I’m enjoying reading Cory Doctorow’s new book, Walkaway. It’s a near-future thriller that starts out seeming dystopian but is really utopian; ultimately optimistic about the future in which 3-D printing and centuries of industrialism have left a world where people choose to “walk away” from the hustle-and-bustle of consumerism and just kind of live in a mixture of libertarian and socialist moods: If I have everything I need, and you have everything you need, why wouldn’t we work together to do cool things?
It’s a seductive idea.
Doctorow’s world is one where most people live in “Default” — as in the default reality of cities, bills, jobs, whatever. But in between these spirit-crushing bastions of old thought and old rules are a million miles of everything else. Fields. Wildflowers. Entire abandoned cities left to rot. And in Doctorow’s fantasy, it is into these spaces that all the world’s smart people and capable people and pissed-off people have gone. – NPR
Doctorow is certainly not the first person to put up this kind of idea; he did, however, market it far more effectively than most, even more than “The Happiness of Pursuit” by travel guru Chris Guillebeau – the story of many people who walked away from the “typical” life and chose to find their own path.
Smashing into Reality
If you are sitting here and saying “Well, that’s great for them, but it probably won’t work for me,” you’re probably right. Doctorow is writing fiction, after all, and Guillebeau’s work suffers from the same malady as many self-help and productivity books, namely survivorship bias. Along with any story of “This person did it, and you can, too!” has to come the unspoken additional truth: “Most people failed at this, and you probably will, too.”
I know. Harsh words. But only if you attach a lot of significance to the word failure. In fact, you could add on another truth to that last sentence: …and they’re doing just fine. One of the problems with the whole idea of “walking away” is the feeling that you have somehow failed at what you were supposed to do, or that changing your mind will somehow invalidate the work you put into getting as far as you did.
None of that is true. But that’s hard to accept, so instead of trying to convince you of that, let me try to convince you of something else:
You can take a detour.
Now, I’m certain there are some people in some careers that can’t just choose to take a hiatus. The heart surgeon in the midst of a triple bypass. The airline pilot halfway across the Atlantic. The trapeze artist in mid-somersault thirty feet in the air.
If you fall into a category like that, then maybe ignore this next part.
It’s Ok to Pause
Here’s a scary thought: turn off your phone. And your computer. And your iPad. Commit to watching a movie from start to finish without stopping. Or, even better, pick up a book and decide you’re going to read six chapters before you put it down. Look at a map of your city, pick out a point, and decide to walk to it – however long it takes. And leave your phone at home.
You’re not giving up. You’re not rejecting the path that you’ve committed to, you’re not giving up on the goal.
But you’re taking the scenic route. You’re taking a moment to remember there is a lot of world out there.
I’m sure there are a lot of reasons you can come up with that would make you think this is impossible. Things like:
- People are depending on me. Well, you’d better figure out how they can get along without you, because monomaniacal work without rest is bringing you to an early end. No one knows the hour of their passing, as they say; if people can’t do without you for an hour today, then you have some serious planning to work on because someday they will have to do without you.
- I have kids, I can’t take a break. This one I get – you can’t just walk away from your kids (tempting though I know that can be sometimes). There are likely several ways you can get someone to care for them – but even if you can’t, then you can make it a family detour. They may complain about a lack of TV, or internet, or some such; just remember that adversity builds character and explain why you need to take the detour. It’s setting a good example.
- This seems silly! I have better things to do. Maybe true. But I’ll put this to you: if you’re not willing to try, how do you actually know? There’s an awful lot of research out there that says that peak productivity is dependent on regular breaks.
There will come times, when you’re passionate, that you’ll want to walk away. That may even be the best idea. But perhaps try a walk around, first.
And let me know what you find!