How to Live Life at Your Own Pace: An Introduction

Cartagena: Living Life in Tempo Giusto

Although the philosophy of Slow was popularized to some extent through the Slow Food Movement and later through Carl Honoré’s best-selling book “In Praise of Slow“, many of us are unsure about how to really implement changes of pace into our 21st century high-speed lifestyle.

Sometimes it seems as if Italian futurist visions from over a century ago have become true: “We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed. […] Our hearts know no weariness because they are fed with fire, hatred, and speed!” In consideration of the ubiquitousness of speed, reducing velocity seems to be a daunting task.

To make things even more complicated, merely slowing down is not the solution of our speed problem. The real challenge, Honoré says in his wonderful book, is to find the appropriate speed, the tempo giusto, for everything we do. Tempo giusto not only depends on what you do – taking a Sunday afternoon walk versus test-driving a racing car – but also on your personality. Much like in the Aesop fable of the tortoise and the hare, it’s about finding your proper speed (or slowness) for any given task, and using it to your advantage.

The main problem when trying to do that, is that we live in a world of time standards. Our days are segmented into hours, minutes, and seconds, dictated by radio-controlled clocks in determined time zones – and apparently, we have no possibilities to escape them. As a consequence, millions of us struggle with jet lag, suffer from disrupted sleep patterns due to artificial “daylight saving time”, and often have become slaves to a concept we originally invented for our own convenience. Meetings, flight schedules and office hours dictate our days, and with all our colleagues coming into office right on time, slowing down doesn’t seem to be an option for many of us.

But, apparently, there is some hope. In his book, Honoré tells us about the changes implemented by several employees to get rid of stressful habits or even to leave their office jobs completely – and become masters of their own time again. As consultants and freelancers, they manage to earn the Benjamins while at the same time live their lives more mindfully.

A Slow Youth?

The problem with Honoré’s account for me was that it mainly covers 30- and 40somethings, changing careers or dropping out of office, often because of their children and the desire to spend more time with them. This was also the motivation for Honoré to investigate slowness in the first place.
While I totally love the ideas and strategies shared in the book, my biggest question couldn’t be answered: How to make a slow career as a young person? If you ain’t got decades of experience in some field, you probably won’t land a great consulting gig so fast.

The reason to raise this question is pretty obvious: Why should we, the younger generation, first enter into excessive labor until we burn out, if we could also just stand back a little and take a slower approach right from the start? Do we really have to enter the treadmill first, do we really have to break down and end up in the hospital (like, for example, Jonathan Fields did) to realize that there are better ways to lead our lives?

Now, maybe there’s no real need for answering this question. Maybe I am the big exception on this planet and everybody else at my age is just dying to have a steep career at any cost. Maybe I’m just an underperformer and there is no place for me in this economy. “Sure,” my peers might say, “a little less work would be nice. But in the end it’s all about getting ahead, in the office or in my own startup, and I am willing to knock off 70 or 80 hours a week to create the wealth I want to create.”

But then, maybe that’s not the case. Maybe the idea of starting (and staying) at tempo giusto just seems to be unrealistic to most people interested in it: Peer pressure is pretty powerful, and as we see everybody else running as fast as they can, we feel the need to get our running shoes tied and start to follow before we lose sight of them.

My Story

Honoré’s writings helped me to notice my own strengths in this area: Almost unconsciously, over the last few years, I have become, if you can say so, an “expert” on tempo giusto. Especially 2009 turned out to be very fruitful in this sense: I used the year to slow down a lot and to idle, think, philosophize, debate, discuss, investigate my feelings, and get rid of many stressful and limiting beliefs that I had.

I discussed the advantages and downsides of idleness with everybody from Brazilian policemen to German university professors. I lived in a city at the shores of the Caribbean where it gets so hot around noon that you virtually have to slow down. I resetted my own internal clock while snuffing tobacco and chewing coca leaves with a native Indian shaman in the jungle. I got major epiphanies while lying at the beach and exchanging opinions about mindfulness with a bunch of Colombian street vendors. Ultimately, when traveling a week on a mixed passenger and cargo ship on the Amazon, I slowed down to the point that I probably would have stopped breathing if we wouldn’t have arrived at a fun little village that same night.

Only after reducing my speed to absolute zero, I was ready to increase it again. Little by little I cranked up my pace until I got to the level I felt comfortable about. Indeed, I am still in the process of fine-tuning as we speak. The whole inquiry into slowness has been a major investigation and achievement for me in 2009 for sure – so after reading In Praise of Slow I decided that I should probably share some of my strategies and thoughts with you, and The Friendly Anarchistic “Live Life at Your Own Pace” Series was born.

Over the next few posts on this blog I will give you some ideas on how to lead a life in tempo giusto in the areas of career, communication, travel, consumption and leisure. But the first step will be to create the right mindset for slowing down, and I will let the mighty WordPress wizard publish a post on that here next Tuesday, while the real Fabian will be probably on the road.

Check out the other posts in this series:
How to Live Life at Your Own Pace (Part 1): Your Speed of Mind
How to Live Life at Your Own Pace (Part 2): Communication and Media
How to Live Life at Your Own Pace (Part 3): Work and Study
How to Live Life at Your Own Pace (Part 4): Travel

Comments 11

  1. Dyana Valentine February 5, 2010

    J: thank you so much for bringing this idea of tempo giusto to mind (I’m now thinking of it as tempo nuestro– the inversion is conscious). This is so important–that we find our own beat, or own time, our own un-time. I’m in your debt because now, I’m following the old lady with the even older dog down a narrow street where all I have “to do” is to wait, observe and cherish the fabric of her coat and the strut of her companion. Thank you.

    • Fabian February 5, 2010

      Dyana, it’s great to see that the concept inspires you. You may become more active and talk to the lady, too, if she doesn’t look too grumpy! ;)
      As for “tempo giusto” and “tempo nostro”, the latter is probably an even better term. “Giusto” sounds a bit as if there was an objective “right” time for everything, but often that’s just not the case.

  2. Oscar - freestyle mind February 7, 2010

    Slowing down in my opinion is the best way to communicate with ourselves. I personally find easy to communicate with myself while running, indeed I don’t run with a mp3, so I can listen to the nature and my mind.

    • Fabian February 7, 2010

      Oscar, I like your running style. A lot more present than with music blowing into your ears all the time. And surely you’re running tempo giusto, too! :)

  3. Nate February 8, 2010

    Hi Fabian –

    I don’t necessarily think you have to have a high paced career in order to then slow down (you use Jonathan Fields as an example). I think it’s more first determining what you want out of life. Do you want to lead a high paced lifestyle? Do you want to take the traditional career route? If so, that’s totally fine. What about if you don’t want that? Well, then that begs the question, ‘what do you want?’ This obviously might require some serious soul searching. The next question then might be ‘how do I make money doing this?’ It doesn’t necessarily always have to be about entrepreneurship. It could be taking a job to make money and accepting the job for what it is. As always, I digress :)

    At any rate, what I’m getting at is that the possibilities are endless. We are only limited by our thoughts and beliefs. Once we overcome that, we are free.

    • Fabian February 9, 2010

      That’s right Nate, but I perceive it as a problem that, if you decide to pursue a slow career as a young person, you’re often automatically seen as a slacker who isn’t able to do great stuff. In the end, the only thing that may change this is probably proving yourself with your results, but the perception itself doesn’t make the way easier when starting out…

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