This essay is taken from my newly released ebook, Getting Your Important Work Done. Throughout September the book is free to Sustainably Creative Subscribing members. Find out more here.
I wonder if there’s anyone who has seen Robin Williams’ film Dead Poets Society that didn’t come away from it feeling that they were duty bound, if they wanted to truly embrace life, to seize the day?
Central to the film is the now well-known latin phrase carpe diem, translated in the film as seize the day. Indeed carpe diem has become a mantra in the years since the film, used by people who believe each day should be lived like it is your last, that there is no time to waste, and everything has to be done now.
You might have already guessed that I don’t wholly embrace the sentiment! Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe in making the most of life, just not grabbing at it with a sense of urgency.
I’d go far as to say that there is a certain tyranny around the notion of carpe diem, certainly when it’s translated as it nearly always is, as seize the day. Especially if you’re someone who is low on energy, this sort of urging to get everything done today is potentially very damaging. Refusing to get caught up in the belief can almost be seen as sacrilege!
A gentle eye on the future
My tongue is only so far in my cheek when I say that if you treat each day as though it was your last, grabbing and stressing and trying to get everything done, then there’s more chance it will be your last! Certainly, working without a gentle eye on the future, not planning and treating yourself kindly and acting as if there was only today, gives little respect to tomorrow (and remember more than likely there will be a tomorrow!).
An alternative translation
Far better to embrace an alternative (and less well known) translation of carpe diem – enjoy the day. Thinking about how to enjoy the day still leaves plenty of scope for getting our Important Work done, but also for enjoying the process, and seeing life as gentler, long term journey too. Not every day needs to be full of achievement, we can remember to take time to go for a walk, bake a cake, sip some tea, or take a nap.
Enjoying the day!
Enjoying the day is about accepting a manageable pace, leaving room for the inevitable ups and downs of energy and inspiration, and taking the time to smell the coffee (or a freshly baking cake!). More importantly it’s about realising that not everything can be completed, and even if today is our last we might as well have a smile on our face, even if our to-do list isn’t complete!