“Fallow time” gives farmland a chance to rejuvenate itself and replenish its nutrients. It can do the same for you as an introvert. It’s an investment in your well-being.
Rejuvenation is a part of work, not apart from it.
That’s the core argument writer Bonnie Tsui makes in a compelling New York Times essay entitled “You Are Doing Something Important When You Aren’t Doing Anything.”
In the piece, Tsui bravely challenges one of Western culture’s sacred cows: the idea that “if you aren’t visibly producing, you aren’t worthy,” that idleness is laziness.
“There’s something to be said for the state of quiet dormancy, where little apparently happens,” Tsui counters:
“We might have periods of furious output; to get there, we require periods of faithful input. With input, there’s a restoration of fertile, vibrant thinking.”
Humans Need Fallow Time Too
Farmers typically rotate their crops. They plant different things each year or every other year so that the soil can replenish itself.
Tsui advocates that we all do the same thing as humans.
But she adds a critical upgrade, inspired by a strategy that the farmers of yesteryear employed: letting spent pieces of land lie fallow for a season or two.
In other words, planting nothing at all on them so that they could fully rejuvenate themselves.
We—people—need fallow time too, Tsui contends:
“We need to rest, to read, to reconnect. It is the invisible labor that makes creative life possible.”
And that “invisible labor” is in fact labor, she emphasizes—valuable in and of itself.
Downtime Isn’t Wasted Time
But let’s face it: Rejuvenating isn’t easy.
It’s hard not to be hard on yourself. You have to beat the Western mindset into submission, convincing yourself that down time is not wasted time.
Moreover, as Tsui acknowledges, you may not have several days or weeks when you can simply take a break from work.
So what can you do?
Give Your Introvert Mind a Rest
On many summer evenings, I walk a block down the road and sneak onto one of the greens of the nearby public golf course.
There, three golf balls in hand and all alone except for the calls of nearby geese, I putt.
I set myself up to attempt the longest putt possible. When the flag is in the right spot, on the very front of this particular green, I can go to the back so that I’m facing a 70-foot, slightly downhill, left-to-right putt that requires a perfect stroke—along with the usual stroke of luck—to go in.
There’s nothing better than when one does.
Seeing it is satisfying enough. Hearing the soft “ker-plop” is even better.
But what really matters is that my mind finally rests. If only for a few minutes, reflecting and processing and planning and second-guessing and worrying and remembering take their leave.
“We’re closed for lunch,” my brain says.
And then I can get fed, not only by what I’m doing but by the sights and smells and sounds around me.
You Define Your Fallow Time
How do you lie fallow?
If your answer is “I don’t,” how can you?
“Fallow time can take different forms for everyone,” Tsui stresses, “and finding a bit of it is surprisingly reachable in most working lives.”
And remember: It’s not wasted time.
It’s invested time.