Living Virtually

For the last week, I’ve spent most of my waking hours living and breathing virtualization. Server virtualization, to be slightly more specific. To explain server virtualization in a nutshell (because I know you can’t help but what to know), there’s one physical server that you can see and touch and throw in the river when it starts misbehaving. That physical server will then run many virtual servers. These virtual servers only think they have a physical hard drive and memory; in reality, these virtual servers are completely made from imagination and the resources of the physical server.

I know, I know — I don’t mean to go all geek on you (and for any geeks out there, yes, I realize that my explanation isn’t entirely correct … just loosen up and go with it, okay?). But hang with me because I’m getting to a point, a non-geeky point, I promise.

First, a very short primer on the physical server and the virtual servers it hosts:

So, this one physical server can spin up many virtual servers. If the physical server has more resources than what all the virtual servers demand, then life is good. There’s resources to spare and all the virtual servers get everything they need.

Spin up a few more virtual servers, and then physical server starts to sweat a little. It’s time to start divvying up resources on an as-needed basis. Maybe virtual server #1 is doing nothing but hosting files and isn’t working too hard, so the physical server will take some resources from there and give it to virtual server #2 that’s taking care of email — am I the only one who thinks email is evil? — and all the servers are happy.

Then, a few more virtual servers are added. Uh, oh. Now the physical server looks like a circus act giving and taking back resources faster than the virtual servers can even make use of them. No servers are happy, no servers are getting anything done. Everything comes to a gridlocked standstill.

In the midst of all this, I realized that I’m just like that physical server (see, I told you I’d get to my point eventually). I’ve got a certain amount of resources — time, energy, motivation — and things to devote these resources to. If I have only a few of these things in my life, it’s all great. I’ve got resources to spare! That means that I’m getting 8 hours of sleep every night, I’m happy and content with what I’m doing and my activities are thriving because of the attention that I’m able to give to them.

But then, I add a few more things on. Perhaps I pick up mountain biking. Or coding. Or anything else that takes up time and energy. I’m probably still okay. Maybe each activity in my life isn’t getting everything they want at every instant, but I’m able to make decisions about what’s important at any given time. Perhaps today it’s sunny and 70 degrees and gorgeous out — time to go running or biking! Or maybe I had a great idea about something to write about — time to stay in a peck away at the computer for awhile. But all in all, it’s good and I’m not so busy that I can’t get things done.

Until, of course, I keep adding new activities to the list without giving up any of the other ones. That’s pretty bad news — I just don’t have the resources to do anything well and trying just makes me stressed out. I’ll lose sleep, I’ll run around like someone with ADHD on Red Bull and I’ll always feel like I’m not doing enough.

The point of all this … managing resources, whether it’s memory, CPU and hard disk or time, energy and motivation is where it’s at. I’ve felt that keenly this week as I’ve really tried to Do All The Things and have failed miserably. I got cranky and stressed, didn’t get nearly enough sleep and still didn’t really get anything done. Strike three and I’m out.

I admit, it was kind of a weird moment when I stopped, cocked my head just like Belle does when she’s confused about what stupid human thing I’m doing, and realized that I’m just like a computer, except without the good memory. And without the ability to schedule resources as rationally as a computer could. Which is how I got to the point where I was trying to fit in working, doing off-hours work to study up for a certification exam, trying to fit in training, writing every day, finishing up the library books that were getting egregiously overdue and, you know, eating and sleeping all into an inconveniently-short 24-hour day.

I’m lucky in a way — this past week was more of an anomaly for me– but for so many, this is just normal life. It’s like busyness has become a sort of status symbol, where we’re always trying to one-up people: “Oh, you get 5 hours of sleep a night? I could never sleep so much and get everything done!”

I suppose it’s quality over quantity, to simplify it down to a cliche. It’s important to have a few activities that you love dearly than so many that you risk not being able to create a relationship with what you want. Being mindful and present can’t happen when you’re worried about what’s coming up next and how you’re going to fit it in. And only by being mindful and really living in the moment can you truly enjoy your life and the activities that you choose to fill it with.


When I first started thinking about this, I grabbed my journal and started sketching. Needless to say, drawing is not one of the activities that I’m going to spend my precious resources on. You’re welcome.

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  1. Gosh, all that computer talk is clever, I have no idea how it works at all. But I can and do fully identify with having too much to do, not prioritising, and not really making a good job of anything much as a result. I guess it’s down to prioritising, and organisation, and not being perfect at everything., all the time. X

  2. Don’t you love how EVERYTHING is a metaphor? I love that. I don’t often look to technology for my metaphors, but you got me, Laura! Thank you for the tour. 🙂

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