You Gotta Be Still Before You Can Get Ahead

by Susan Pogorzelski on July 29, 2009 · 10 comments

Thinking the faster that I go
The faster I will reach my goal
The race is not given to the swift
But to the one who endureth
Sometimes you gotta be still
Before you can get ahead…

India Arie, “Slow Down”

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Spending three weeks in a remote mountain village can change your perspectives on a lot of things. For example, it gives you a greater appreciation for conveniences like a grocery store that doesn’t visit every week via truck or what it means to haul logs every weekend so that you can keep the wood stove burning in order to stay warm. Believe me, these are experiences I loved and loathed and will never, ever forget.

But it also shows you how fast you’re going in a world that’s moving even faster, trying to keep up with technology, information, and people who seem to already be light years ahead of you. And so, I’m trying to remember: whatever happened to leisurely walks to gather your thoughts; whatever happened to waking up when the sunlight poured in through your window?

Whatever happened to slowing down?

I wasn’t used to this village life, and I missed my life back home while I was away — more so than I care to admit. But I loved it. Looking back, I loved every single minute of it. I loved the fact that the neighbors would wander out of their house when the bread truck blew it’s horn as it traveled up the road; I loved how these neighbors would stop and say hello and hold long conversations with each other. I loved that I could wake up in the morning and wander downstairs to the library, sit near the fire, and read and write all day long; I loved that I could eat when I was hungry, enjoy a nap when I was tired, go for a short walk when I wanted to be outside.

Looking back, I know exactly what it meant to have time.

And so, I have to ask myself: why am I in such a hurry now? Why are we all? Why are we trying our hardest to be the first, the best? Why is everything suddenly about strategy and getting ahead? Why are we in such competition with each other for better jobs, better pay, better fill-in-the-blank? Where is that leading us, why are we so desperate to accomplish everything now, and what does that mean for us and for our futures?

Whatever happened to just living and enjoying what we have as we move forward at our own, selected pace?

I’m just as guilty of all of this; there’s no way that I’m exempt. I’ve placed my own high expectations on myself and often charged full-speed ahead seeking accomplishments. But it never seemed enough. And because of that, I got so caught up in going faster, further, that I lost sight of everything that was important to me and, in that process, I lost sight of why it was important to me in the first place, as well.

I forgot everything that mattered.

Perhaps it’s a bit of cynicism edging out my naturally optimistic self, but I’ve become tired of this race, tired of this competition. I remember what it was like in that small French village, where there was support and encouragement and gratitude for the experience we were all sharing together. There was no envy. There was no maneuvering. There was no rush.

There, on that mountain, it was just us and time and a chance to appreciate the fact that we had both.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Akhila July 29, 2009

This is a great post – I feel the same way. When traveling around Europe, being in small beautiful and quaint little towns, I feel like there is so much we’re missing in life. I honestly feel like we’re all trying to go way too fast, without slowing down to just be content, be happy, and enjoy and appreciate what we have right now. Instead, we’re just constantly trying to get ahead. Where does ambition end? Sometimes it makes me wonder if our priorities are all wrong.

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Susan Pogorzelski - admin July 29, 2009

Akhila: I love this comment because I know that you completely understand. It seems like we’re so rushed as a society so that when you see those little towns and how its citizens take the time to enjoy life and what it means, you also realize what it means to be living in the moment and not constantly thinking one step ahead and what it can do for you – you remember to appreciate what you have and really savor it. I think your question “where does ambition end” is right on and I wish I had the answer. I do think it’s important to work for your goals, but at what cost? I worry that I’ve gotten so caught up in everything else, that I’ve forgotten to really enjoy life. Maybe a change in priorities is exactly what’s needed.

Thanks for the comment, Akhila and happy travels! I hope you can share some of your experiences with us — they truly are remarkable.

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Amanda Linehan July 29, 2009

Hi Susan – You know, sometimes I find myself barely able to sit still, thinking of the next thing that I want to do. Or my life slows down a bit and I find myself searching for that next big goal I want to accomplish. Maybe I need to impose some sort of temporary exile on myself for a bit. ;) It’s like, there is always something out there I’m trying to catch, and mostly that’s fine, but like you’ve said here, where is that time between catches? We are squeezing the life out of life ;) Nice post.

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Sam July 29, 2009

Great post, Susan! You’re so right. Those of us who are constantly immersed in the wonderful world of social media definitely understand fast paced better than most people. I think it’s human nature, especially for our generation, to want things to happen quick and easy. But, that’s no excuse. Like Ferris Bueller said, life moves pretty fast, if we don’t stop and look around every once in a while, we could miss it. I think it’s okay to shoot for the moon, as long as we enjoy the ride on the way there.

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Elisa August 2, 2009

I’m the first person to call on the weekend to ditch the city for hiking on a mountain, camping by a lake or laying out for the day at the beach. I will take ANY opportunity to get away. But that’s the whole point…you have to GET AWAY. Unfortunately, circumstance and surroundings dictate much of the world you live in. It’s easy to be laid back and focus on other things when you are in a remote French village.

Did you know that more Amish youth return to their community after their rumshpringa? The reason most cite…not tradition or pressure or anything like that. The life we live in OUR communities is too fast and superficial and high anxiety. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Amish/Shaker/Mennonite communities. They seem to have caught on (or held on) to something we’ve forgotten…

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Susan Pogorzelski - admin August 10, 2009

Amanda: I think a temporary exile sounds perfect. There are some times when I want life to speed up, hurry up, and there are points where I’m going too fast. I think that’s the thing — time either goes to fast or too slow and you can’t really enjoy it either way. I really want to enjoy it. I love how you say “we are squeezing the life out of life” — it’s too true. Thanks for the great comment!

Sam: It’s kind of amazing to me to see how technology has changed our lives. I love it — I’ll be the first to admit that. But I also sometime yearn for that yesteryear — where I remember coming home from school and running outside to grab my bike rather than getting online. I’m not saying one is better than the other, it’s just a different culture now and I’m a bit surprised to see how quickly things have changed. You mention our generation and I wonder if technology is a product of our generation, or if we’re a product of these advancements. At any rate, I love that Ferris Bueller quote. Wise words indeed! Thanks!

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Susan Pogorzelski - admin August 10, 2009

Elisa: You bring up a really fascinating idea with the Amish youth and rumshpringa — living in Lancaster County, heavily populated with the Amish community, you sometimes see that firsthand. But I wasn’t aware of the statistics and there’s a part of me that’s surprised, but a greater part of me that’s not. I love how you say “they seem to have held on to something we’ve forgotten” as it coincides to Amanda’s comment. I understand the fast-paced world that we live in now may seem fun but vastly different than what many people are used to, though I wonder how much of that pertains to the values that they hold as a result of their upbringing. It’s a concept I’m curious about that I’d like to research and explore further.

Thanks so much for your comment and your insight and for sparking some (future) thoughts!

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