It was getting dark when I hit the first riffle of my trip down Utah’s Green River in a canoe. My plan was to set out while it was cool and log some mileage before nightfall, but dusk came on quicker than I thought. Because I’d been in a rush to launch, my gear wasn’t tied down very well. I had trouble reading the water in the fading light, hit some shoals, and barely came out upright. Shaking, I pulled over to camp on a scruffy pile of gravel near the highway for a night of bad sleep and excoriating self-recrimination.
It all seemed a fitting metaphor for the way I’d been hurtling through life. In the previous two years, I’d written a book, recorded a dozen podcast episodes, zombie-marched through a 14-city book tour, gotten sick a few times, and missed more of my kids’ dance recitals and cross-country meets than I care to remember. Hoping for recovery and insight, I’d embarked on an ambitious vacation: a 120-mile solo paddle with a tight deadline for a resupply and another tight deadline for a water taxi to pick me up at the end. A vacation with deadlines! The insight, at least, was becoming obvious: what I really needed was to slow down.
I’m not alone in my overreach. Most of us have a hard time refusing to set goals. In this age of 5G hyperconnectivity, performative workaholism, personalized coaching, biohacking, Strava posturing, and supplement swilling, we’ve internalized the imperative to optimize every aspect of our lives. We feel lost without a plan, guilty for slouching, regretful of every injury, scuttled workout, and to-do item left unticked. Even our so-called leisure activities require frantic preparations and logistical ops reminiscent of Caesar’s army.
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