Living Fast & Slow: Lessons Learned in Thailand

“You okay?”

We had just paused our trek through the streets of Bangkok, letting cars swoop by us at an intersection across from the Grand Palace. Sammie had promptly slumped forward, the top of her Chicago Cubs hat pointing towards the ground and her arms akimbo as she attempted to find relief from the heat. With all of her worldly possessions on her back and me with a paltry 10 days’ worth on mine, 20 minutes of walking in the Thai climate had somehow winded us.

She gave no sign of having heard me, only continued to inhale and exhale deeply. Knowing better than to prompt her, I remained silent.

“No,” she finally grumbled. She straightened, turned her face up to the temple’s roof peaking above a high perimeter wall.

“Do you think we have to walk all the way to that other entrance?”

“‘m not sure,” I responded lightly.

She groaned.

What we had already discovered in our first 24 hours in Thailand was that light and breezy were the watchwords for survival. Muggy, all-encompassing heat and burning sun defined the country’s climate, and anything rushed or frantic resulted in red faces, damp T-shirts and heightened tempers.

But we had set out on our journey with no predetermined schedules or work to complete, no authorities to answer to, no people to please other than ourselves. For the next 10 days we meandered rather than sprinted, read rather than scrolled, looked rather than photographed (mostly). It was the type of vacation I’d never taken before — all relaxation, all the time.

And so I came to learn about living fast and living slow.

See, I rush things. I type fast and then have to backspace to fix words. I can (and almost always do) finish a meal in three minutes. I’m asked multiple times a day to speak more slowly. I spend many city sojourns with others calling from behind me on the sidewalk, “Can you slow down?”

I’m not saying it’s a good thing; it’s just how I am.

But I learned from Thailand’s sweltering heat and the rarity of having no set schedule that I’ve been living too fast. Or at least, far too much of my time is spent living fast when I should be doing more living slow.

We spent most of our time on an island with no cars. This island — Koh Klang — had none of the 7-Elevens ever-present in Thailand, nor any other big brand store you might see throughout the country.

It was laid back. And I, for once, was laid back. If you know me, you know I’m a ball of stress at the best of times. And I think it comes down to this one fact: I’ve been living too fast.

Maybe it derives, too, from the mantra of you can have it all and stereotypical pressures of normalized success — but I do a piss-poor job of taking stock of things in a measured way, not to mention going through my daily life without an eye on the next hour/week/month/year. I’m always thinking what else has to be done, what I’ve forgotten, what I might miss out on.

But commuting to work doesn’t have to be a run to this bus, that train. Lunch doesn’t have to be shoveled down my esophagus before others even get to the table. Words can take shape in my mind before I send them out into the world for others to hear.

With a bit more planning and a bit more thinking, hopefully meaning less of a frantic lifestyle, I can see more and experience more. I can arrive to work not-sweaty (because ew). I can complete tasks at work and have time to review them, rather than sliding them under the door (metaphorically speaking) at the deadline.

In some moments I may still have to live fast — as I sprint to a train because I had to squeeze in one can’t-miss sight as I see the world, or snatch up an opportunity at work that will challenge me before I can second-guess my ability to do it.

But I’ve finally realized that I can manage a mix of living fast and slow — and finally live more fully.

Think you can do the same?


Originally published at www.linkedin.com on January 5, 2016.