Taking the time to (not) solve problems…

On an average week I spend eight to ten hours on a bus, commuting between work sites and into the capital city of Kigali. To be honest, I use to dread these bus rides—cramped, sweaty, four or five to a seat, bumping up and down on dirt roads for hours. The other day though, as I boarded the four-hour bus ride from Kirehe to Kigali, I realized that the hours I once use to dread, I have now come to cherish.

As GHC fellows, we are busy. By busy I mean, well, BUSY. The problems we are trying to solve are often much larger than we can handle, yet our organizations push us to make the maximum impact we can. Working for FACE AIDS Rwanda, a program of Partners in Health, I’ve seen incredible examples of how pushing yourself to do better, results in better outcomes in the lives of others. It’s inspiring in some ways… draining in others. Without noticing it, we GHC fellows have taken on this responsibility internally, constantly pushing ourselves to solve the next problem, put out the next fire, take on the next project. I couldn’t be happier doing this work, yet I must admit that “free-time” is no longer in my daily dictionary.

That’s why, when I boarded the bus to Kigali the other day, where the bus ride is simply too bumpy to work or read, or do anything for that matter, I found myself smiling with relief: nothing to do but stare out at the beautiful rolling hills of Rwanda. For the first time in the week, I was left with nothing but my own thoughts and a breeze through my hair.

These hours on the bus every week create a window for silence and stillness in an otherwise hectic week. On these bus rides there are no fires to put out, no new project to tackle, no problem to solve (Ironically, it is in these moments of silence, of not thinking about the next thing I have to do, that some of my best ideas and epiphanies have come to me).

That’s the funny thing: sometimes you need to not solve problems, if you really do want to solve them. At the GHC east Africa mid-year retreat a couple weeks ago, the incredibly wise Perry Dougherty from Still Harbor asked us “What would you do if there was not a problem to be solved?” My advice to you? Stop what you are working on, turn off your computer, hop on the next bus to nowhere and see where your thoughts lead you… I guarantee you that the time doing nothing will be the best investment of time you make this week.