Some people are always learning or trying to learn new things. When on rare occasions they are not, they tend to ask, “What shall I get interested in next? If you take this to extremes, you may begin to think, “Am I missing my life.”
It is at such times that I begin to think it is time to start talking more with others, find out what they are thinking. Oh, it’s not that I don’t talk to others. I get preoccupied and wrapped up in where the next idea or variation on an idea will take me. When I realize I’m overdoing it, I drop everything and go for a walk. Often this occurs early in the morning. This is my time to engage my thoughts — usually between 5-10 a.m.
When I realize I’m over-committed to thinking something through and thus missing my life, I just drop everything for a few days and do something else. This usually helps me to get outside myself and regain some semblance of equilibrium. I always feel like I am taking a chance though, since I may never ever return to what I was thinking was so terribly important. Still, unless I make effort to break away immediately, I begin to feel more and more guilty. Although I am breaking the old rule of staying with something until it’s finished, I know that staying with it can be counterproductive as well. You just get too stale and ineffective to finish well. It also means that you are missing the freshness and surprise of daily personal interactions with others.
When I go for one of these walks, I resolve to suppress the subject I just minutes ago considered so important. I can walk alone quietly for awhile, but I really need to meet a few new people and talk about life. This isn’t hard, in fact it’s surprisingly easy. I usually start by going to breakfast at a busy place where there are often no tables available. This works for me because the counter is preferable anyway. You can usually talk to several people simultaneously at the counter. The waiters/waitresses have several conversations going at once, either among themselves or with one or more of the regular customers. Those conversations are generally easy to work into, but “how are things today?” also works just fine to get something started. It’s hard not to learn someone’s life story even with a modest line like that. Fears, aspirations, where your lives are being taken, where they’ve been side tracked. It’s all there for the taking.
When I go to some restaurants, I sometimes learn enough to keep me going for days. Often I need to return to find out how things are going or where a problem’s solution seems to be appearing. I hardly ever offer solutions in these conversations. That’s not fair. What is fair is to ask questions that might help someone who has a real problem think their own way through to the next stage. Still, it’s important to never say anything that might lead them toward a predetermined solution. You just comment or ask a question that’s not personal, then they do the rest. They have to do it–it’s their life, not yours. Nevertheless, I always try to leave before the conversation gets to soap-opera stage. That’s sometimes hard to do without leaving part of your breakfast behind.
After breakfast I often head across the parking lot to the gym, where I usually take my exercise. Often, people don’t want to be bothered while they are working out. Thus, conversations, to the extent they occur at all, are fewer and generally shorter in duration than they were at breakfast. Often though, one of the personal trainers I know may have something to say.
I’ve had interesting conversations with one or more of the personal trainers as we have ongoing mutual interests. Lelia, for example, is a fitness trainer who is also trained as a physical therapist. Occasionally, she gives my right shoulder a workout when it gets tight due to old wounds. I’m not sure it’s always necessary, but I’m always delighted to talk with Lelia. She has two wonderful small children and a husband with a demanding job, all of whom clearly lead a delightful existence under Lelia’s watchful eyes.
After leaving the gym I head out to the beach on really nice days. It’s never deserted, but often sparsely populated. People who are there together in groups are not looking for additional company, and so I often just set up my i-pod and listen to whatever comes. However, occasionally there is another lost soul nearby who came looking for company. It’s often easy to start a conversation and see if it goes anywhere. From time to time I’m surprised, but not usually. It is on these occasions that I know I am not missing my life.
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Richard A. Hudson is a writer, reader and blogger committed to exercise, proper nutrition and health. He’s interested in politics, economics, alternative energy, gardening and sustainability and has written brief essays on many of these topics on his bloghttp://richlynne.wordpress.com. Despite his generally positive and optimistic views about globalization, he wonders whether we will survive current destructive forces that increasingly promote warfare among political and social classes. He is also beginning to think about the declining influence of the know-it-all baby boomer generation just as the next generation born in the 60s begins to slowly stumble into a dominant position in the U.S.
He received a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Chicago (1966) and subsequently spent 42 years in academics, gradually developing all sorts of interests well beyond his basic training. He ended his academic career in 2008, having published about 100 scientific papers, reviews and commentaries. In his last several years in the academy, his role as Dean of the Graduate School afforded him many opportunities to interact with students from all over the world seeking graduate degrees.