to be in at all, to even have a job that offers paid time-off in the first place—I’ve had jobs in the past where this wasn’t the case. And to be able to have enough that I can spend this on my own, and still have real vacation time available later to spend with my wife traveling and not thinking about anything but the experience of being away.

It’s not like I don’t get alone time already. I’m usually up early enough to get an hour or two for daily reading and writing. And that morning focus is good, but it’s limited. It only allows for short writing sprints, iterating and editing blog posts like this, thinking out an idea as I go and redrafting, rewriting for a weekly goal.

A full week off for myself allows for something bigger, a chance to cast my net into much deeper waters and pull ideas and connections to the surface that for now I only sense are there, waiting to be found. But I am not setting any expectations, either. I have no specific goal of what I expect to find. The discovery process itself is the only goal I need.

At the end of this week I may not have much to physically show for it—no thick reports or manifestos, no charts or presentations—but I will have a more detailed map of the terrain than I had before. I will have a better sense of where I’m going, what the obstacles are, the challenges, and the opportunities, and I’ll be able to take my first steps on a path through it all.

I’m leaving the office for a week to work for myself from a fresh perspective. When I return to the office, I plan to bring some of that fresh perspective with me, wrapped in shiny foil swans like choice morsels from an indulgent feast of ideas.

Chaos Practice

I feel bad for chaos. It’s such an important part of the universe, yet nobody seems to want it around. We live in a world that values order, or at the very least, predictability. Whenever the systems or environments we rely on behave differently, and chaos starts to emerge, we feel we must exert our will to make it stop, to impose a sense of order once more. But we can never actually be rid of chaos, and I’m glad for that.

Chaos may be messy and unpredictable, but that’s also what makes it reliable. It’s what makes me grateful for chaos—I know I can rely on it to keep me from getting too comfortable.

In the core mathematical concept of chaos theory lies a simple, observable phenomenon: that small changes in the position or composition of a chaotic system make a big difference over time. That’s a pretty good explanation for what happened to me over the past six weeks or so, as I made slight deviations from my normal routines and habits to focus on big project deadlines and a conference presentation; suddenly a little pile of lower priority work I couldn’t give attention to has grown into digital and physical mounds of information like something out of a “Hoarders” television special.

There are piles and lists and notes and folders and sketches to be sorted, magazines and books and stacks of reports to be read. In a nutshell, my office is a mess, and all my productive habits have fallen apart. As of this writing, I have 2,026 unprocessed work emails in my account—unprocessed meaning they are either in my inbox or in one of a few different “action” folders waiting to have actions performed that have not yet been performed. Among these messages, 456 are marked un-read and 83 are flagged as important. And that’s just my work email. I’m afraid to even look at the numbers in my personal email accounts right now. Continue reading →

Everything With Moderation

Things have been a little crazy at the office lately, especially since the college I work at became part of national news trend pieces for a few days last week. It’s a situation that has continued to build tension on campus over the past month and, for me personally, as an employee and alum of the college, it’s been sad to see how much the negativity and anger that has arisen from the situation quickly became louder than voices looking to find solutions and make change.

Of course, just walking around you’re only mildly aware of the level of frustration people are feeling. Public demonstrations, posters, and signs from the many voices vying for attention have ebbed and flowed across different public spaces on and off campus, but nobody’s camped out on the quad in protest, and most classes and schedules have continued as usual.

But things are much different if you pay even a little attention to social media. One quick search for our school on Facebook, Twitter, or YikYak and you’ll see just about every opinion people have, often followed by flame war comments going back and forth about who’s more ignorant or why people want to see our president resign. You’ll see individuals sharing moving stories of their own experiences as targets of racism, marginalization, or violent speech. And you’ll find posts filled with passionate opinions, arguments, and links to all kinds of longer rants that all seem to be strongly for one thing or strongly against another thing.

Sadly, few of these are kind to the people they see as against them. In fact, several posts or comments have been messages of outright hate, and that has been the most disturbing part of this whole experience for me.

Continue reading →

Do More Less

I had a really unproductive Monday this week. There were a few big things I really needed to get done that day, some important pieces of a project that were my responsibility, and some tasks other people were waiting on me to finish so they could then complete what they had to do.

Yet no matter how many times I attempted to get started on the important tasks of the day, I kept trying to pay attention to too many things at once, getting distracted by unimportant “shiny” stuff, and before I knew it my time for completing work was gone for the day.

Basically, I was terrible at my job on Monday, and it cost me. I lost some reliability points from my teammates, lost some faith in my ability to be disciplined about how I work, and worst of all I lost several hours of productive time I couldn’t really afford to lose.

But I bounced back the next day, and each day after that I got more work done and met all the important deadlines I had. I didn’t become a productivity machine, and I still couldn’t do everything I wanted to in the midst of multiple meetings and random interruptions. But I made up for the time I had wasted on Monday, and all it took was a small change in perspective:

I stopped trying to do more work, and that enabled me to get more done.

Continue reading →

Aspirations of Productivity

I’m a morning person, which means I’m up before dawn at this time of year and I get to watch the world outside awaken through the windows overlooking my backyard as I write. It’s not uncommon to see a few deer emerge from the woods and saunter by on their way to wherever it is they go, and while I generally think of all deer as road hazards and yard pests at this point (don’t get me started on how much landscaping I can’t have because of them), there are mornings when I watch them passing by and feel a little bit of envy.

I imagine that the deer, along with all the squirrels and rabbits and birds inhabiting my yard, all seem to live such an uncomplicated life. No possessions, no expectations. The only goals they have each day are to eat, rest, avoid danger and disease, and procreate if possible. Generally just stay alive, and roam where and when they want in the meantime.


There is no expectation that these creatures must somehow leave their mark in the world, no pressure to be productive with their lives other than to live. Just by looking after their own basic needs they are playing their role in the ecosystem they inhabit and that’s all that is needed of them.

So why isn’t that enough for us humans? Why do I feel myself caught up in a growing awareness of “productivity” as a thing that matters; that it’s important to make my life count for something by doing or making things with my time to somehow prove I am contributing to the world?

Continue reading →