Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | January 31, 2006

A splashy reminder to just chill

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.” ~ Journalist Sydney J. Harris

Sometimes, it’s good to turn off my Type A personality and just chill a little bit. Recently, I learned that lesson quite literally.

My family was preparing to run a few errands one recent Sunday afternoon. Everyone was ready to go except my son, who was finishing some homework. My husband passed the time by pecking away at his notebook computer while watching television (multi-tasking his relaxation, I note) and my daughter played in her room.

Me? I wanted to get something done, so I decided to head to the back yard and plant some shrubs I’d purchased but rain had prevented me from planting. This wasn’t entirely unreasonable, as the skies had cleared briefly and I was wearing old shoes, so I wasn’t too concerned if they got a bit dirty while I filled those 10 or 15 minutes with some productive activity.

I pulled out the shovel and began digging in the raised bed along the back fence. A few shovelfuls of beautiful black soil into the task and I hit a root. The shovel blade slid along the slick, wet root, I lost my footing and fell backwards into our swimming pool filled with 15,000 gallons of 50-degree water.

I guess if you can’t figure out how to figuratively chill for a few minutes, karma will make you chill literally.

Of course, by the time I got my waterlogged self out of the pool, dried off, stopped shivering, cleaned up, and donned dry clothes, my family was waiting on me to head out for errands. Lest I forget the chill-out lesson too quickly, my trip to the dry cleaner the next day to drop off the leather jacket I had been wearing when I fell, and its accompanying $45 bill, reinforced it.

So, when I found myself in a class where it became clear the cost of succeeding would involve turmoil and a nightly workload that meant I’d hardly see my family for the next ten weeks, I did something that I suspect my instructor sees as quitting, but I see as choosing my battles: I withdrew from the course.

Sometimes, it’s OK not to be fighting big battles, not to be aiming to accomplish lofty goals, not to be righting oversize wrongs. Sometimes, it’s OK not to be accomplishing anything practical, not to be checking off an item from a to-do list, not to be multi-tasking while relaxing.

Sometimes setting aside so-called big goals, even briefly, allows us to focus on the really important things, like reading for pleasure, or doing puzzles with our kids, or recharging our spirits, or tending to our health, that all too often get lost in the shuffle.

I sometimes fight big battles with this column. I’ve fought to convince Morgan Hill city officials to make sure all community conversations meetings are open. I’ve tried to persuade my neighbors and leaders not to trust the BART sales pitch’s rosy construction cost estimates or its optimistic sales tax revenue and ridership projections. I’ve worked to explain the wisdom of inclusive holiday greetings and allowing same-sex marriage and the importance of the separation of church and state.

And in doing so, I often upset people, and they let me know about it, as well they should. And while my Type A personality usually relishes the debate, sometimes I find myself just tired of it.

So this week, before the universe decides to toss me in the opinion-writing equivalent of a 50-degree swimming pool – and what would that be, I wonder – to get my attention, I’m writing about a studiously non-controversial topic: the importance of chilling out every once in a while.

(I suppose this column could generate controversy: It wouldn’t surprise me if someone writes or calls to condemn me for crediting karma for my unplanned pool plunge.)

Life is short. We should use our limited time to accomplish important goals, whether they’re related to advancing our careers or improving our community.

But we should also enjoy ourselves. Every once in a while, I need a splashy reminder that “she who has the most checked-off items on her to-do list wins” is not a healthy way to evaluate one’s life.

“The man who doesn’t relax and hoot a few hoots voluntarily now and then is in great danger of hooting hoots and standing on his head for the edification of the pathologist and trained nurse a little later on.” ~ Author Elbert Hubbard


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