The pandemic was an inflection point for me.
It granted just enough pause to compare the trajectory of my life with the things I said I valued. This reflection ultimately led to me quit my dream job and move closer to family. And it was the same line of thought that eventually led me to dedicate myself full-time to this passion project of writing about productivity and the Christian life.
In financial terms, this shift has represented a major downsizing. But in spite of the isolated mad midnight moment in which I sit bolt upright and shout “I’ve made a huge mistake,” I have few regrets. My life is fuller now than it has ever been.
My voluntary withdrawal from the rat race has come with innumerable benefits. To list a few:
- A closer walk with the Lord
- More time with my kids
- Far less stress
- A profound sense of purpose
Such a shift has not been without its downsides.
I’m working more hours than I’ve ever worked in my life. And conceived only in financial terms, this has been a disastrous choice. But at the time, it seemed like the only choice I could make. And I still believe it was the right one. And it seems that I was not the only person in whom the pandemic triggered massive lifestyle reevaluation.
The Great Resignation
In his recent article in The New Yorker, Cal Newport asks Why Are So Many Knowledge Workers Quitting? He points out that record numbers of Americans have quit their jobs in the last year. The media have termed this employment exodus “The Great Resignation.”
And it might be easy for us to try and explain this phenomenon away with politics. Is it just a case of lazy people not wanting to work? They’d rather live off those fattened unemployment checks than put in a decent day’s work, right? I have my own concerns about the incentivization of non-work. But that doesn’t fully explain what we’re witnessing.
Labor Department statistics show this resignation movement is driven primarily by highly paid workers. These are not minimum wage employees. These are people for whom, such government benefits would represent a far less appealing alternative to what they were making at their jobs.
Newport writes, “These people are generally well-educated workers who are leaving their jobs, not because the pandemic created obstacles to their employment but, at least in part, because it nudged them to rethink the role of work in their lives altogether.”
He argues that the forced self-reflection created by the pandemic led many knowledge workers to rethink their whole lives. They went out in search of simplicity, community, and less hurry. And, anecdotally, it seems some of them found what they were looking for. Newport mentions a friend who downsized early in the pandemic and has never looked back.
A Search for Meaning
But all of this tells me that when we pause long enough to actually ask ourselves, “what am I doing with my life?” we often don’t like the answer we hear. This is part of the reason we like to keep so busy; to drown out the existential questions with noise. We’d rather not sit with such an unsettling question. The pandemic, however, sat us down in a room and wouldn’t let us leave until we faced our lives head-on.
If we’re honest, much of what we chase in this life isn’t driven by our values. And moreover, I’m convinced it’s often not even driven by our own desires. Most of us construct our lifestyles according to the expectations (both real and imagined) of others.
Too often this is the engine that drives our productivity. We do more to get more. And often we don’t even want the more that we’re getting. But we feel we ought to want it because everyone else seems to. We live in this constant state of fear that everybody knows something we don’t. That we must live and work at this frantic pace because that’s just what’s done. This has been the story of my Christian life.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you I don’t crave the comforts of this world. But there are many things I find myself doing not out of any real desire for them, but because I feel that I ought to want to do those things. Because everyone else does.
Social media is a good example. I don’t particularly enjoy using social media, but I often find myself using it out of some weird sense of obligation. I’m supposed to want to participate, so I do.
And it’s the same for many lifestyles inflating comforts. Of course, I enjoy having nice things, but how much value do they really add to my life? And more importantly, at what cost to the things I really value? If you have to work a soul-crushing job not simply to make ends meet, but to provide 10% more income to be spent on frivolities that only further isolate you, maybe there’s something wrong with this whole equation.
What if the heavy burden of expectations we are carrying for our professional lives, income, and productivity wasn’t put there by our Lord who said his burden was light?
What if instead of trying to do everything, we committed to only walk in that good work which God has prepared in advance for us (Ephesians 2:10)?
What would that look like?
Different. That’s for sure. And maybe that’s the whole point.
Maybe by pursuing less of the world and more of what God values, our lives wouldn’t be characterized by a thin veneer of Christianity overtop hurried materialistic lives that are nearly indistinguishable from the world.
Maybe we’d look a lot more like people who actually possess the purpose that this world is so desperately seeking.
I’m not trying to browbeat you into homelessness or something. I’m just saying if you find yourself pining for the simple life, you might not be crazy after all.