You probably know the song, the one that borrows its lyrics from the book of Ecclesiastes: to every thing, there is a season for every activity under the heavens.
Seasons have been on my mind lately, as I’ve been transitioning from my busiest month of the year into a time of more focused creative work. I’m grateful for both of these seasons—I wouldn’t want to choose between them—but my life and work in each of them feels very different.
In my creative work season, I’m working on a new book and I take joy in writing every day. I’m able to exercise more and feel less stressed about being behind on a million things. So is this fundamentally better?
I don’t think so. Because last month I visited 14 cities, speaking to readers and the media about 100 SIDE HUSTLES—and then I hosted a weeklong event in Portland for 1,000 people. All of that was fun, too. Almost every day I thought, “Wow, I can’t believe I get to do this! I feel so fortunate.”
The challenge comes if you try to apply the same rules of order or general expectations to each season.
I still exercised every day during the busy month, and I was proud to keep up my streak (118 days in a row at the time I’m writing this). But aside from a few long runs on Sundays, that exercise was mostly “maintenance mode.” There were plenty of days when I traveled much of the day and had to scramble to get to the gym for a quick workout before my evening event.
Now I’m back to being active at least two hours a day, running, biking, taking HIIT and yoga classes, working with a trainer twice a week, and so on. It feels good.
Similarly, if I expected myself to be able to write 1,000 words a day during the busy month, that would not have gone well. It was all I could do to record the daily podcast and stay afloat in general.
I’m sometimes asked to advise people on “what they should do,” and I usually find this to be the wrong question. Or maybe it’s not the wrong question, but it would be wrong for me to answer it.
Most answers are not universal. My experience is different from yours; your life is your own. Furthermore, even if there are qualitatively good answers to the “what should you do with your life” questions, those answers may vary depending on season and circumstance.
What I mean is this: the best course of action to take now may not be the best one tomorrow.
Here’s a practical example. One of the most common questions I receive is, “When is the right time to quit my job?” (What the person usually means is “I hate my job; should I quit right now?”)
And I think, well, who am I to say! But to think about it in terms of those seasons: if you’re young, and your job sucks, why should you bother staying there? The cost of walking away is likely to be relatively low.
In fact, the real risk is to end up wasting the prime of your life doing something you don’t enjoy.
But if you’re a bit older, perhaps with a family, a mortgage, or other responsibilities that adult life brings, the answer might be different. You might need to be more strategic, build an off-ramp, keep a lookout for other options—but all without walking away immediately.
This isn’t to say that every young person should quit their job tomorrow, and everyone else should remain stuck forever in a job that sucks. It just means that there are seasons. To every thing (turn, turn, turn) there is a season. To every time, there is a purpose.
Everything is temporary. What matters to you in this season?
Chris Guillebeau is the New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness of Pursuit, The $100 Startup, and other books. During a lifetime of self-employment, he visited every country in the world (193 in total) before his 35th birthday. Every summer in Portland, Oregon he hosts the World Domination Summit, a gathering of creative, remarkable people. His new book, Born for This, will help you find the work you were meant to do. Connect with Chris on Twitter, on his blog, or at your choice of worldwide airline lounge.
Image courtesy of JESHOOTS.COM.