I spend a lot of time watching people these days.
Yes, I am acutely aware how creepy that last line reads, but hear me out.
I spend a lot of time watching people these days, because I think our culture is losing its interpersonal connectivity.
We are so wired. Wired into everything. Our smartphones for the most part.
But then there comes our jobs. And our TV shows. And our social media networks. And the personal rat races we are all running.
And in the midst of all of this, we forget to slow down. Or maybe perhaps, it isn’t that we forget to, but we altogether don’t know how to. Perhaps we don’t slow down, because we don’t see any value in it. “Work harder, do more,” they say.
Why don’t they tell us, though, that the greatest ingenuity and the best gifts come when you slow down and let life in?
I work on a college campus and when I walk from one building to the next, I play a little game with myself. The game is called “Count the number of college kids on their cellphones.” Creative, I know. I’ve never been one for titles. The best email I ever received from my Forbes editor went something like this, “Alicia, please be more Whitman-like and less Shakespearean with your headlines.”
Anyhow, while playing “Count the number of college kids on their cellphones,” I have generally found that about 80-percent of the young people I walk by are so immersed in the ongoings within their smartphones that they aren’t looking at their surroundings. They aren’t catching glimpses of the beautiful trees in bloom or the mama duck crossing the street with her ducklings. They aren’t catching eyes with the cute boy looking their way or commiserating with the girl crying alone under a tree. They are walking through life unobservant, focused mainly on the quick access to communication, thrill and fulfillment of their desires that is sprawled out on a glowing screen in front of them.
My unofficial studies have brought me to the conclusion that in this attraction to the false realities spilled out across our cell phones, we are losing touch with what is real and in front of us.
I want to slow down. I want to pull away from the force of the smartphone. I want to enjoy life–the real life that is found in people and places and things and feelings. I want to stop living vicariously through a smartphone and start doing the real thing myself.
I’ve become a lot more intentional with my time in the last year. When you’re building a career, it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of it all and work yourself to death. You find yourself saying “yes!” to every opportunity at the expense of a personal life and interacting with people outside of your professional bubble.
In the last 365, though, I’ve said “no” a lot more than “yes.” I’m still not perfect about it, but I am getting better.
What I’m the most proud of, though, is my ability to disconnect. To unplug. To pull away from the digital life and into the real world. And let me tell you, the real world is good. Really, really good.
There was a time in my life where I couldn’t sit through a dinner without pulling out my phone. It’s embarrassing to type those words, but it’s true. These days, I tuck the sucker away and let things in the digital world go on without me while I enjoy real life, with real friends and their real stories and real issues. And you know what? It’s really amazing. It’s really amazing, because you can really connect with someone when you pour your entire self and focus into them.
These days, I don’t fret about the next tweet. A lot of people ask me how I built my social media following. When I got started in 2011, a big part of it was being strategic about when and how often I shared content. I’d pause every hour for twenty minutes to find something witty to say. As you can imagine, my Twitter productivity was off of the charts, but my real life productivity wasn’t so much. Now, I can sit back and let social media go on without me as I get involved in real life. And you know what? It’s been fine. Great, actually. My followers haven’t flocked away, and in all honesty, they’re probably grateful for the break from me.
I don’t answer or send email on the weekends unless it’s an emergency. And let me tell you something, it’s rarely an emergency. When Monday comes and I respond, all is ok in the world. Nobody has died. Nothing big or real or meaningful has been lost. Only my personal life has been gained.
Here is what I’ve learned: Life begins when you slow down.
As a twenty-something, I would’ve never believed that last statement. To me, life was about pushing the envelope. Life was about seeing how much I could get done. Life was about seeing all that I could see.
At thirty, I realized that’s not what life’s about. Life is about slowing down long enough, hard enough, to soak it in. Living comes in slow motion. It comes in the little steps, in the small moments, in the tiniest of thoughts and touches.
These days, I go to farmer’s markets. I talk to the farmers in broken Spanish. I touch all of the produce and inspect it. I slow down to look at it all and dream of ways I can use it. I’m intentional with my cooking, working hard to cook most of my own meals.
These days, I hop in the car and drive a few hours to visit a cute boutique or coffee shop that I read about. I talk with the owner. I hear their story. I build a friendship. I widen my circle. My life becomes diverse and better.
These days, I only work for eight hours, five days a week. I leave my business in the office and let home be the place for relaxation and fun. I treasure visiting new haunts with old and new friends alike. I get a kick out of trying new activities and visiting new places. I feel grateful that I’m surrounded by a circle of people whom I can trust with my deepest secrets and to also pull me out of my shell.
Slow down. Live. Soak it in. Have fun. Be yourself. Try something new. Sleep. Relax. Try again. Watch life begin. Again.
Dress: Chloe’s of Captiva
Necklace: Rocks Box (Get one month free with the code “RulingSportsXOXO” at checkout!)
Journal: Rifle Paper Co.
Coffee mug: Homegrown Monogram Mug, Anthropologie, $8.