What if for one year you stopped acquiring things or taking on new pursuits, but instead you dived deeper into projects you'd already started, returned to half-read books, and followed through on intentions that had remained partially realised? The original idea for a depth year was posed by David Cain, a Canadian writer, in 2017. It took on a following of its own, and what results is a reminder that changing your life is easier and more powerful than you think.
As David points out in his article a lack of follow through can make us feel badly, but more than that, we never get to experience the fulfilment we believed we could when we first took steps in that direction. We purchased the running shoes, the golf clubs, the complete hardcover set of Harry Potter books, and with it we had the possibility of the joy that comes with those pursuits. When we don't follow through on the project -- diving as deeply as we could -- we end up in a pattern of acquisition and lighter level engagement but we deny ourselves the pleasure of knowing and mastering something. Running, when you start it isn't always easy. It's a bit of a slog as you master the habit the routines, and generally get your fitness up a few notches. Somewhere along the way -- if you persist -- there's the ability to show up and run 5 k races, to meet others in your community at a run club, or to run farther than you've ever imagined you could when you train for your first half marathon.
When you look at people who have completed a depth year, you realise that they have all defined depth a little differently. For some it's a ban on new hobbies and "toys". Others took their depth year as a chance to focus on what really mattered to them. Interestingly, despite these differences, several common lessons emerged.
Relationships deepened. People invested more time in their friendships and made a point to check in with who they already knew. Maybe there's an old friendship you'd like to rekindle. Maybe you'd like to see and understand your partner or housemate better. What if the relationships you already have contain great satisfaction but need the attention and time to nurture?
Satisfaction improved. When we step off the acquisition cycle, which inherently makes us look for what's new that we don't yet have, we spend more time shopping our own wardrobes, cooking from our pantry items, and thinking about how to use that which we already have. By removing "new" from the equation people had an opportunity to see the things things that they already with fresh eyes. Appreciation naturally arrives when you give yourself space to use what you already have.
You have what you need for great joy. There is immense untapped value in things we've already started. The podcasts in your phone would teach you so much -- if you listened to them. Your cooking skills would proliferate -- if you worked through recipes in the cookbooks you've already acquired. You could spend the next 12 months diving deeper in your yoga practice, your gardening, or your guitar playing. How could your life change as a result of mastering something purely for the love of it?
What impresses me about the depth year is that David notes there was an unraveling of his own limitations. We sometimes stop in projects or relationships when things get uncomfortably hard. Working through that place can teach us great things about ourselves and about others.
It couldn’t have happened without the Depth Year lens, though, because of a particular demand the pursuit of depth makes on us: we can’t go deeper in a given area without coming to terms with why we were never able to before.
A depth year asks us to figure out why we're stopping when we reach a certain place. Maybe we prefer the rapid progress we can make as beginners in another area, and thus spread ourselves across many domains. Sometimes that's the case. Yet it emerged that many times what we're hitting up against is our fear of feeling dumb/rejected/not good enough. Unravelling that can mean we continue with projects of great meaning and passion rather than staying in the shallows of safer domains.
In a season where overseas travel isn't happening as much, where we're being asked to stay at home more, there's a real opportunity to test the hypothesis for ourselves: fulfilment is the product of diving deeper into things rather than constantly staying in the shallows.
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