Modern life moves fast. But is it time to start making adjustments to how we’re playing the game?
In the early 90’s, the Buffalo Bills were the team to watch. They played the “hurry-up offense,” a no-huddle approach which was fast paced, exciting, and spontaneous. Quick audibles yelled from the line of scrimmage; plays developing from thin air; the opposition rushing across the field to take position or avoid offside calls. Players and fans alike sat on the edge of their seats not sure when or what the next call would be. It was non-stop action and it made for fantastic football.
Regardless of whether you’re a football fan or not, it’s a style of play you might recognize. Because twenty years later, society has taken a page from Marv Levy’s playbook and adopted it for modern living:
We are all playing the hurry-up offense.
Commuters rush to and from workdays filled with meetings, errands and coffee to go. Students whip off texts and posts while running between classes and extra-curriculars. Moms frantically fill out permission forms and throw together lunches before shoving disheveled kids out the front door for school. It’s not just me, is it? Life today is a constant succession of quick plays intended to move us downfield.
In 1959, Meyer Friedman, a San Francisco cardiologist, first documented this style of living and gave it a name: “Hurry Sickness.” Not surprisingly, he discovered the ailment while researching the causes of heart disease, and used it to describe a confluence of certain qualities—aka the Type A personality. Dr Friedman defined Hurry Sickness as, “a continuous struggle and unremitting attempt to accomplish or achieve more and more things or participate in more and more events in less and less time, frequently in the face of opposition, real or imagined, from other persons.”
I find Hurry Sickness is better described by its behaviors: changing lines at the supermarket thinking one will be the “fast lane;” multi-tasking but often forgetting things, like when you walk upstairs for a reason but forget why by the time you get there; cussing under your breath at the driver in front of you for slowing you down—because he is driving the speed limit.
I’m not sure Hurry Sickness is listed in the DSM-V, but if it were I could be its poster child, my husband and young children in the frame with me, our figures blurred as if the shutter speed was too slow. My mother, always in search of another item to add to my list of inadequacies, makes both subtle and blatant jabs at the way we live. Of course, she kept an impeccable house and garden, had a drink ready for my father when he walked through the door, and a home cooked meal on the table for the family every night at 6:00pm. Somehow, though, she never seemed to be in a hurry.
My own home is generally empty at 6:00pm. Chances are my husband is still at the office while I am in the car—throwing a granola bar and some carrots at the kids as we shuttle between Kumon and swim practice. Contrary to my mother, we are always rushing, running late, or searching for an item that got lost or left behind.
I like to think life was easier in my mother’s generation, raising us, as she did, in the age of latch-key parenting and childhood activities that centered on the concept of opening the front door. Today, people work longer hours, children are over-programmed, and the constant need to “get ahead” is surpassed only by the need to document it in perfectly curated social media outlets.
So the question crosses my mind (and no doubt my mother’s): Why are we playing the game this way, anyway?
In football, the hurry-up offense is intended to throw the opposition off track, limiting the number of opponent substitutions and forcing them to adjust on the fly. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, among others, have used this strategy to good effect in recent years. But what exactly are we using it for? And what game are we hoping to win?
Chances are, like most things we’re trying to outrun, this sense of urgency is based in fear; if we don’t do it all, and do it fast, we risk falling behind. Clearly, this is no way to live. They call it a “sickness,” after all. It’s no wonder levels of stress and anxiety continue to rise, along with the popularity of self-help, mindfulness and meditation fields. My husband and I do yoga and pilates to slow the constant turning of our lives and minds, despite having to jigsaw puzzle them into our schedules. Of course even when my mind should be focused on my breathing, or sleep, it’s still racing. Maybe that’s why I’m so exhausted all the time.
The fact is, living life in the hurry-up offense is not sustainable. Moreover, when you keep too many balls in the air you end up fumbling a few.
Which, of course, brings us back to the Buffalo Bills.
Jim Kelly and the boys made it to The Big Game four years in a row, firing past the regular season with their explosive offense. Yet, when it came to crunch time—as any fan soberly remembers— they never came through.
The Bills lost the Superbowl four years in a row.The problem with playing the hurry-up offense is that it doesn’t always lead to the win.
A good offense may be the best defense, but only when we are making real gains on the field. The hurry-up offense looks great as it unfolds and offers the chance for quick scoring. It feels like we are getting somewhere, fast. If we’re honest, we may be a bit drunk with the intoxicating adrenaline rush that builds as play progresses.
There’s a cost, though, to all this running around, the endless to-do lists, the ceaseless ticker tape scroll of our lives. When weighed against the losses—free time, family dinners, mental faculties—it’s hard to tell if we gaining ground. If we’re truly keeping score, have we come out on top? Or like the 1990 Buffalo Bills, are we hitting just wide, right of the mark?
Photo Credit: AP/Mark Duncan
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