Deb Rachel Does Nothing

2012 Debutante Rachel BertscheWhen I worked at O, The Oprah Magazine, we did a whole feature on guilty pleasures. I remember it well, because in the issue the staff each got to name their personal guilty pleasures and it was the coming out party for my greatest silly indulgence: Jeff Probst.

I know, right? But what can I say. He’s adorable and I have a total nerdy Survivor fan-girl crush on him. Those dimples! I mean, come on.

There’s one quote from that feature story that has always stuck with me. Famous names revealed their guiltiest indulgences, and Isaac Mizrahi made a confession: “I feel guilty about downtime. I always feel I have to be accomplishing or absorbing something.”

I will remember this always, because it doesn’t work for me: We shouldn’t feel guilty about relaxing! It’s necessary. How else do we recharge, if not by enjoying a little down time? Unstructured time is when we’re most creative, after all. It’s in those totally free moments that story lines magically come together or protagonists utter brilliantly witty lines inside our heads.

I’ve been thinking a lot about our culture of busyness lately (the New York Times ran an article about it that struck a nerve). Americans (and Canadians too? Joanne?)  crave busy-ness — not just to keep ourselves from getting bored, but to relay to others how incredibly important we are. Because being busy must clearly mean we are needed and have status and are generally fabulous and powerful. Clearly. But the pleasures of doing nothing are real… and should be embraced.

In case you’re on the fence of the value of doing nothing, here are all the things I accomplish when I do nothing:

1) Nothing

2) Peace of Mind

3) Uninterrupted thinking– about a book I’m reading, an assignment I’m working on, or what I’m going to wear this weekend.

4) Daydreams about Riggins 

5) New ideas! A book, a magazine story pitch, a friend to reach out to.

These things have value. We’re better off for them. So let’s reframe our thinking! Stop thinking of doing nothing as a guilty pleasure, and remember it’s a necessary one.

Not surprisingly, A.A. Milne put it best:

“What I like doing best is Nothing.”

“How do you do Nothing,” asked Pooh after he had wondered for a long time.

“Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it, ‘What are you going to do, Christopher Robin?’ and you say, ‘Oh, Nothing,’ and then you go and do it. It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”

Do you feel antsy when you’re not being productive in some way? Or is doing nothing your greatest (non)guilty pleasure?

3 Replies to “Deb Rachel Does Nothing”

  1. I’m with Christopher Robin — I love doing “nothing.”

    I guess I should qualify that — I love having nothing I HAVE to do. A clear schedule. A day where, when I wake up, there’s absolutely nothing I MUST get done, be it career or household related. No writing deadline imminent, enough food and clean clothes in the house that running out of either isn’t likely, and all family members suitably occupied with their own pursuits. Bliss!

    Of course, I always wind up doing something. But that the something is voluntary makes all the difference. 🙂

  2. I totally get that Isaac Mizrahi confession. I don’t feel like I need to prove that I’m busy or important, I just feel like I should always be doing something. This gets worse (and more stressful) the busier I get, but I do really need to take time to recharge and relax.

  3. That Pooh/Christopher Robin quote always makes me smile, Rachel. Thanks for starting my morning off right!

    I think we all have to remind ourselves that it’s OKAY to take those minutes and try to do nothing even if we always end up doing something–as Linda says, it’s the HAVE-TOs that can seem the most daunting!

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