When I say I cannot sit still, I really do mean it. I feel a strong need to fill up the grids of my schedule so promptly and efficiently—sign up for new courses, challenge myself with new skills or hobbies, you name it. If Jack has the skills of all trades, then I must be Jill who dabbles her fingers in all things.
On the contrary, during this Circuit Breaker, I am proud to say that I have not learnt a new skill. Nothing. Zilch. I’m writing a lot more than usual of course, but outside of work, I picked up not one inch of new skill. In fact, staying home, I did all the usual things I would do when cooped up—work, watch television, and exercise. One month into Circuit Break, and I feel zero urge to join the bandwagon, and, if you’re like me, I will tell you why that’s okay.
Singaporeans are generally very hardworking people. Unfortunately, our deep-seated hustle culture has zero-tolerance for leisure.
It’s the mentality of “If you are not busy, you are lazy.”
We are conditioned to believe that being productive is important and an extrinsic way of validating ourselves. When we fail to live in this manner, we feel this peculiar sense of guilt. We resist rest because rest is only for the weak.
In many ways, this Circuit Breaker has messed up one of my favourite routines—I no longer walk past my usual coffee chain to get my caffeine fix. This reduced reliance on my daily stimulus is coupled with an increase in my sleeping hours, from 6 to 8 hours (or 10 on a very good day). I finally understood what it means to “sleep to one’s fill”. All thanks to telecommuting, I have probably paid back 70% of my sleep debt along with its compounded interest earned in my twenty-odd years of living.
Without this Circuit Breaker, I don’t think I would intentionally take this amount of “forced” physical rest. Or to put it very bluntly, I never knew I was so sleep-deprived and caffeine-driven.
Since becoming financially independent, I have not intentionally spent an extended time at home, except for the occasions when we went on family holidays—which are pathetically few and can be counted with one hand.
Unfortunately and fortunately, my home is pretty small, and everyone is bound to congregate in the common areas like the dining and living room. Inevitably, this gives us more opportunities for table conversations, TV discussions on the latest drama series, as well as mealtime chats.
Being at home has also given me quiet moments to stop and pause and notice my parents ageing. I see the incidental moments where they reach out for a condiment at the back of the shelf, or when they squat for pots or plates, and complain of an unusual backache there or a sore shoulder here. It’s a harsh eye-opener to the realities of an ageing population.
Time can be a bitch sometimes, but in this instance, Circuit Breaker has presented itself as a sobering truth and a reality of a tactical foreshadowing which I’ll much rather realise now than later.
As a writer, it is a fact that the COVID spell has hit the publication field in a storm of frenzy. Updates or new trends are curveballs we chase and aim to retell. Since COVID-19, DORSCON Orange, and Circuit Breaker, I have not had the opportunity to let my laurels down. A sentiment I’m sure my fellow writers and editors can empathise.
When changes are the constant, and unforeseen circumstances are now the daily norm, adaptation seems to be an essential survival skill. The ambiguity has led to much fluidity in work planning and more eleventh-hour time-sensitive assignments.
While there is a group of people who are much more “free” during this work-at-home arrangement, there lies another spectrum of people who are experiencing the blurring of lines between work and personal life. They work from bedtime to bedtime, miss their lunch breaks, and camp in front of their laptops up to the very last minute before they snug under their blankets—a mere three steps away. When rest is out of the picture, learning a new skill on top of this is simply out of the question.
Drawing the attention away from myself, lest I seem too self-absorbed, many of our friends in various industries are struggling—retail, F&B, tourism, to name a few. Many worry about their sinking businesses, fears of layoffs, reduction in salaries, and the daily mental struggle to put food on the table. Honestly, there’s hardly been a more depressing time for most of us.
Truth is, Circuit Breaker is more than about staying home—it is a serious pandemic and an issue of life-and-death. I’ll be first to admit that I am guilty as one of those who whine about the woes of a closed Mcdonalds, the hassle of wearing masks out, and our limited freedom. Yes, I can be a privileged and entitled brat but having a family member who works as a frontline healthcare worker awakens me from my disdainful blindedness.
I find myself being constantly worried for her safety and being extremely grateful to see her everyday. With hardly any intention of creating a pity party here, I am fully aware that this is just a tip of the iceberg and there are more severe circumstances out there in the midst of this mess.
While we appreciate the vibrancy and enthusiasm to stay positive, we must respect each other’s Maslow Hierarchy of needs—to be humbled by the situation and giving people who are affected financially or by the virus time and space to grieve before they pull themselves together again. There’s a time and place for everything and it’s important to recognise that we are humans and not a machine. Not every task needs to be functional, not every time spent needs to be productive, and our lives don’t need to be driven by productivity alone.
Our interconnected world is truly boisterous, and shutting it out can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, this temporal disconnectedness can be a reprieve. Still, on the other, we might feel a pang of crippling guilt for being disconnected during rest.
“Should I send out that one last email?”
“Should I check my email one last time?”
There is a psychology diagnosis for this—relaxation-induced anxiety. It is a confusing irony where you are trying to relax yet end up not reaping any of the benefits of unwinding.
The same applies to acquire a new skill during the Circuit breaker. When you scroll through social media and see your friends displaying their new fitness routines and living a “fulfilled life”, you start to second-guess if you too should pick up something new.
I GET YOU! I was slightly tempted to pick up a new language when I saw a couple of my friends taking up complimentary courses online. However, I decided to abort that idea and adhere to my usual routine of working, watching TV, and working out.
Sad to say, time is a finite resource—there won’t be a second Labour Day 2020, there won’t be a second 21st birthday based on the Gregorian calendar. This is when we need to make a personal judgement call—we either spend the time with the pursuit of learning a tangible skill or the time to cherish the present. There is no right or wrong. And having said that, there is no shame to the latter and it should not be frowned upon.
It leads to a deeper issue of value management more than time management because where we place our value is where we will invest our time in. As for me, it is family, me-time, and myself. What about you?
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