You Only Get One Life

Mar 30, 2015

In The Case for Leaning Out, Nico Lang describes the American work ethic. No, ethic isn’t the right word. Obsession. That’s better. Nico Lang describes America’s obsession with work. We work at work, after work, before work, when we are with our families, and even when we are on vacation.

This article hit me right between the eyes. As a developer, it’s super easy to get caught up in dollar signs and the glorified startup life. It’s important to remember the sacrifices required to even get a glimpse of any of that. To me, it’s not worth it.

The problem, of course, isn’t just our jobs: We’re working even when we’re not working. We go to happy hour with our coworkers after we get off, share a beer in the office and loiter socially before we leave, take our laptops home when we just have to finish just one more spreadsheet for tomorrow’s meeting, check emails over brunch, and shuffle outside to take an “important call” while everybody else is ordering mimosas. If you’re a writer, your social life likely consists of going to parties with other writers, who will, inevitably, talk about writing; even when we leave work, we can’t shut up about it.


The Italians have a concept called “la dolce far niente,” which translates to “the sweetness of doing nothing.” In context, that phrase might recall Diane Lane tromping through the vineyards of Tuscany, stepping on grapes, and having PG-13 romances, but for the overworked cubicle dweller, the sweet life begins when we learn to lean out. Amy Poehler calls it “healthy detachment,” but the Zen spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh describes it as “letting go.” Hanh writes, “Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything—anger, anxiety, or possessions—we cannot be free.”

Let go, do great work, but live your life. Only get one.