In a past life, I was the quintessential Type A Overachiever. I had goals for clubs and activities to get into a good college. I had goals for my net worth each year. And that attitude carried down into each day, where there were always items to complete. Get groceries. Apply for a savings account. My internal monologue was a nonstop list of little achievements and goals. I was addicted to doing.
Now that I’m retired, I can see how 100% devotion to that mindset causes you to miss out on a lot in life. Doing is not always the fastest way to achieve happiness.
I have two major examples of how this mentality has shortchanged me in the happiness department.
Firstly, an achievement-oriented attitude made me a hermit that never went outside. Why? There was no achievement-oriented reason to do so.
I’d feel guilty going out because it wouldn’t yield something specific and tangible. It was hard to explain what I had done with my time. What do you get asked around the water cooler on Monday morning?
“What did you do this weekend?”
“I ran a marathon/checked out the new pizza place/played a softball game” sounds a lot better than “I was outside a lot.”
The second place Doing has shortchanged me has been in the time I spend with friends. I still hung out with my friends, of course, but my calculations of when to say yes vs no were almost mercenary in their focus on efficiency.
Meeting friends at a restaurant seemed to fit the Doing radar, so that was acceptable, but more spontaneous events were more likely to be rejected. A couple of friends were in in my neighborhood recently, and I popped out to walk around for 20 minutes with them. I grabbed a train to meet a friend in Hoboken for dinner on a weeknight. I walked 30 minutes to have a 30 minute set of drinks with a friend. Before, I would have looked at the effort to event time ratio and said no to these events. Having actually said yes to them this time around, I can say they were well worth the effort in raising my well-being.
The checklist lifestyle told me that doing things is what creates happiness, like happiness is something that requires blood, sweat, and tears to achieve. It didn’t account for the fact that many of the things in life that just involved my showing up and absorbing what was going around me would give me the biggest boosts in well-being.
Living has two components: doing and being. It’s easy to listen to all the productivity talk and focus on only the first half of that equation.
My Favorite Fable: The Fisherman and The Investment Banker
More than 10 years ago, I read an amazing fable on exactly this topic. It went like this:
An investment banker stood at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The banker complimented the fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
The fisherman replied, “Only a little while.”
The banker then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish?
The fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.
The banker then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
The fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.”
The investor scoffed, “I am an Ivy League MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, and eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats.
“The investor continued, “And instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would then sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution! You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
The fisherman asked, “But how long will this all take?”
To which the banker replied, “Perhaps 15 to 20 years.”
“But what then?” asked the fisherman.
The banker laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions!”
“Millions. Okay, then what?” wondered the fisherman.
To which the investment banker replied, “Then you would retire. You could move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
You can put on your Doing hat for part of the day; that is hugely beneficial and a great use of your mental energy. But don’t forget to take it off regularly.
I’ve been the investment banker and I’m now the fisherman. I can tell you: the fisherman has it right.
What has been your experience?