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Learning to Downshift: How I Stopped Stressing and Found Happy

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Why We Crave Speed

More than a decade has screamed by on fast-forward since my grand experiment in dropping out. Hit pause? Slow down? Yeah, been there and done that. Today I'm back in the ranks of the average American, who works 50-hour weeks while taking fewer than 13 days of vacation every year.

With two high-energy sons and a deadline-driven career, not to mention marriage, friendships, volunteering, sports, and housework, who the heck has time to slow down? I no longer have the luxury -- or, to be honest, the inclination -- to quit my life and go squash potato bugs. The truth is, I like being crazy-busy. Just not crazy-out-of-control-busy.

There's a crucial difference between A Successful Life, Versions 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0. First we had the drop-out, turn-off, get-ready-to-navel-gaze movement. Then, Version 2.0 claimed "busy" as the newest, shiniest status symbol. Multitasking, at least in my town, was a competitive sport, with moms at the playground furiously pounding on their Treos. "For some women, the busier you are, the more important you feel," explains Abby Seixas, a psychotherapist in Boston specializing in issues of stress and work-life balance. But the tide is turning, and busy itself is no longer something to be pursued with such gusto. Like red wine and chocolate cake, it is best experienced in moderation.

So instead of embracing the "slow" movement or "busy" race, I'm looking for Version 3.0 -- a life that moves at a medium pace. A life where I can continue to feel the thrill from pushing the speed limit but somehow learn to cruise in third gear instead of struggling to find a nonexistent sixth. To downshift instead of drop out. "We need to stop this all-or-nothing way of being," says Marty Dillingham, a program development manager at The Crossings, a wellness spa and leadership retreat in Austin, Texas. "The sustainable change is going to happen with the little things. You don't have to alter your whole life and run off to the ashram. Just make simple adjustments. Bringing awareness to the moment is what helps."

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