The good news is I received your email. The bad news is I probably won’t be responding, at least anytime soon. It recently came to my attention that in the past ten years, I have received, read or sent well over 100,000 emails across my various accounts. For comparison’s sake, Theodore Roosevelt, one of our most prolific presidents, was said to have sent 150,000 letters in his lifetime. That was with decades of public service, international celebrity and a team of secretaries! The longest I’ve ever gone without checking email is approximately 48 hours. Like a lot of people, I have had anxiety attacks from being away from my computer for an afternoon. I have felt my heart sink (and then beat uncontrollably) when I pick up my phone minutes after setting it down and seeing dozens of blue unread dots. It would be impossible (if not appalling) to estimate the number of hours or the number of words spent in my inbox. I’m not complaining—not at all. I actually enjoyed it most of the time and I was usually paid handsomely for the times when I did not. It’s just become too much.
Why do we do this to ourselves? I have no idea–though I’m sure it says something about our need for control, attention, validation and money. We want to work hard and do good, and addiction to our inbox has become a misguided proxy for these instincts. In any case, it brings us to this autoresponder which I am sending now.
I will not be checking email for the next two and half weeks or so. Not at all. You see, when I was checking all these emails, I was not checking in with or spending time with someone else. And despite that, recently this person still decided to marry me. Why? I don’t know but I don’t plan to screw it up. On our honeymoon, I am bringing a computer, but only so that we might watch House of Cards (or, more honestly, Law and Order). My phone is accompanying us but only because I don’t know how to read a map. If email intrudes on either of these devices, I will not hesitate to throw them into the ocean.
So let’s get down to business:
If this is something that needs to be scheduled or a trivial matter than can be resolved without me, please email my assistant Loni Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re a friend with my phone number and regularly use it, feel free to chat…but if it can wait, please do.
But what if I really really need to get in touch with you?
Though I don’t fancy myself a philosopher, I’ve studied enough of the stoics to know how absurdly we overestimate not only the importance of most things that happen, but our ability to influence or respond to them. For this brief time, I am ready to be indifferent to essentially everything. If someone has died, I will be sad—but would like to be sad after I return. If you have a massive, life changing, billion dollar opportunity—please consider passing it to someone else (or better yet, evaluate it more honestly yourself). I’ll wait for the next one. If my house has been burglarized, please notify the authorities—we’ve dealt with things like that before. If you’re a young kid, in a really tight spot who just needs some advice, here it is: relax, take a deep breath, and practice the Socratic method on yourself. The solution is already within you. Hit me up later if things go south.
What I am saying is that it’s difficult for me to conceive of anything that might be so urgent and important that it could not wait a couple weeks…though we sure like to tell ourselves that this isn’t the case, don’t we?. If it really is an emergency, just call me or better yet, call Samantha.
What are you going to do with all this free time?
Honestly, I do not know. As Marlon Brando once put it, the void is terrifying to most people—myself included. In any case, I plan to fill it with running, swimming, reading, walking, sleeping, eating and other such bodily functions. If there is anything left over, I will contemplate existence until my brain hurts. I will enjoy that pain and maybe, if I am lucky, get something good out of it. I may also think of you, sitting at your desk, responding to emails and feel a tinge of pity. I’ve earned the right, after all.
But when you get back you’ll be one of us again right?
Only time can tell—though I plan to do things slightly differently going forward. Sure, I will get caught up when I return and handle anything I missed. Generally, however, I will be responding to fewer emails, I will be ignoring more crap, and I will be prioritizing my life more clearly so that I am working only on projects that I can fully bring my best to. Already, in the mornings, I don’t open my inbox until I’ve accomplished my most important tasks. This trend will continue aggressively until email is relegated to a more manageable role. One of the luxuries of success—at whatever small level I have achieved it—should be the ability to do things on your own terms. This will be one of mine—if it causes conflict or problems between us, I am sorry. Life is short, email is endless. One must choose.
Thank you for understanding. If I relapse, and email you in this time, please don’t hesitate to call me out. I’ll deserve that too.