The source of this lifestyle information might strike you as odd. It all started when one morning while I was listening to a lecture on Natural Selection. The speaker reminded me of a quote I’d like to share with you. It’s taken from a letter that Charles Darwin — the Father of Evolution — wrote at the end of his life. He said:
“Up to the age of 30, or beyond it, poetry gave me great pleasure. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry. My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, and if I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music several times every week. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.”
What Darwin wrote about making time really resonated with me. I realized that it’s so easy to get caught up in “work”, to the point where it takes over your life — especially when that work is well received.
When I read that quote, I was in the midst of another hectic product launch. It was the best program my company had created, and after three or four sleepless weeks of production it was finally ready to ship.
We were on the verge of what promised to be a big success. But I felt incredibly frustrated and trapped.
I was irritable a lot of the time, and often short-tempered with the people around me. Going to my desk felt like a chore, an obligation. I wasn’t enjoying it.
Darwin’s quote helped me understand why.
I was doing work that other people wanted me to do, working in order to earn a living. I wasn’t doing the work that scared me, or the work that fulfilled me, or the work that makes me dig deep into my resources and forces me to grow.
When you experience those angry, frustrated feelings, they are a good indication that you’re not pursuing your purpose. When I’m “on purpose” I’m excited to go to my desk each morning. I think about the work I’ll do the next day as I fall asleep each night.
I recognized it was time to heed those warning signs, to refocus, and to get my life back on track.
Darwin’s words are a reminder not to lose sight of the things that truly fulfill you, and not to marginalize that which you love the most.
For me, they are a reminder to always defend that precious hour of reading time each day, no matter how much the work piles up. Reading is the fuel of good writing, and it’s also a window into a larger world of thought, experience and ideas that span centuries. A life without reading is a life lived on the surface.
Darwin’s words remind me to make time to plug in good headphones and really listen to music that means something. I used to do that a lot. These days I only do it on airplanes. When wifi becomes ubiquitous in the air, I’ll lose that space too.
Darwin’s words remind me to leave on a regular basis. To drop off the map entirely, stop taking calls, stop replying to emails, and just wander alone in a country where I don’t speak the language — no matter what the “project timeline” dictates. To find those special landscapes and spend entire days sitting at a café table soaking up the feeling of that place, waiting for insights to float to the surface. Those are the only times I ever truly grow.
Darwin’s words remind me to spend distraction-free time with the people I care about most. Not “together time” spent monitoring my smart phone or thinking about work with half my brain. Time when the rest of the world — and the next important project — ceases to exist.
The people I love won’t be around forever. Once those times are gone, they’re gone forever too.
Finally, Darwin’s words remind me that, while we each have many talents, we have only one true gift. You’ll recognize yours immediately because it’s the only one that doesn’t feel like “work.”
It can be easy to forget that core as life speeds up and pulls us each in.
Did you ever picture Darwin as a lover of poetry?
Neither did I. In my imagination Darwin exists as a hardheaded, clear cut, bushy bearded man of science.
But who knows what more he could have been if he hadn’t accepted that mold.
[Ed. Note: Ryan Murdock is the author of Personal Freedom: A Guide to Creating the Life of Your Dreams. When not helping people find their own brand of personal freedom, Ryan travels the world’s marginal places as Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Outpost magazine. His first book is called Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America.]