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 by myself.
My friend Cindy, who has combined a stressful and demanding career as a criminal lawyer with raising two children, has a little sustaining escape ritual of her own. A pro at taking interesting vacations (did you read my article a few years back about my disastrous canoe trip? Or the one last year about my blissful Caribbean yoga retreat? Cindy was the mastermind behind both) she always plans the next trip while still on the road.
Many people harbour a little private fantasy of what they would do if they just couldn’t take it anymore and dropped out of their stressful lives. Maybe their Plan B is spending six months working and six months bumming around the world, or moving to the country and opening a bed and breakfast.
Unwelcome dash of cold water
However, these dreams seem to be crashing along with the Dow Jones index. As a recent New York Times story observed, the cultural fallout from this economic crisis is so all-encompassing that even our fantasy lives are suffering.
This unwelcome dash of cold water comes courtesy of the reduced circumstances of our respective nest eggs. Instead of daydreaming about one day saying, “Take this job and shove it,” those of us whose once-busy workplaces are shrinking 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 being discouraged from exploring our fantasies in favour of landing, or holding on to, a secure position that pays cold cash. As a result, what is quickly spreading, hand-in-hand with this harsh new economic reality, is sadness.
A psychologist friend recently told me that she is seeing a significant jump in anxiety and feelings of overwhelm among her patients. In her view, this increase can be directly attributed 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.
Start Daydreaming Again
In these discouraging times, is it possible to bring back some feelings of optimism and possibilities? Yes, it is, but you need to apply some discipline to the process. 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 whatever you are dreaming 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, email, meetings, or people stopping by our office to chat. By giving yourself some relaxation time, you let your ideas percolate in the back of you 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.
Just because the economy is depressed doesn’t mean that you have to be.