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The Pleasure of Routine

When it comes to the vacation industry, two prevailing philosophies rise to the top, seemingly at odds with one another: first, “we will provide our customers with a once-in-a-lifetime experience that they will tell their friends about for the rest of their lives;” second, “we will provide our customers with the softest, most inviting ‘comfort blanket’ of a vacation that they will have to come back, again and again, for the rest of their lives.” Examples of the former might be guided expeditions to famous ancient-world monuments, where people can look out over the same vista that met their progenitors, and think “am I really here?” The latter would be something like a cruise or a Vegas getaway, where the pervading thought is always “it’s good to be back.”

Both types of philosophies serve the vacation industry well, but they are inherently designed to make an infrequent occurrence as positive an experience as possible. Nothing about this is easy, and the standard of excellence must be high for all the new faces that come by each day. But vacations are by definition a break from the monotony of life, which David Foster Wallace described as the “dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines” that are a constant in our lives “day after week after month after year.”

Learning to Love It

While everyone loves the carefree exuberance of a vacation and spends every day since it ends waiting for the next one, but real life is lived in the margins. Depending on the quality of our life and the contentment of our situation, these “dreary routines” might be where we feel genuine contentment, joy, and fulfillment. Such routines might include:

  • Getting the car serviced
  • Going shopping
  • Tending to the yard or house
  • Going to work
  • Visiting aging or infirm relatives

Whether these are daily occurrences or tasks that come up like clockwork a few times a year, the goal is to make each routine as pleasant as possible. This is not easy. It may take a serious effort to reframe the narrative around these chores, but it is that pursuit﹘to find positivity and contentment in life’s recurring tasks﹘that constitutes the raison d’être of every other business not in the vacation industry.

Making the Right Choice

For many of these businesses, selling points like “neighborhood,” “community,” or “tradition,” are often brought up in advertising. Essentially, that they have been mainstays in your routine for years, and are the element that makes them palatable, or even enjoyable. This doesn’t have to be untrue; for most people who dread seeing the “check oil” light come on in their car, knowing a trusted mechanic who works quickly, fairly, and with a smile is essential to happiness in those moments. Especially those who take the time to explain clearly all your options.

These infrequent, yet recurring, tasks like changing the oil in the car are the very moments where finding this new paradigm about routine is most important. As David Foster Wallace said, “the point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because [they] give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time…Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me.”

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Choosing to find pleasure in routine﹘even infrequent, annoying, it’s-gotta-get-done-so-what-can-you-do routine﹘is a multi-pronged effort that takes work. As has been mentioned above, finding a professional or service with a tradition of excellence is key, if only because you want to keep the infrequent tasks from becoming frequent ones. No one wants to need to see the pest control guy outside of his annual visit, but choosing the wrong tool (or the wrong company) for the job might have him make many more unplanned visits.

Being the Right Choice

The other aspect to finding pleasure in routine is to follow the advice of Dr. Wallace and think of how others are doing. As a customer, that means choosing to be courteous and grateful, patient and kind. And for those employees and business owners who make a living being the community’s answer to recurring and/or unexpected tasks, the pleasure of routine means being upholding the standard of excellence.

Working in a service-based industry provides ample opportunities to improve someone’s day. This means:

  • Answering needs in a timely manner
  • Maintaining an orderly business
  • Hiring the best people who are “bought-in” on the company’s mission
  • Prioritizing customer service
  • Anticipating needs before their spoken

This list is neither comprehensive in its relationship to the customer nor easy to consistently fulfill. And depending on the job, some people are predisposed to nitpick the care you provide. It is certainly not easy being a property manager, for instance, because of the sheer amount of demands placed upon them. But an attentive, positive landlord can make even the dismal routine of paying rent a pleasant experience.

It’s clear that positivity towards the essential, yet recurring, norms of life has everything to do with how and whom we choose to interact. As Wallace concludes, “the really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom.”

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