Work isn't supposed to be fun. At least, that is what we tell ourselves. And that is what I still tell myself, even after I quit my job. It is hard to break this circle because you don't want to be seen as lazy or incompetent. This thought is completely ridiculous and probably not even true. It only exists in my mind. Real or not, it keeps me up at night. And sometimes, this struggle takes the foreground like it did on my most recent trip to one of the deserted islands of the Netherlands.
What I have been thinking.
Terschelling is a small island in the north of the Netherlands. It is one of eight Dutch so-called "Waddeneilenden." There are even more of these islands in Germany and Denmark. When I visited this island for the first time last year, I was surprised by the beauty and variety of scenery. The island has vast beaches, beautiful forests, and dunes filled with vegetation. We rented an (electric) bike and started peddling, mostly without Google Maps. The experience was so profound that we went back last weekend, and the island is just as beautiful in the summer.
We were waking up to the sounds of the waves, reading books on a lonely beach, cycling without a destination in mind, and enjoying the silence. I almost forgot how soothing the sound of silence is. I noticed that it took no effort to leave my phone in my backpack. Thoughts and ideas came naturally. My mind became empty, aided by the lack of input. I felt complete, being in nature with the person I love the most. It is in these moments that I feel the happiest.
Did you ever have the feeling of dread when returning from a holiday? I had that feeling after I returned from trips to Bali, Morocco, or my road trip across the USA. Why can't life always be like this? I had no problem formulating an answer to this question; these trips were too good to be true. All these trips cost me an arm and a leg, and more importantly, living in one of these countries is a different experience than enjoying a holiday there. Furthermore, I don't want to leave the Netherlands. I like it here. This trip was different since the destination was the country where I live. It got me thinking; is it possible to experience this holiday feeling at home?
Short answer: no. Long answer: no, because you have to work. It reminds me of something my mother used to say to me when I was young. Whenever I didn't finish my chores, she would remind me that "our home is not a hotel." This statement comes in different flavors, but the gist is that work isn't supposed to be fun; therefore, life isn't always fun. Although there is truth to these statements, I think they do more harm than good.
What does fun even mean? According to the Oxford dictionary, it means the feeling of enjoying yourself. In line with that, work should not be an activity you enjoy. This holds for my career as an employee in paid employment. While I didn't hate my job (I even quite liked it), I never really had the feeling that I was enjoying myself. I thought this would change when I quit my job and became self-employed. The truth is, it did change. I enjoy what I do; I read a lot, help people, make content I enjoy, make a healthy dinner every night, and work out regularly.
But because all of these things are fun, I'm stuck with an anxious feeling that I'm not working enough. When people ask me if I work full-time on my podcast, I feel ashamed to tell them that recording and editing probably only takes me 10 hours a week, while it provides me the equivalent of a full-time salary. I count recording and editing as work because it is easy to measure. More importantly, everybody understands that these activities are the direct inputs that lead to the desired output (e.g., the podcast). I chose to fill the rest of my time with activities I like (reading, walking, writing) instead of meetings and e-mails. I thought the look of an empty calendar would feel liberating, but it doesn't. Apparently, the corporate mindset left a deeper impression than I thought it would.
I wonder why that is. Maybe it's because I don't know how long it will last. Is the current situation something I can maintain for years to come? Perhaps it's because I want to create more, inspired by productivity gurus who bombard my feed with second brains and other productivity porn.
Don't get me wrong: life doesn't always have to be fun. It can't. Life is chaotic. Without rainy days you can't appreciate the days when the sun is out. I understand that the joy of eating an excellent dish lies in the sweat and tears produced in the kitchen. That many painful mistakes create a feeling of accomplishment. Fun doesn't have meaning without pain, boredom, and suffering.
That doesn't mean I have to bore myself to death with stupid meetings or inflict pain by focusing on the number of views my video gets. The opposite side of this behavior is not fun; it's more of the same. More focus on artificial things easily measurable and more of the rat race that I want to avoid.
That brings us back to the tranquility of Terschelling and the peace of mind I have when I'm on the island. Writing this post made it clear that the only thing that I need to do is continue. Continue writing articles that feel difficult to write and put me out of my comfort zone. Push through when I don't know if people will like what I write. I need to open up and be honest. Do more things that take more than an hour, and do less of the things that take less than an hour.
Maybe you wonder if I fell into some existential crisis. The answer is no; I didn't. I had a great (but short) holiday. We (my girlfriend and me) ate kibbeling every day, listened to ABBA on LP, and enjoyed a beautiful sunset on the beach. Next week I will write about something more lighthearted, I promise.
What I have been doing.
- If you ever find yourself on Terschelling, go to the Heartbreak Hotel (which is not a hotel but a beach restaurant).
- This video gives a quick peek into the future, combining Midjourney and video editing tools.
- I enjoyed this video, which shows the capabilities of the difference blending mode in Photoshop.
- I read this long read from David Perell about writing on the internet.
I hope you can appreciate this edition of the newsletter. I understand that it was different compared to the last three. Let me know what you think in the comment section.
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