“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
– Zora Neale Hurston
I came across this Hurston quote recently. For me, it captures various elements I’ve encountered over the past two years: time, rhythm, clarity, purpose, and especially, asking “why?” – a concept author Simon Sinek captures nicely in his book Start With Why (which I highly recommend). I recorded an audio podcast while doing my annual self-review on and decided to share some elements that might resonate with some of you. You can also listen to the entire podcast via Soundcloud below – or click on the timestamps to hear specific sections.
[6:40] When you are a student you have certain liberties that you cannot appreciate while you are a student, but which you will appreciate after you stop being a student. You leave school and literally life – or adult life, however you want to term it – kind of takes over and the priorities shift a bit. You might not even notice that they shift, but they kind of do. I got to a point where there was no way I could keep up with all of that stuff. Yet you feel an obligation – a sense of loyalty to some degree – a sense of obligation or expectations because you’ve been doing certain things and you feel like you have to always do it or that you have to stay with it.
[10:48] I didn’t know how to rest. If someone told me to just chill, I would be itching to do something because I felt like I was wasting time. I think a lot of us feel that way or experience similar. You are so aware of what you might be missing out on – especially today where we have the internet and constant updates online – it’s very easy to get pulled into that and to lose your rhythm. Now I know how to rest. Something I thought I wouldn’t be able to do. I’ve learned how to rest, to take time off, just to simply be – not necessarily doing anything, jut to simply be. So I’ve kind of swung to the other side.
The Glorification of ‘Busy’
[14:05] There’s always opportunity cost. When you make one choice, there are other choices that you forgo. That’s life, there are always choices. I think we live in a time where we glorify busy. It’s the glorification of busy and this idea of always being ‘on’ and always being accessible and always responding immediately. Everything is immediate, y’know. A friend of mine and I, we call it NOW! nation. We’re the NOW! nation – everything has to be now, even if it doesn’t really have to be. We’re fine-tuning ourselves in a different way and we’re becoming very insistent on NOW. Sometimes the question I ask myself is: what is the opportunity cost of that?
Feeling & Being Useful
[15: 32] There were times when I would feel like I’m not doing anything and there’s no value that I’m adding. Or you feel like you’re just useless, really. It’s a very weird emotion, but you come to realize that in a way – even as much as I am quite conscious about this, and I talk about it a lot; about watching your actions and your thoughts and asking WHY you’re doing this – but I think in a way it became a sense of immediate gratification, of hitting the send button and getting immediate feedback. And I think we all fall into that. I had the opportunity to watch my emotions and reactions to some things and just that feeling of inadequacy: of feeling that you’re not really doing anything. What is your worth and what impact are you having? Are you wasting time?
The Power of Clarity
[17:26] Another thing I really value right now is clarity. When you’re in something it’s very hard to see and appreciate the different elements of what’s going on because you’ve very involved. It’s very easy to miss the big picture. But when you step back – even if it’s taking a pause – that’s not to say that you’re not going to do the things you say you’re going to do or you’re not going to work on achieving your dreams. It’s taking a step back to reflect. Even with nature, in the natural order of things, that’s what happens – spring time is the mating season in the animal world and when there are baby animals, flowers coming out, and then the fall is when things tone down a bit. And in the winter, it’s not that things are dead – they are hibernating. They are still very alive and still very present, but they are taking a pause. I think we human beings do that on a daily basis – obviously when we go to bed at night. But when you’re always “on” you don’t really do that. You don’t.
[19:11] I didn’t notice it at the time, but now I can see that when it was time to ask myself certain questions I had asked myself a year ago and that I had zero sense about – like I wouldn’t know how to begin to answer them – today I can give a pretty good answer to some of these things. So it came with clarity. The year before came with questions and this year is a year of (some) answers.
Time & Patience
[20:26] The bottom line is just know that everything will happen in its own time. As human beings we are impatient – and actually that was one of the insights I had when I was 23: “You will learn patience and you will learn it again”. I think that’s something that never changes by virtue of the fact that we are human beings and when we want something, we want it NOW! Maybe let’s not try to discount those periods of somewhat hibernation – not to say you don’t do anything at all – but maybe just be a bit more accepting of the fact that there are periods where things are going to be very active and you’re going to have a lot of things coming your way, and there are periods when you are not. And it’s a question of how you use those periods when you’re not.
[23:02] That kind of captures it – the whole notion of ‘There are years that ask questions and years that answer’ and it’s a question of figuring out which one it is, because sometimes the answers won’t come. I still have a lot of questions, but it’s having faith and trusting that the process will unfold itself and what is supposed to happen will happen and what you need to happen will happen. Because sometimes you think ‘this is where I should be heading’ and its only after you go through it that you realize, ‘nope, totally wrong on that front’. So just stay with the questions and when the answers come too, appreciate the answers. But always learn and always try to grow and always ask that very important question: WHY.
[24:20] You might start something, but it changes and it becomes things you didn’t think that it would become. And sometimes you lose your way. The way to always get back – in my experience and from other people, books I’ve read – is always to ask that question: Why am I doing this? That question. What is your why? There might be different iterations of the answer, but there are certain elements that are constant. It takes a while to figure that stuff out – you need to be watchful: pay attention to the questions you ask yourself and ask yourself the right questions.
“God turns you from one feeling to another and teaches you by means of opposites, so that you will have two wings to fly – not one.” – Rumi
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Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.