It’s okay if all you did today was breathe


I once saw a quote that said, “it’s okay if all you did today was breathe”. I keep reminding myself of this piece of wisdom whenever I feel anxious for not being “productive”. What does it mean to be productive anyway? Ahhhh, it’s the same as asking what it means to be successful. There are no definite answers but many people struggle in going beyond what society portrays as being productive or successful.

Movies show us people juggling several things at the same time. A woman cooking and looking after the baby while talking to someone on the phone. A working lady jumping at one meeting to the other, folders in hand and a cup of coffee on the other. There are meetings over breakfast because the day is too occupied that the only time to squeeze that one meeting is during breakfast. We have been conditioned to adapt to this lifestyle to feel a sense of belongingness to the “productive” group. We are made to feel that life is wasted or that we are lazy if we are not busy.

The problem with this never ending ‘busyness’ though is that it deprives us of precious time for reflection. It’s so easy to get caught up with the habits of multitasking and feeling productive but at some point, we would realize that we are getting nowhere. Many people have reached a point of identity or emotional crises after suffering from burn-out and realizing that their constant chase for productiveness has brought them no meaning, no sense of purpose, and no clear direction for the future.

As I lie in a hammock, feeling the breeze against my cheeks and listening to the chirping birds, I thank heavens for the opportunity to be still, to breathe in life and hear my soul speak. I wish I had done this more often before. I was caught up with the overly glorified busy lifestyle that I neglected time for reflection and retrospection. I learned that such ‘busyness’ had, in fact, blurred my idealism. I began to question and got skeptical about so many things, thinking they were the problems of the world, when in fact the problem was me and my lack of direction and sense of purpose. Ticking my to-do list was not the same as having a life purpose. No matter how much I’ve accomplished in a day if I don’t spend time to reflect and redirect myself towards the right path, those daily accomplishments were nothing but futile.

The shallow sense of productiveness has resulted to plenty of outputs but most of the time has never brought quality outcomes. That’s why it felt like living in circles, doing a myriad of things day by day but never reaching a milestone. We owe it to ourselves to spend time to just slow down, to just breathe. Maybe during these moments of silence, our sense of purpose will be crystallized, our direction made clearer and our daily pursuit of productiveness will no longer be barren but full of promises and meaning.

Before you quit your job, go travel

Few months ago I spoke to a friend who wanted to quit her job. Quitting is not difficult but what made her hesitate was that she hasn’t found a new job yet. Many people experience such quandary especially with our constant use of social media nowadays, it’s easy to compare our life with that of others and feel we need to be somewhere else or having something else or whatnot.

What I noticed though from our conversation was that whilst she was determined to quit her job, she didn’t know what she truly wants to do. She had several options in mind but she didn’t have clarity on how to make the transition. She wanted to pursue entrepreneurship but she didn’t know what products or services to offer. She wanted to pursue the arts but that would mean starting from scratch. These aren’t all bad things, after all a lot of people succeeded by taking risks. In her case though, she didn’t have enough savings to support her through several months which scared her from quitting.

Another thing I noticed in her is that her frustrations weren’t all coming from her job. We all experience some bad days at work and at times people –who may just be going through tough times – are rude. Sometimes routine jobs can get painfully boring. At times problems arise one after the other leaving us burned out. But there are several ways to deal with these circumstances and turn things around if you have the proper mindset and positive attitude. The challenge comes when the problem isn’t the job itself but us. That’s when I suggest you travel.

Traveling has its way of healing whatever negative feelings we carry. If we are so bored of a life of routine, traveling breaks this monotony and stimulates our senses. The experiences we will encounter while traveling can melt negativities away. Traveling can remind us that there is more to life than feeling bitter and unhappy; that there are things far greater than ourselves but that what we do – no matter how menial it seems sometimes – contributes to a bigger picture, to a larger cause.

For a lot of people though, money can be a hindrance to traveling. However, as the cliché says, “we work to live not live to work” so if you reach a point where you feel that life was sucked out of you then money should not be so much of an issue. You are not going to spend your hard earned money extravagantly anyway because going for a short trip should not be expensive. You can travel to a nearby place or a different country, it’s all up to you. There are a lot of information available online on how to reach your destination without breaking the bank.

