March 6, 2017

Embracing Downtime without Guilt.

When I was 22, I worked in Patagonia in the cold and wind, wrapped in various odd sweaters, with my hiking boots eternally on my feet.

My coworkers and I lived in a small house behind a larger one, which was used as the headquarters for where we worked. The small house we lived in was yellow, and we therefore named it the Yellow House.

The Yellow House offered two bedrooms for the eight people who lived there, and no insulation from the bitter gusts that wrapped around the walls and swam under the floorboards. A small kitchen with a wood-burning stove kept our bellies full and the house warm each night. Unfortunately, it did nothing to soothe the skin after an ice-water shower.

While my friends in the States moved to big cities for jobs, partied hard with new salaries in new apartments, and encountered new people and new craziness around every corner, I was at the end of the world, quite literally, living in Punta Arenas where not much of anything crazy happened besides weather.

Don’t feel sorry for me and my seven sardine roommates, though.

We had a blast living in our yellow can, working in a town that drilled ropes into city block corners in case blasts of Antarctic winds threatened to whip around and knock us over.

Besides maximum bonding time with nature, I also learned a valuable lesson from my time in the Yellow House that I still try to respect: downtime is necessary for growth.

My job revolved around an extreme sports adventure race that happened once a year in March. The month right before the race was fairly hectic, but the months before and after boasted plenty of downtime. The Yellow House didn’t have a television or decent Wi-Fi. It was filled with books and old sports equipment left behind by those who sardined into the Yellow House before us.

The eight of us currently living there kept the kitchen decently stocked, and we jumped at any opportunity to BBQ outside if the temperature reached 60 degrees Fahrenheit. However, on the many days it didn’t, we had to keep ourselves entertained.

My German roommate taught me how to bake delicious cakes from scratch. We used whatever weird ingredients we could find, and so, cat-shaped cakes (inspired by the local street cats), and apple-bacon ice cream waffles were born. To this day, people still go bananas over my pineapple syrup cake.

My Polish roommate taught me how to artistically photograph junk left on the side of the road, which I’d often drag home afterward and make into bohemian bathroom art. And, most importantly, I taught myself how to recreate all the craziest Pinterest hairstyles I could save off the work computer. To this day, I can easily whip up anything from cornrows to braid-inspired hair-dos that would give the TV show Vikings a run for their money.

So now, in moments of my life where I find lulls between all the highs and lows, I remind myself that downtime is meant for learning, for contemplation, and for redirection.

Remember, as kids, all the creative shenanigans we would get into when we were bored or had no one to play with? So much imagination was let loose! So when was the last time that you, as an adult, let your own imagination loose?

Where would I currently be without my pineapple syrup cake, my ability to decorate my bathroom walls for free, or the ability to braid my younger cousin and all her friends’ hair for special occasions?

It is true that some people don’t need to read this article—they naturally embrace downtime with open arms. However, many of us waste it or feel guilty for having it. FOMO (fear of missing out) can be a real stress catalyst for me as a millennial extrovert. We are so stimulated all the time, and when the stimulation stops, we panic. But then I remember the Yellow House. And I remember that in such a short period of time, I learned so many skills that I love sharing to this day.

So what class have you always wanted to take? What skill have you always wanted to learn? What language have you always found beautiful, but never had time for?

Life is short, but it can also be long.

Sometimes, it’s nice to slow down during the lulls and embrace the downtime.


Author: Lia Mitchell

Image: Killy Ridols/Flickr

Editor: Catherine Monkman

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