Where’s the fire we’re all rushing to?

“Is everything as urgent as your stress would imply?”— Carrie Latet, American author and poet

“Is everything as urgent as your stress would imply?”— Carrie Latet, American author and poet

“Where’s the fire?” The police officer’s sombre tone matched the look on his face.

“Down the road a couple miles,” replied Johnny, jabbing his finger in the general direction. “Liz has got a fire in her basement! If you follow me you can help, but we’ve got to hurry!”

When Liz discovered the fire, she immediately called the local farm implement dealership. That may seem odd but not when you consider the nearest volunteer fire department was half an hour away and the farm implement dealership was five minutes. Besides, the dealership was really the hub of the community — a place where most of the men hung out when they weren’t at home, at work or in the field. Within minutes, a fleet of vehicles was rocketing down a dusty country road. An officer, making a routine tour of the countryside, witnessed the vehicles thunder past and pulled over the last vehicle in the convoy, Johnny’s old green Ford pickup.

Johnny had an answer to the officer’s question: there was an actual emergency. But the question applies to more than driving — it applies to the very act of living. Where’s the fire that we’re all rushing to? If you look at life today, doesn’t it seem that many people are in a hurry — rushing about at a frantic pace? Imagine if an officer pulled you over and asked, “Where’s the fire?” Would you have a good answer?

Why are we in such a hurry and what effect has all this rushing had upon our physical and emotional well-being?

A friend recently went on stress leave from work. She told me that life had become much too fast-paced — much too frantic — and that she had to get off the treadmill or risk a nervous breakdown. Sadly, she’s not alone. Research from a variety of sources suggests that we’re busier now than we have been at any other time in history.

Dalton Conley, American sociologist and author of Elsewhere, U.S.A., writes that there are fewer and fewer boundaries for many people: private sphere versus public space, home versus office, leisure versus work to list but three. The line between these previously well-defined states is becoming blurred and in some cases, collapsing altogether. Notes, Conley, we seem to work all the time, partially because technology now makes it possible for us to do so. We rush and remain in perpetual motion — between jobs, between relationships and even breaths.

We seem to have fallen victim to a subtle yet persistent notion that we’re not living if we’re not scrambling, and that relaxation — far from being essential — is now a luxury to be paid for with exhaustion.

Sadly, many of us wear our busyness or need to rush everywhere as a badge of honour. Not sure if you’ve bought into this notion? Think about the last time you had nowhere to go and nothing planned on a particular day. Can you remember? Ever gone for a drive or been waiting in line at the grocery store and felt yourself becoming anxious or impatient?

Two vital components of self-esteem-building are awareness and reflection.

If you’re perpetually rushing about, it’s unlikely you’ve made time for either. Stop, let the dust settle and reflect for a few minutes. Perhaps you’re clamouring for status, wealth or an early retirement. Maybe you’re financially overextended from driving yourself relentlessly to afford the big house, new car and toys.

You might be rushing around in an effort to avoid dealing with issues in your life. Being too busy can be a form of procrastination. We all rush around occasionally and that’s fine. However, when everything you do is rushed and you’re buckling under the strain, it’s time for a serious reassessment of values.

Make a list of activities that fill your day, week or month and then sit back and take an objective look at each. Consider your motivation and try to find a helpful, peaceful reason to keep each item. When you consciously view your “rush” list, you’re likely to find activities that fill your day but do not fulfil your life.

Some activities can be combined, performed by someone else or eliminated entirely. A little reorganization can dramatically reduce stress and anxiety. Without such, you may find yourself forever zooming down the road of life chasing the next moment.

The late American author and motivator Og Mandino aptly assessed the damaging results of rushing about when he wrote, “A day merely survived is no cause for celebration!”

A life with less pressure, stress and anxiety is possible once you understand why you rush and what is driving you. So, where’s the fire?

“Step aside, non-believers, ‘cause I’m going to make it rain!”

Murray Fuhrer is a local self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca