One of my first impressions of life in the UK during my very first visit was that it was fast-paced. People moved at the speed I never saw in Uzbekistan where I lived at the time. On the street and at the tube stations everyone seemed to overtake me when I was only 19 years old. Since I moved to the UK ten years ago I learned that it is a key characteristic of the life in the UK and the West more generally that we do things at a fast pace… and want things to happen fast.
This is obvious not only in the speed at which people move but also a variety of services available to us (including business models) that pride themselves on speed and the premiums we are willing to pay for that: fast food, next day delivery, fast tracks of all kinds. It seems everything can be accelerated. This creates the convenience of getting things quicker. But what does it do to us in the long term? Is fast food a healthy food? Is fast track career really good for organisations if it means skipping opportunities to build more experience? And perhaps more importantly, by getting things could we be unlearning the virtues of patience?
In moving fast I can go further in the time I have… though that too depends on how much petrol in the tank there is (literally and metaphorically). The faster I go the more demanding it is on my attention. Driving on German autobahn at 120 mph required me a much higher level of attention than driving at half that speed (60 mph on a motorway is rather leisurely for me). There was no way I could have a conversation with my wife whilst driving at 120 mph, at 60 mph I can recite a poem. Yet I noticed that on scenic routes (off the motorway) I can enjoy the scenery if I am driving not faster than 40 mph. To take it in I have to go slower.
One thing I can’t do in moving fast – whether driving, walking or doing anything in life – is to go deep. To go deep I need to slow down, or even stop. I can enjoy my meal more if I sit and chew slowly (even fast food tastes better that way). I can have more meaningful conversations with friends and colleagues if we walk no faster than 3 mph. It seems that speed is more natural to us as humans, but we keep telling ourselves that we have to run instead of walk. Only to discover we lose the ability to relate meaningfully or enjoy anything at the speed of running.
I missed many opportunities to see my kids growing up because I was running too. Now I am learning to walk again… learning slowly to walk slowly. At slower speed I have more time. At slower speed of life I can notice more, I can afford to be more curious, I can appreciate what I am given within the time. There is a fear in slowing down as it may feel like I am going to come last or I am going to miss out. It is possible that it can reduce my options in accumulating wealth, but it is also possible that I can accumulate a wealth of experience and relationships, both of which bring richness to life.