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Don’t fill the void

Posted in the following categories: Personal Development, Productivity

Nature, Aristotle once said, abhors a vacuum. He argued that a vacuum, once formed, would be filled by the dense material surrounding it.

I also abhor a vacuum. Whenever I find a vacuum in my life, I fill it—no, stuff it—with the dense material surrounding it in an attempt to be “productive.”

When I was in academia, I’d write multiple articles and book chapters simultaneously. Whenever I needed a break from one, I’d switch to the other.

I changed careers multiple times in my life—moving from rocket science to law to academia to popular writing—yet I never embraced the void between them.

The week after I published Think Like a Rocket Scientist, I started drafting the proposal for my next book.

I always felt the need for the next thing. This mode of operating made me prolific, and being prolific gave me meaning.

But it also came at a cost.

The busier I got, the worse my decisions became. I spent much of my time correcting the missteps that came with moving far too quickly. I didn’t have the space or time for good thinking, and without good thinking, I couldn’t make good decisions.

What’s more, my first idea was rarely my best idea. When I immediately jumped from one project to the next, I didn’t allow room for new and better ideas to emerge from the depths of my subconscious.

Ideas often come as a subtle whisper—not a big bang. If there’s no void in your life—if you immediately immerse yourself in the next thing—you won’t be able to hear the whisper when it arrives.

Mother Nature is a great teacher. Trees don’t try to produce fruit year round in an absurd attempt to be more productive. They lie dormant through the fall and the winter, shedding their leaves and conserving resources. Without that period of dormancy, they couldn’t bloom in the spring.

Humans also have seasons. The artist Corita Kent, during one of her own dormant periods, would sit idle and watch a maple tree grow outside her window. “I feel that great new things are happening very quietly inside of me,” she said. “And I know these things have a way, like the maple tree, of finally bursting out in some form.”

Being idle isn’t the same thing as being lazy.

A vacuum isn’t something to be automatically filled.

As the saying goes, it’s the silence in between the notes that makes the music.

So if you’re in between projects or jobs—or even romantic relationships—resist the tendency to immediately fill the void with the next thing.

Great new things are happening quietly inside of you.

Give them the time they need to bloom in all their glory.

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