Kids, Summer, Playing, Water Squirter
The Importance of Doing Nothing by Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries (INSEAD Knowledge)

In today’s networked society we are at risk of becoming victims of information overload. Introspection and reflection have become lost arts as the temptation to ‘just finish this’ or ‘find out that’ is often too great to resist. But working harder is not necessarily working smarter. In fact slacking off and setting aside regular periods of ‘doing nothing’ may be the best thing we can do to induce states of mind that nurture our imagination and improve our mental health.

Our lives have become defined by busyness. Look around you at the train station, in cafes, out on the street, people are glued to their mobile handset or tablet.

I recently asked an executive I once coached how many emails she received a day. “Five hundred,” she told me. “But I don’t read any of them. If I did, I wouldn’t be doing my job.”

The challenge, she said wasn’t attaining information but “pushing it away so I don’t suffer from information overload. I need time to think.”

When I was a child growing up in the West Indies, saying the phrase “I am bored” was often met with “Go outside and play with your brothers” from my mother. Of course, I did what Mom said, and my brothers and together, we got into all sort of mischief. Climbing trees, running around the yard playing “tag” with the family dog, finding other neighbourhood kids and enlisting them into mischief. Eventually, we learned to recruit each other into mischief. It was so much fun!

We explored the woods and streams near our home, unsupervised. We often came home injured; cuts and scrapes, never anything serious. I think exploring the forests and streams helped my younger brother, an environmentalist, discover his love of nature. Being bored pushed me to read more, to want to learn about the world me. And I was left alone to read andponder. I think that’s one reason I fell in love with science and engineer. I didn’t need a STEM program to develop that love. I just had to be curious and have a parent willing to let me be. I needed time to think.

In comparison, I look at my neighbourhood, and I feel saddened by the empty streets. The kids are all safe indoors, playing video games or streaming the Internet. When my kids were younger, we often encouraged them to engage in unstructured play with each other and outside in the backyard, weather permitting. Legos and wooden blocks. When they were older, it became more challenging. I only remember one summer, in the middle school years, when I saw the neighbourhood kids find each other and engage in silly fun. It was the last day of school and the start of summertime. The kids were outside playing with water shooters and the hose with their friends from the neighbourhood. I had to be careful not to get my camera wet, but the kids had a blast.

Kiran having some summer fun. —Nikon D40 + 50 mm f/1.8 @ (50 mm, f/3.5, ISO800), © Khürt L. Williams

During the summer, the time of year when kids have “nothing to do” and nowhere to be, the neighbourhood was often devoid of the sounds of kids playing. The kids were packed up and sent away to camp. I felt sorry for my kids, but at least they had each other. We eventually enrolled them in Tae Kwon Do classes, mostly for the experience of being engaged in shared goal with others and so they could develop friendships outside of a classroom setting.

Of course, we made mistakes. We introduced screens and the internet too early. I guess that is one hazard of having a parent who works with information technology.

But it’s not just kids. Adults are suffering from this, as well. I admit that I often feel pressured to perform and produce quickly. That’s dangerous in my profession, and it’s not the way my mind prefers to work. I prefer to ingest information and taking the time to reflect, then act. But it is my fault for being seduced by the USA’s productivity culture of constantly wanting to do more. GTD, sleep hacking, etc., all designed to give us more time to do more, but less time to think. Being idle is often seen as wasteful. Sigh.

I miss the daydreaming. I miss the feeling of time spent doing “nothing”. I miss the mischief.

Time for reflection and mischief.

“Learning without reflection is a waste, reflection without learning is dangerous” – Confucius

Tuesday Photo Challenge – Reflection by jansenphotojansenphoto

Is it live, or mirrored?

I was home most of this week. On Monday I worked from home; one of the benefits of the current client contract. At some point, I went out for a quick walk around the neighbourhood. It was raining and I remembered the challenge topic for this week was reflection.

I woke up Tuesday morning feeling less than my full self. My thyroid was still swollen; enough so that it put some pressure on my throat. I felt like throwing up. So I did. I called in sick and spent most of the day in bed or watching re-runs of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) on BBC America. I had other options but I grew up watching the original ‘60’s series and was hooked when the TNG aired in the ’80s. For me, Star Trek is television chicken soup.

My condition did not improve the next day (Wednesday). My thyroid was just as swollen. I called out sick again and continued to watch TNG re-runs.

On Thursday, I worked out of the Metropark office but on Friday I chose to work remotely.

A former co-worker sent me an SMS to invite me to hangout out with a former team for drinks, the following week. It sounded like fun but I knew I would be in recovery from my thyroidectomy. He was surprised that my disease had progressed to that point. I explained to him that stress was a trigger and that Bhavna thought that the head of the department was to blame for putting the whole team under stress. She thinks that the development of my hyperthyroidism is a consequence of that person unprofessional behaviour.

He wished me well but I found myself in serious consideration of the past year. The diagnosis that added two more auto-immune diseases to my life in March. The end of the New Jersey State contract and the start of a new contract with a banking client in Manhattan. The struggle to handle the stress of major changes in work, a daily 4-hour commute, and balancing my medication led to a near physical collapse that landed me in the emergency room.

I was chatting with my Mom and she tried to give me a pep taught. She told me that I would survive this just like I survived all my other challenges. She told me that I almost didn’t survive birth; I was a breach birth. I learned that I had an emergency appendectomy when I just six years old. That at ten, I had an emergency gall bladder operation. Yikes!

Reflecting on my life, I realized that it indeed one full of challenges and I have survived each one.

On Monday, I am scheduled for a thyroidectomy. I know I will be fine.

reflections, water
Reflections — FujiFilm X-T2 + Fujifilm XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR@ 25.7 mm, f/2.8, ISO250

The images below were taken two years ago at Whitesbog Village.

Whitesbog Village—Nikon D5100 + 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6
Whitesbog Village—Nikon D5100 + 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6

Since I moved with my family to the Skillman section of Montgomery Township in 2001 I have been interested in the history of the area. What are all these names I see repeated on street names and buildings even in Princeton? Names like Harlingen, van Zandt, and Skillman.

Belle Mead was part of the Western Precinct of Somerset County before the creation of Mercer County. Until 1838, the Montgomery Township border went as far south as Nassau Street. In fact, portions of the town and Somerset County were later ceded to from Mercer County and Princeton Township.

The township was settled by land speculators from the former New Amsterdam (Long Island) after the land area was ceded to the British.

The first grist mill, built in 1721, was destroyed by fire about the end of the 18th century.

Bhavana and I showed up to the Grist Mill site about one hour before sunset. We chatted while I walked around looking for the “right” composition. She wanted to know why we got there so early so I explained to her that sunset to blue hours occurs in a very short period of time and rushing around while the light faded was not what I wanted. I think she was annoyed by the bugs that were buzzing around. She walked back to sit in the car.

I had some challenges with cars driving over the bridge in the middle of my exposures and soon I grew tired of being bitten by mosquitoes and other insects. After about two exposures I packed up and joined her in the car to head back home.

I think I’ll come back another time, perhaps in the early morning, to shoot some long exposures of water flowing over the small dam. It’s at an odd angle but I may be able to setup the tripod near the foot of the water.