…the practice of freedom—i.e., the morning after, and the morning after that—is what, if we're lucky, takes up most of our waking lives.
— Maggie Nelson, On Freedom81
WHEN WAS THE last time you worked on something that was really, truly important to you? Something that held a greater meaning for you than it might for someone else? Something that doesn't merely prevent pain, hassle, or misfortune, but something that adds real value to your life? I hope that the last time you engaged in this kind of project was recent—maybe even today. But with the many external demands on your time and attention, it might be difficult to remember. The relentless pace of our culture requires that we continuously react to circumstances beyond our control. We frenetically switch between tasks to convince ourselves we've got it all under control. We shoulder the burden of fixing “problems” and taking on new responsibilities. So much so, that we attempt to stave off reacting by pre-reacting—considering what could go wrong and acting to prevent that. I viscerally feel the absence of a safety net and work to weave one for myself every day, often subverting my commitment to longer-term action in the process. No wonder it can be such a challenge to spend time on meaningful projects or take a longer-term view.
Meaningful projects and long-term action rarely lend themselves to efficiency or optimization. And because economically and culturally we value efficiency and optimization (“Remember, ...