If you’ve ever had the laugh-until-your-belly-aches pleasure of reading or listening to humorist David Sedaris, you probably looked at this post and thought it was a misprint. Sedaris is known for taking horrifying moments of his childhood and family fodor and massaging them into uncomfortably funny stories for us to digest. Anyone familiar, fan or not, typically wouldn’t take life advice from his tales. However, upon finishing his book Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls: Essays etc., I couldn’t stop thinking about his essay “Laugh, Kookaburra.”
In this discourse, he recalls a visit to Australia, where he and his partner, Hugh, are having dinner with a friend who says you should picture your life as a stove with four burners that each represent family, friends, health, and work. She goes on to say that in order to be successful, you need to turn off one of your burners, and to be really successful, you have to shut down two. Immediately, I knew which two I had shut off to be successful—friends and health.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have friends in my life, and I live a pretty healthy lifestyle, but at this point, I’ve turned those burners way down. The idea is that when we try to keep four burners on high, we may “succeed,” but only at a level of mediocrity. If you want to thrive in any of these areas, you need to give them the attention they need and deserve, and that means turning off, or turning down, a few of the other burners.
For this month’s neighborhood book club, I had chosen Let’s Explore Diabetes, and I thought this essay would be perfect for some lively conversation. I assumed my fellow readers would all choose to keep the same burners lit that I had chosen. Without hesitation, my two hot burners were family and work, but I was so surprised how wrong I was. Some friends were direct opposites, choosing to keep friends and health burning away. While we range in age from thirties to sixties, as a group we share a lot of similarities, but the burners we had all chosen at this moment in our lives differed dramatically.
Sedaris showed us that our lit burners can change at any moment. With more than one type A personality in my book group, we seem to make it harder for ourselves than it needs to be and are usually struggling to keep all four burners maintained. The idea of turning a couple of those burners down, or even off, was a lightbulb moment for those with all four burners on but each dimly lit. If you pare it down to two, you may find a little breathing room.
Who would have thought this sage life advice would come from a man who previously shared in his book Naked, “We were not a hugging people. In terms of emotional comfort, it was our belief that no amount of physical contact could match the healing powers of a well made cocktail.”
In my life, my burners have gone from just friends, to all work, then switched to all family. Just in the past few years, since my children went to school full time, could I manage both family and work equally. I found health is easy to ignore, if you are relatively healthy, and friends come and go, and come around again. That’s not to say in ten years from now I won’t be cooking up a totally different scenario.
What are the two burners you would choose to keep lit? Have you switched off any? Or are you still struggling to keep all flames lit at once? Take a cue from David- maybe it’s time to turn down one or two, or even turn them off for a while, who knows this may even give you time to read a book, preferably a funny one by Sedaris.