Becoming Beowulf

Working in an office where windows and sunlight are more of a concept than a reality, my lunch breaks are dominated by struggling to meet my Vitamin D intake through walking. The other day I went walking with a colleague at lunch and as is common, we got onto the topic of productivity…which is the kind of thing office workers talk about when not being productive.

As we walked we reflected on the common warning to avoid spreading yourself to thin. As someone who spreads myself so thin that I enter the territory of that nasty, watered down no-name brand margarine that struggles to melt in the frying pan, I receive this warning often. I view the warning with ambivalence however, as while I don’t buy into it, I understand that the people who give this warning are coming from a place of concern that there are negative ramifications to overcommitting yourself.

I recall pushing myself to the brink during one semester in university, where I participated in 6 courses, 4 volunteer organizations, and worked 15-20 hours a week. I still remember stumbling down a path in the December night on my way to a final exam, loudly shouting quotes from the movie Beowulf as a means of conjuring up the adrenaline to keep me standing. The fact that this continued until I sat down in the exam room meant that I got more than a few odd looks. It is not uncommon to hear students entering an exam room softly praying or speaking the course material aloud. It is quite another for someone entering the room shouting: “I am Ripper… Tearer… Slasher… Gouger. I am the Teeth in the Darkness, the Talons in the Night. Mine is Strength… and Lust… and Power! I AM BEOWULF!”

That mental state is one that I have no desire to return to and I appreciate the risk that such over-commitment can bring. But what about the alternative? To live life at a snail’s pace, struggling to accomplish even the simplest of life goals. To not make the most of each and every day. To die with regrets and unfinished business. These possibilities terrify me far more than the drawbacks of emotional and physical drawbacks of being overworked. In world where I must choose between living with regret and living in an overworked state and experience moments of confusion between the modern world and Scandinavian mythology, I gladly choose the latter.

Beyond the benefits to productivity, a hidden advantage to pushing yourself to the brink is that any other day feels markedly easier relative to those moments. You now have a measure on which to current events against, allowing you to smash feelings of doubt that such tasks could be accomplished.

To conclude, I encourage biting of more than you can chew and then trying your best to swallow it all. Over-commitment may be life shortening (but what are you really going to do between the ages of 79-82) and elicit delusions of mythological grandeur, but I would not have it any other way. So when was the last time you pushed yourself to the breaking point? Have you ever left your comfort zone, taking on more than you could thought you could handle? Did you overcome it and if so, what sort of mental state did you leave with? I would love to hear your stories either in the comments below or at my email: tlehmann.consult@gmail.com

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