My grandfather was never a particular influence on me. Until he passed away last year.
Thinking about his kind spirit, his humble and noble way of Life, I started profoundly rethinking how I live my Life. He passed away as quietly and calmly as he lived, and the more I thought about his peaceful approach to Life, the more I questioned all the noise and speed in my Life.
I realized that true power lies in peace.
Our lives today are marked by great noise and constant acceleration. But when you don’t let yourself be rushed, you can take your time to do things right, instead of “moving fast and breaking things”. You can think things through and make conscious choices, instead of impulsive and automated ones. You can listen to your body, feel your feelings and understand your needs, instead of just ignoring them altogether and suffering the consequences.
As I started reflecting on why I was doing things the way I did, how it was making me feel, and how I would like to feel, a lot started coming up. I had opened this space for reflection for the first time since what felt forever. Paul Graham wrote “you can think of a startup as a way to compress your whole working life into a few years”, and after three years fully dedicated to my startup, FemGems, I was at a turning point.
I saw how my life had become the complete opposite of peace, reflection, awareness, compassion and “feeling my feelings”. I had become a typical product of the environment I had entered (the startup world). A caffeine-fueled founder who has no time for trivial things like cooking and spending time with friends and family, always busy with something urgent and important.
Initially, I felt drawn to this high speed environment as it offered the opportunity to grow faster than anywhere else. Thinking fast, (re)acting fast, working fast, living fast felt awesome. The faster you are, the more things you’ll get done and the further you’ll go, I thought.
Reality check: Speed is a slippery slope. The faster you act, the less thinking time you take. The less thinking time you take, the higher the risks you run.
I developed extreme focus, and was shoveling away bigger than ever workloads (which I only see in retrospect, as nothing was ever enough while I was doing it.) After all, being a startup founder meant not touching anything twice, getting things done right off the bat, and becoming more efficient by the day.
Reality check: the more you focus on work, the more it becomes your life. And the more work becomes your life, the more your life gets out of balance.
Now, that’s where the startup world starts yelling at you:
“Of course there’s no balance, are you kidding me? You’re a founder!”
“Didn’t get enough sleep? Nobody does; just drink more coffee!”
“So hungry you can’t work anymore? Grab some fast food!”
Sure, you may develop some chronic pains during those 14-hour workdays, but no pain, no gain, right?
Fast forward a few years of this lifestyle and all body signals I neglected consistently had turned into issues I simply couldn’t ignore anymore. My body warned me, but I didn’t listed. Then, it showed me who the real boss is. And it didn’t look anything like a startup founder, CEO or an investor.
It’s Mother Nature.
Mother Nature can take away everything you take for granted, e.g. your impeccable health, high energy levels or fearless motivation. Often, she does that “suddenly and unexpectedly”, after you’ve been ignoring her warning lights for too long.
Sometimes, Life destroys your plans, because it knows that they will destroy you.
It might be very counter-intuitive in the moment, but when things aren’t going the way you imagined them to, the solution is not to do more or push harder. It’s to do less. Because when you’re in the problem, there’s no room for solutions to come up.
You can’t change direction while you’re speeding down the highway. It’s impossible to figure out where to go next while you’re still moving.
You literally need to stop. So that’s what I did.
I had finally realized that my well-being is the foundation for everything I do, so I had to take care of it and abandon the illusion that I can grow sustainably while ignoring it. The well-being break I went on opened up a space for critical observation that wasn’t really there in my laser-focused, fast-paced day-to-day before.
“The noisier things get, the more we need to create quiet reflections spaces, in which we can truly focus. The faster and busier things get, the more we need to build in thinking time into our schedules. […]
Time and space to focus and think is not there by default in today’s overstimulated world. It can only be there by design.” — Greg McKeown, Essentialism
I was watching things I built with my blood, sweat and tears crumble and feeling nothing. The only thing I felt was a strong voice inside of me saying “Stay in this” on the background of an old one lashing out “How on earth can you stay calm, are you out of your mind?!”
I was out of my mind. I was entering my heart.
By allowing myself to simply observe and not act, I was able to note that I had huge resistance to the toxic growth-at-all-costs imperative that ruled the world around me.
See, the more we listen to what we’re told, the less we note our inner voice, a.k.a. Nature’s guidance. The busier we are fulfilling the modern days’ image of a “successful” person, the less we question that image and decide for ourselves whether it truly serves us (= whether it makes us healthy and happy). Being busy, stressed and having “a lot going on” is in fact not in ourbest interest at all. It’s our collective delusion that overworking is the price we need to pay in order to succeed.
Busyness creates fairly predictable psychological outcomes: stress, anxiety, difficulty prioritizing, short-term focus, impulsivity, etc. In each of those psychological states, we’re more likely to spend money either to ease the discomfort or because our critical thinking is disabled. Marketers use these psychological states to their advantage all the time. […] But it’s not just marketing. It’s also product and category development, as well as profit gains through consumer debt.
[…] The more we spend on convenience, the more indulgence becomes a necessity, the more debt we take on, the more we’re likely to take on work and responsibilities that make us even busier. Busyness is self-perpetuating — which is another way of saying that busyness supports the growth-at-all-costs imperative of capitalism.
– Tara McMullin on the economic functions of busyness
One thing that I found fascinating about my grandfather is that he never wanted anything. He always said he had everything, while living in humbling modesty and moderation. It seems like he realized that nothing outside of us can make us happy. That if we’re not happy with what we have now, we’re not gonna be happy with more. That creating actual freedom isn’t about building a huge company and generating endless money; it’s about finally seeing ourselves fully and accepting every single part of us.
My grandfather’s passing made me reevaluate a lot of what I considered the right way to live, work and grow. So much so, that it pretty much turned my Life around.
He helped me recognize that the more we run through life chasing “big things”, the less we enjoy and appreciate the “little things” that truly make life worth living. In fact, we confuse them.
The little things are the big things.
Less is more.
You, me, we have always been enough.
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