Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Want to do Great Things? Be Under-Employed

My yoga teacher was always telling me to slow down: “What’s the rush? Put your suitcases down and let the train carry you along”.  I was always the one late to the class, worrying about something and fidgeting to leave before the end.  “We are human beings”, he would calmly point out, “not human doings”.

“Just being” was, and still is, very hard for me.  While I could hardly sit still for a moment, he seemed to spend his days taking long walks in the woods, practicing yoga and volunteering at the local hospice.  His serenity and calmness was a world away from my life of busy activity.

But rush doesn’t accomplish much.  Running around trying to get lots done, without time to think or rest, leads to burn out and confusion.  James Watson, who together with Francis Crick discovered DNA, said “It’s necessary to be slightly under-employed if you are to do something significant”.  I’ve always found that a rather shocking and controversial idea when I try to make good use of every moment.  Their breakthrough was one of the most significant scientific discoveries of the last Century, and laid the foundation stones for molecular biology.

Beethoven also understood the need to let his mind relax and come back refreshed.  He worked only from sunrise until two or three o’clock in the afternoon.  His mornings also included a number of breaks outdoors, where he “worked while walking.”  He never worked in the evenings.

Beethoven struggled with his compositions, working and reworking themes over and over again, yet he created some of the most beautiful music ever composed. 

Whilst it is counter-intuitive, it seems that making time to do nothing pays off; even if your ambitions are less lofty than discovering DNA or writing a symphony.


  1. We were in Turkey last October with the family and I was cooking dinner one evening. I went to the local Turkish supermarket to get ingredients. I couldn't see mushrooms anywhere so I asked the guy who was vaguely supervising the outdoor fruit and veg section 'mushrooms?. There was a long pause before he replied 'tomorrow.'

    In out=r family this has become a motto. If someone gets a bit hyper s/he is taken to one side and told 'mushrooms - tomorrow.'

  2. Great post Caroline ... we can so often get caught up in the busyness of life rushing from today into tomorrow ... I know I do it too!

    I love Michael's mantra and may borrow it for the forthcoming week - 'mushrooms tomorrow' :-)