Back in 2011, I was suffering from burnout. It seemed as though I could not feel any positive emotions. A delicious meal doesn’t taste good. I keep blaming work for my unhappiness. One weekend, I traveled to Chiang Mai up until the borders of Myanmar. I went on full online detox while traveling so I can fully savor the experience. It was only for two days but I felt significantly better. On my way back to Bangkok, I took the train because other than it was way cheaper than flying I just love long train rides; it gave me an opportunity to pause and just enjoy the countryside scenery.

If I didn’t go on that short trip up north and committed to undergo an online detox, I would have resigned from my job in no time. I was glad I did. I felt rejuvenated after. When I came back, I also removed my work email from my phone and noticed that I felt more relaxed and positive after.

When my friend confided to me about her urge to quit, I told her to travel. And so travel she did and now she is still working at the same job. When she is not working, she is out strolling at a nearby park or traveling to nearby provinces. With camera in hand, she captures the beauty around what seemed like a mundane place to those who only exist.

The innovative and the slacker

Calligraphy by Alma May Hilot Pilvera

In the last few months I spent interacting with people from different backgrounds, two dominant personalities stood out. It’s probably because I am at a point of identifying a new path so I paid particular attention to these traits.

The innovative
A friend who developed a farm in a small island said that when they began, it was impossible to farm in the area because the soil was too sandy. But that problem didn’t stop them from achieving their plan, instead they created the soil through composting. They then placed retaining walls to keep the soil from eroding.

Another friend works online, her only source of living. She found that coding skills could get one more jobs at higher rates. Unfortunately, there are no coding courses available around where she lives so she took free online coding courses instead and practiced by herself. She isn’t there yet but she definitely is a few steps closer to her goal. It’s still better than nothing at all.

My cousin is planning to get married in 2018. These days, calligraphy is a huge thing when it comes to wedding invitations and signage. Due to high demand, commissioning one to do the calligraphy can be extremely expensive. A set of invitation with watercolor graphic and calligraphy text can cost PhP300 (approx. 6 USD). So instead of paying a hefty amount, she decided to learn calligraphy herself! In fact, the photo above is her very first attempt and yet it looks pretty already! How cool is that? Way to go May.

The slacker
These are those who have future plans or knew what they want but are putting them off for a later time. I’m not saying this is always wrong. I understand there are certain things that should be set aside because there is a right time for them. However, in some circumstances, utilizing available time to prepare for the much-awaited perfect moment can be essential.

A friend went to grad school without any idea for his dissertation. He said he will figure it out when he gets there. When he started the first semester, he said he will figure it out the moment he takes the dissertation course. When he finally got down to writing his proposal, he realized that he needed ample amount of time to review existing literature and do preliminary readings on the issue he wanted to work on. He panicked and regretted not doing some readings during his free time before he started school.

Another friend wanted to be an entrepreneur. She was envious of her entrepreneur friends who seemed to have it all figured out and have full control of their time. Whenever she is not motivated in her job – which happens most of the time by the way — she would say things would have been different if she is an entrepreneur. Finally she resigned from her job, took a few months vacationing and then the much awaited “right time” presented itself. However, the painful truth dawned upon her that she doesn’t know what to do yet, which field she will venture into or what services she will offer. She spent additional months doing research which made her feel trapped into a web of challenges and uncertainties until finally when she is able to identify the business she wanted, her savings have been exhausted and she need to work again to save for the capital. Not only that, she needed some skills for the business so she has to spend the weekdays working and the weekends on short courses to gain those skills. Had she spent her time in the past preparing for the right moment, she would not have started from scratch.

Stories like these remind me of the cliché that the only thing that’s fair in this world is time because we all get the same amount of it. The only difference is how we use them. I’ve had my share of confronting challenges to achieve goals as well as periods of procrastination. What matters to me now is that I am becoming more aware of the things I want to invest my time into. I can never bring back time I’ve wasted but what’s important is to live the present moment and make the most out of it. This is something I want to remind myself every day.