When my children were little and I had a hectic work life, I secretly fantasized that I would get into the car and just drive away. Of course, I never did. But I found it comforting to retreat every now and again into this harmless daydream in which I drove to a quiet, beautiful place where everything was slow and peaceful and I could just be alone.
Many people harbor a little private dream of what they would do if they just couldn’t take it anymore and dropped out. Maybe their Plan B is spending six months working and six months bumming around the world, or it could be moving to the country and opening a bed and breakfast.
Hectic pace taking a toll
Here’s an unwelcome dash of cold water on those blissful images of escape. We seem to be retreating to them less often in this stressful, always-too-much-to-do business environment. The hectic pace of our daily work is creating a fallout you probably have not noticed.
A psychologist friend recently told me that she is seeing a significant jump in anxiety and feelings of overwhelm among her patients. She attributes this increase to a sense of mourning for the death of their Plan B. Without these dreams of escape, we feel we have no options or control. And a sense of at least some degree of control over our lives is essential to our well-being.
The demise of Plan B comes courtesy of reduced circumstances. A September 2013 Reuters poll found that, four years after the most recent recession officially ended, many North American adults are still struggling to recover financially. A Pew Research Center poll, conducted about the same time, indicates 54 percent of North Americans feel their household incomes have “hardly recovered at all” from the downturn. So instead of daydreaming about one day saying, “Take this job and shove it,” many of us have no choice but to put up and shut up.
This new reality is making itself felt in every age group, even among those not yet launched in the work force. We’re all concentrating on landing, or holding on to, a secure position that pays cold cash. No room for fantasies.
Start daydreaming again
In these trying times, is it possible to bring back some feelings of optimism and possibilities? Yes, but you need to apply some discipline to the process. Here’s how:
Make a conscious effort to put aside your “to-do” list for at least five minutes a day and take that time to nurture your Plan B dreams. You might even come up with a way to make them come true. Where and when can you daydream? Try Albert Einstein’s method. He said that his best ideas came to him in the shower.
Take a time out
To keep your creative juices flowing and manage your stress level, go play once a week for an hour or two. Pick something you find relaxing and fun, but do it alone.
In our work lives, we often can’t find the solitude necessary for the free-flow of ideas. Our creativity is blocked by ringing phones, emails and meetings. By giving yourself some relaxation time, you let your ideas percolate in the back of your mind, away from conscious concentration. Kierkegaard swore by a long walk; Steven Spielberg claims that his ideas flow while he’s driving; and a friend extols the benefits of an hour puttering in the garden.
So begin your solo activity, whatever it is, and stick to it. Just because the economy is still suffering a bit, you don’t have to be. A new year is here.
Perhaps finding your alone time can be first on your resolution list.