How to be on holiday all the time
When I was around 32 years old, I made the decision to leave full time employment and work for myself — my aim was to be a creative; to make my life by making content.
For me, this vocation represented something worthy and authentic — the 21st century version of coal-mining — tough, difficult, financially risky but ultimately man-making. Something from which there could be no hiding place or easy cushion of guaranteed income.
I also took the view that it was the best possible way to be interesting at parties. I was sick to death of telling people that I was a management consultant or worked in finance. It was shameful to me that I didn’t have more stories from the outside edge, from the bohemian corners of life. I would often make these stories up just to spice up a conversation or impress a friend, claiming for example that I had just spent the weekend in Berlin with a cabaret artist I’d met at a conference with the Dalai Lama.
But the reality is, I was simply longing for a more fulfilling life.
More than a decade later, I have the stories. I’ve lived that life. My neatly clipped hair and suit have been replaced by the messy locks and flowery shirt of a creative professional. I have published three books, written and performed two one-man shows, launched my own mindfulness brand — and financed myself by doing coaching and leadership work for organizations. I am working at the edge of things, where the future reveals itself, and when I am in flow that is the most satisfying thing in the world.
But recently I’ve started to doubt. What if these goals I cherish won’t bring me the satisfaction I crave? What if the peace and harmony I am seeking doesn’t come — can’t come — from the constant pursuit of anything, whether it be ‘creativity,’ ‘art’ or something less glamorous (like a mortgage)?
Around 5 years ago I had an experience of what it’s like to stop, to step off that treadmill. I had delivered my first book to the publishers, I was exhausted, and I had to rest. I was burned out.
Over the space of 3 months, I had no choice but to empty my calendar, stop commuting, and stay at home. I logged off the internet, stopped reading, and switched off the TV. I went for walks every day, I sat in the park, I looked at trees, and I waited. I waited for the next wave to come, for something with enough energy to lift me and take me into my next phase of my work. Ideas came, ideas went. But none of them had that quality that I was looking for — something with a life of its own that I couldn’t resist.
And then one day it happened.
In the space I’d opened by shedding distractions and resting, a genuinely new thing came to life: I started drawing. I hadn’t drawn properly since school, and yet now I couldn’t stop — doodles, cartoons, illustrations flooded out of my hand and across the page. I was gripped. For the first time in my adult life I was face to face with something absolutely spontaneous, unplanned; something that wanted to happen. Something good.
It was from this seed that my next book (The Lazy Guru’s Guide to Life) was born. It didn’t come from an idea or a business plan but from an insight that arrived on its own: that no matter how hard we may strive, the best way to solve our problems is to stop, relax and make space for something to appear on its own. Without realizing it I had hooked into something bigger than me: the mindfulness movement which encourages us to tune in to the present moment without judgement or reaction.
But for me it’s more than mindfulness or meditating — it’s a full time pursuit to rest and attend to inspiration. In the period since my break I have found this to be true in all aspects of life. I work with people in companies who are overwhelmed by stress and lack of space. Unsurprisingly they are often starved of good ideas. I offer them a taste of that space — space for reflection, space to step back and reflect. In doing so they realize that the really interesting things happen when they feel at ease, not when they are stressed.
Yet despite knowing all this, I still get hooked into the rat race, the Twitter treadmill, the iPhone addiction. I still lose sight of the truth and become uncreative, unoriginal, analytical — every day of the week. I forget to rest, I forget to wait, I forget to make space.
So this article is my manifesto, my reminder. It stands as my declaration and my call to arms — to live life not just in pursuit of our dreams, but as if we have already achieved them. To put it plainly, I am declaring myself on permanent vacation: relaxed, at ease, creative — always.
So how? Everyone knows that the best vacations don’t have rules. But on the other hand, we’re so out of balance in the other direction that a few tips, a few good habits, might help. These are mine:
1. Don’t try to fix things
Certain things — conflict with loved ones, time pressure, the need to go grocery shopping — are immutable laws of life. They’re not going to go away. Life is going to remain frustrating, awkward and volatile, forever — so you may as well start enjoying it now. I do that by not trying to fix things.
Instead of reacting to irritation or discomfort with resistance, I try to let it be, to feel it and let it pass. Things have an amazing way of sorting themselves out. This isn’t to say that I don’t take action, but I wait as long as I can before reacting, until my immediate wish to react has passed, and the right response can come on its own. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s a lot less work in the long run.
2. If you can’t be bothered with something, there’s always a good reason
I learned a while ago to trust my own motivation. Instead of judging your lack of interest in doing something as a failing or laziness, it’s more powerful to trust that it is giving you information: a better course of action is probably available.
So don’t rush or push yourself into doing something that makes you feel tired or bored. It’s a mistake, coded into us by aeons of anxious ancestors who also forced themselves to do things the wrong way. Of course, it is important to tell the difference between lack of motivation and procrastination or nerves. But if something is good for you, and there’s fear stopping you, it’s an entirely different kind of feeling.
3. Give yourself space
To be effective and stay on point with what needs to happen next in our lives, we need to give ourselves space.
Making space isn’t difficult: it just means stepping back for a moment or two from any task that we are involved in — long enough to notice and feel the ‘shoulds’ that are dictating our actions. For example, I should finish writing this article right now, even though I need a break. I should say something quickly to fill the silence so my date doesn’t feel awkward. I should reply this email today before I’ve had time to properly think about it.
The list goes on forever. Why? Because I haven’t questioned the silent, powerful beliefs in our brains that sit behind them.
So know your ‘shoulds’, be in control of them. Don’t let them control you. Make space to see and feel what’s really going on.
The bottom line
If you look closely, each of these points says the same thing (I never get tired of saying it, because it is the only really important thing to say):
We live in a world obsessed by action and success. And in a world hooked on action, the only way to be different is to stop.
This is the discipline of all creative human beings. When you pause in the middle of doing something (or stop before even starting), you return to feeling, and feeling is information — information that your mind and body need in order to make good decisions. How often have you convinced yourself to push through or finish a task you started, even when you’re feeling tense and stressed in your body?
So don’t do that, please. You don’t have to.
And now I’m going to stop.
Laurence Shorter is author of The Lazy Guru’s Guide to Life (2016, Hachette Books) and The Optimist: One Man’s Search for the Brighter Side of Life (2009, Canongate). He lives in the UK with his partner and son.