Living With a Sense of Urgency

Our life of ease has left us stressed and empty but it doesn't have to be that way

Living With a Sense of Urgency
Mike Donghia

On the surface, so many of us feel our lives are too busy. We’re stressed and overwhelmed and can’t find the time for all the things we want to do.

On the other hand, we’ve never had more automation, convenience, and collective wealth than we do now. And according to time use surveys published online at, we’re working fewer hours and enjoying more leisure time than ever—a trend decades in the making.
What explains this divergence between our perception of increasing busyness and facts that suggest a gentler pace of life?

My Theory of Ease

My theory is this: for many people (not all), life has gotten objectively easier, but we don’t feel the benefits because, at the very same time, the smartphone revolution has connected us at nearly every hour of the day with a constant deluge of low-level demands.

The demands are subtle, but collectively powerful.

For example, going on vacation used to be a simple thing, a chance to get away and enjoy some scenic time away from work. But now, we’re exposed to hundreds of possibilities about how great a vacation could be. Planning this “dream” vacation, documenting it on social media, and keeping up with your friends doing the same, has become another type of work.

The same goes for interior design, fashion, various hobbies, political developments, sports news, and whatever else you might be into.

On top of that, we “have to” read dozens of reviews before we buy a product, research the best restaurants before going out, and spend countless hours “exploring our options” before making relatively low-stakes decisions.

Even when we just sit still to unwind, the phone leaps to our fingers and triggers all kinds of low-grade stress, be it through stimulating video games or scrolling to find something new and entertaining.

Are You Entertained?

I don’t know the entire effects of this radical change in how we spend our time, but it doesn't look good.

People are busy and stressed, but what are they doing with their extra time? Much of it is being absorbed by screens in a way that adds very little value to our lives. It’s entertainment by another name.

This kind of behavior is only possible in a world of relative peace, prosperity, and comfort: a world where “wasting time” doesn’t lead to catastrophic results and there is very little sense of urgency.

The Fuel of Life

On the one hand, it’s amazing that we’ve reached this place. Kudos to us for creating a country so wealthy that the average person can spend hours a day watching TV and messing around on their phone. But is this really human flourishing? We need to harness this wealth for something greater than leisure.

From personal experience, and observing the lives of great men and women I’ve encountered in biographies, it seems clear to me that humans can’t flourish without a healthy sense of urgency in their lives. In a similar way that the load of an arch actually strengthens the structure, humans appear to be stronger (and happier) when they bear responsibilities, take on challenges, and live with purpose.

For this sense of purpose to be beneficial, it can’t just be an extra or an add-on to your life. It has to drive you. Fulfilling your purpose has to be fuel for going faster and further. We need some real stress in our lives to push out the fake stress from the silliness on our smartphones.

Add a Spring to Your Step

The fact is, humans will always fill their time with something. And no matter what we fill it with, we’ll overreact at times or feel stressed and worried about others.

It’s only when we have big audacious goals, frightening deadlines, and real skin in the game that we can prioritize our lives and ensure we focus on what matters and push aside what is trivial.

The real weight of these responsibilities will bring a remarkable clarity to our lives. That clarity will in turn add a spring to our step, urgency to our action, and a purpose to our existence. This is the life we were meant to live.

Do Hard Things

Is your life lacking urgency? Have you not found what you were looking for in a life of ease and comfort? Has it backfired and left you more stressed and anxious?

You can turn that around. Decide what impact you want to leave in your world, with your family, your friends, and your community. Create a plan to go straight after those goals.

The bigger the goals, the better. Don’t wait for the perfect time to get started. You may never feel "ready." Make real commitments that can’t be shirked and put some skin in the game so the prospect of failure frightens you—and the hope of success compels you.

Don’t fall for the fool's game of comfort-seeking and ease. Do hard things for the sake of others, and find the happiness you deeply desire.

Mike (and his wife, Mollie) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.
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