It happened again the other night—this time at a neighborhood party.
“Did you see ________ on TV last night?”
And I have to smile quietly and answer “no. ” I believe “no” is a complete answer, but in this case, it’s not exactly a fair one.
Because I keep a secret that seems to freak people out. So hold on.
I don’t own a TV.
(Still here? Phew–thanks!)
Why I’m Telling This Story
First of all, this is not a diatribe against TV.
I LOVE TV.
I always have.
In fact, I am TV junkie. I have consumed it, studied it, and known way too much about what’s happening on it since I was a kid.
My friend Tom and I used to wait breathlessly for the new Saturday morning cartoons to launch; we’d read the TV Guide season preview issues with significantly more passion than we did our English homework. (He later went on to teach writing at the university level, so I guess this obsession didn’t harm us much.)
But a few years ago, I started noticing things.
- I was often tired, yet stayed up until midnight to watch Andy Cohen interview the latest pseudo-celeb. . . .
- I had a stack of books I wanted to read (I call it the “guilt stack”), but would turn on the TV instead of opening one of them after work or on the weekends. . .
- I had a passion for my work and cared deeply about creating new tools for my clients and readers. But I never seemed to have enough time to get everything done I wanted to get done. But I did have time to watch the same “Real Housewives” reunion more than once. . .
Yes, that was me. And there were probably more behaviors that weren’t doing my brain or body any good.
Sure, I could rationalize all I wanted that I was using TV to relax/to learn/to stay current/fill-in-excuse-here, but the reality was, I was overdosing on TV.
The Opportunity for Change
My year without TV began when I was thinking about “cutting the cord” anyway.
The allure is great: just fire the cable company and be more selective, intentional about what you watch.
But every time I got close to that, I chickened out.
What about the local news? What about in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep? What about channel surfing during the morning shows so you could distill the five minutes of news in between ads and network promos? I wasn’t sure I had the discipline to stream.
So I kept with the status quo, which was to pay about $90 a month to the TV provider monopoly in my city.
But then, I decided it was time to move. It was time to suck up my courage, make myself uncomfortable and shake up everything in my life. New city, new house, new everything.
Except no TV.
I didn’t move any TVs. I didn’t buy new. I didn’t set up a hookup anywhere in my new house. No cable, no streaming capabilities, nada.
Three Lessons I’ve Learned Along the Way
My year without TV has turned into seven, and still going strong. This little experiment hasn’t always been easy.
But it has been interesting.
And I was hesitant to tell you about it here, except that I keep hearing from you that you want many of the same things I did:
- More rest;
- More time for learning;
- More time spent with friends or doing things you care about; or
- Less brain space cluttered with facts and stories that don’t really matter, so you can get clarity on what does.
So I decided to come clean and tell you about what I did, and what I’ve learned.
Here are the three lessons I’ve gained so far.
Lesson #1: I’ll Always Know Enough
Years ago in the pre-cellphone pre-internet Mesozoic age, I had a friend who didn’t wear a watch.
The guy was an experienced professional working in Manhattan. I couldn’t imagine how he got by without knowing the time, so I asked.
He showed me his tricks for looking at people’s watches upside down on their wrist. He pointed out how most of the rooms in our office space had wall clocks.
And he shared his most honest trick, which was asking, “Do you have the time?”
This is kind of how I get along without having TV in my house. I have my tricks. And with them, I find I always know enough.
I eavesdrop on people, who often gossip about the news of the day. I listen to the radio. I scan headlines in my local paper and The New York Times online, going deeper when the topic interests me. I notice what friends are sharing on Facebook, and what’s trending nationally.
I get by.
I haven’t felt less informed, or less cool, or less current.
(Yes, I did miss the latest Kardashian scandal by about three days, but I can live with that.)
Lesson #2: Silence Can Be Golden
Being a speaker and a coach, I talk a lot professionally.
So when I’m home alone, it’s kind of nice to be in the quiet.
Before going TV-free, I automatically turned on the set when I got home, immediately filling the air with noise and stimulation.
Sometimes, I’d even talk back to the TV. Even alone I couldn’t shut up.
Without TV, I now have a better appreciation for silence. It’s helped me hear my own voice better. The voice that says, “you’re tired; go to bed.” The voice that says, “here’s a great idea; now put it on your project list.” Or the voice that says, “You’re lonely; call a friend or get out of the house.”
I’ve not mastered getting quiet in my head (those of you practicing meditation as a leadership skill have lots to teach me), but I can make my surroundings quiet and get a jump start on peace.
Lesson #3: Feed the Beast But Don’t Invite Him In
I know the TV junkie in me is still awake and alive. So from time-to-time, I feed the beast.
I see the evening news if I’m visiting my mom’s house over dinner. I go to sports bars with friends to watch football. I’ll turn the flat screen on in a hotel room while traveling.
But I don’t feed him in my own house.
Because I know that once I do, it’s a slippery slope toward him edging out all the other good things I’d like to have and letting him once again play too big a role in my life.
An Added Plus: A Thousand Bucks
While this isn’t really a lesson, it’s another truth for me: that not having TV in the house has saved me about $1000 a year.
Add in whatever my TVs used to cost me in electricity, and that’s a significant chunk of change to help continue to sustain financial freedom in my life.
Is a Year Without TV (or Month, or Week) Right For You?
I’ll admit that abandoning TV at home isn’t for everyone.
And if you love TV and think you could never live without it, I can relate. That was me.
But if you’ve ever wondered what life would be like without TV, maybe there’s a small experiment you want to try.
Like no TV on Mondays (or pick the easiest day for you). Or no TV after 10 pm. Or no TV in the bedroom (where studies show the blue screen effect disrupts your sleep patterns–I know it did mine.)
Or make something else up, like no morning shows or no reality series.
Maybe you’ll want to try something like that. Maybe my story will help.
And if not, well, please tell me what’s new with the Kardashians.
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