I am someone who always likes to keep busy—the girl who crams her schedule with a dozen more things than she can reasonably fit, the girl who rushes from one event to the next and wishes there were more than 24 hours in a day, the girl who constantly occupies herself with something to do because she gets bored easily.
If you can relate to me, you are not alone.
It seems as if this busy lifestyle has become the norm for our fast-paced generation. Too often, we move from one activity to the next so quickly that we can’t absorb what occurs around us or decode the feelings that develop within us. Dr. Stephanie Brown points out in her New York Post article that the dominant mindset now is that “progress equals fast, which equals success.” Desperate to keep up with everyone else, people are “chasing money, power, success and a wilder, faster pace of life.”
I can’t speak for everyone, but in the Chicago-area suburb I live in, I constantly encounter soccer moms rushing their kids from one sports practice to the next music lesson; high school students juggling 3 sports, several community service activities, and a job; and parents who work all day and are faced with countless chores when they get home. Even when we get a bit of free time, many of us will occupy ourselves with our smart phones, scrolling up and down social media newsfeeds or checking emails and text messages. This combination of overbooked schedules and technology results in feeling constantly rushed.
But this summer, I had the opportunity to live on my own in a foreign city, Hong Kong, while working a business internship. With this newfound independence and time spent away from my usual daily grind, I’ve gotten to do something I’ve rarely gotten the chance to do at home: observe deeply and reflect.
Something about the unfamiliar streets and faces sparked my contemplation. Walking through the city, I took in all my surroundings, noticing the smallest of details. With no mobile data or ability to text long-distance, I was able to tune out of the digital world and into the real world that envelops me. I thought about the day ahead and reviewed the day before. I let my mind wander, approaching the environment around me from a different perspective. I people-watched. I listened to the sounds of traffic and construction mixed in with conversations in multiple languages. I smelled an eclectic mix of Chinese, Indonesian, and European foods. Most importantly, I reflected on my own life journey.
Sometimes, I asked myself tough questions about where my life is headed and the future. I would question if I’m truly happy with my current plans, if I’m really the city girl that I pictured myself to be, if my personality and values fit into the corporate business world—a world that often seems political and unjust—but a world I hope to improve. In my mind, I made a list of things I like and dislike about Hong Kong and urban living. At night, when I laid down to go to bed, I got a little homesick thinking about being so far away from family and friends. I even missed the simple things, like my bed, the way the sunlight filters into my room from the little slits between my window curtains, the comfort of being in such a familiar place. But then I remembered my dream of traveling the world, visiting exotic cities, hiking up steep mountains to see breathtaking views, interacting with foreigners and learning about their culture, and journaling my experiences. Upon remembering these dreams, I smiled. Although I didn’t expect homesickness to accompany my traveling, I am much more appreciative of my hometown and I know I’ll take advantage of each moment I’m at home before I go to college.
To be honest, this hard reflection is not easy. Meaningful reflection comes with tough questions about our actions, our beliefs, and our life plans; it comes with a distinct sense of vulnerability when our insecurities and fears are exposed. But when we reflect, we choose to face these vulnerabilities head-on, refusing to let them bring us down. Feeling vulnerable is definitely hard, especially when we want to project the image that we always have it together. But vulnerability comes as part of being human.
As hard as it is to come by, I think that we should all put aside at least a few minutes every day for self-reflection. If we forget to ask ourselves “why,” to question our motivations, to reaffirm that our actions reflect our values and our faith, then we are not living with purpose. Though everything is moving at a faster pace, don’t let life just whiz by you. Without reflection, our life just becomes a series of blurred images.
So here’s my challenge for you: push the pause button and let everything just sink in sometimes. If you’re like me, it will be difficult, but in the end, it will also be worth it.