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Learning to Downshift: How I Stopped Stressing and Found Happy

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Life in the fast lane isn't all it's cracked up to be, but neither is life slowed to a complete stop. Here, one woman shares how she learned to ease her foot off the gas pedal and find a more satisfying pace -- and how you can hit the brakes yourself.

The Day I Slammed on the Brakes

If the sound of silence kills you, try pounding a rock against a bucket on a middle-of-nowhere farm in a patch of vegetables. When I did it years ago, the rhythm of it -- plucking a striped potato beetle off a plant with my left hand, crushing it with a rock in my right -- was monotonous and hypnotic. I remember thinking it was amazing that so much relaxation could come from such destruction.

I'd arrived in my vegetable patch via a circuitous route: At age 25, I'd felt burned out from the frantic treadmill of school and work. I was lost and I was tired. Was this really what the rest of my adult life was going to be like? I needed an intervention, and so I called a massive, radical time-out from the nonstop madness: I sold my stuff, moved onto a decrepit sailboat in San Francisco Bay, surfed around the coasts of Spain and Portugal for six months and then -- unwilling to rejoin the rat race just yet -- dug my hands deep into the earth at my family's weekend farm in Pennsylvania. For four months I did nothing but nurture plants from the ground by day and preserve them by night -- canning tomatoes, drying peppers, freezing corn. But around month five, when my college buddies started calling to chat, I began to question my decision. There they were, throwing themselves whole-hog into the world, being rewarded with big bucks, impressive jobs, and exciting romances. Battling bug infestations on my organic tubers felt...small. And suddenly, instead of relaxed, I felt stressed. It was my 26th birthday, and I was consumed by one thought: What the hell am I doing? Unplugged equaled unfulfilling.

Next:  Why We Crave Speed


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