Being able to say that you’re busy is a great source of pride in this day and age. I can’t begin to count the number of blog posts I’ve read in the past year that start off with something along the lines of, “Another crazyyy busy week here in the Smith household! I worked 120 hours on my business, secured 87 new sponsorships that I am SO excited to share with y’all, read 25 novels and ran a marathon yesterday! How’s this week treated you?”
Of course, I have been so guilty of that myself. Not as much on JTC (I’d like to think), but definitely on my previous blogs while still in college. “Today I took three exams, cranked out a five-page paper, called both my parents, went out for dinner with E, and made it to the gym, too!” Cringe.
Even now, when I get on the phone with a faraway friend, I feel the need to impress upon them the busyness of my life. “Yes, it’s been crazy here lately! Wedding planning, work, crafting, blogging, hiking…”
Companies hire time management consultants or business coaches to increase employee efficiency. Countless articles on Pinterest teach us how to start a blog, coaching business, or another side hustle while we’re not at our day jobs. There are thousands upon thousands of blogs devoted to efficient homemaking, organizing, 30-minute healthy recipes, perfecting your daily routines, etcetera.
We don’t just appreciate productivity, we’re obsessed with it.
Where Did This Obsession Come From?
I’m not a social scientist, so I can’t say with any authority or certainty where this obsession originated. I can only draw on my own experience.
When I was a little girl, I did very well in school. I received a lot of praise from my teachers because of it. But I also noticed that my friends who didn’t perform as well didn’t receive nearly as much praise. So in time, I came to conflate academic growth and performance with my value as a person. I was praiseworthy because of my grades.
Learn and perform, learn and perform. It became a tried-and-true way to receive validation for my existence. I came to depend on it to bolster my confidence.
Unfortunately, many of us grew up in similar environments, where displaying proof of progress through our grades was of the utmost importance. We could never stagnate if we wanted to keep receiving validation. I think that this hyper-focus on progress is perhaps a large part of why we are so obsessed with productivity nowadays, even though we are far past grade-earning age: “See?! Look! I’m moving forward! I’m worth something!”
Life Before the Obsession Took Over
While I grew up addicted to getting good grades, the same definitely can’t be said of my nonacademic life prior to college. I never played sports for any school team, didn’t participate in many clubs, and was a rather lazy pianist.
Sometimes, I’d compare myself to my friends who worked hard to bulk up their resumes. They played on varsity teams, went to robotics competitions, played in the marching band or worked part-time jobs. I felt lazy. My guidance counselors would ask why I didn’t join a team or a club–it’d look better on paper for college. I felt guilty.
But instead, I spent hours every day after the bell rang doing what I truly loved: talking on the phone with my best friend N, walking in nature, reading, creating art, and writing in my journal. I wrote almost every day for six years in middle and high school, and have since returned to the practice.
I didn’t do any of these things because I felt like I had to; they weren’t particularly brag-able, anyways. I did them because my heart called me to do them. Doing my homework was producing, but doing these things was simply being.
And I’ll never regret those long afternoons. I learned so many things about myself and about life by just being. Working through my thoughts in my journal, writing short stories, sketching characters from my favorite books, slipping off of the park trail to watch deer in the meadow. I constantly felt rested and at peace in a way that I’ve rarely felt since going off to college. I struggled with many things as a teenager, but being in touch with my emotional state or expressing my feelings through positive outlets (like art and writing) were not among them.
Value in Simply Being
I hate all of the catch phrases we use to describe “indulging” in the parts of life that truly bring us pleasure. “Self-care,” “self-healing,” “slowing down,” “taking time for yourself,” whatever. I like “being,” because to me it implies a state of not focusing on moving forwards just for the sake of progress. Just so that we can say that we accomplished something.
I do not think that our self-worth should stem from how much we got done today, last month, or the past twenty years. Or that the value of a day, week or year should be defined or measured by how much we accomplished. What if we prefaced life updates, online and off, by talking about moments instead of metrics? Instead of saying, “life has been so busy lately,” “life has been so wonderful lately”?
The most valuable things in life often cannot be measured or proved. The lessons that we learn from introspection, the joy of finishing a work of art that we love, the peace that we feel while lying in a secluded meadow. There is no way to capture those things and communicate their value to others. They are not brag-able, but they are so very valuable and important to our wellbeing.
That’s not to say that there’s no value to tangible accomplishments. Graduating from college made me feel very proud, and it certainly elicited lots of praise from my family! But too often we treat these types of accomplishments as if that’s all there is to life, striving for and achieving these things.
So, no, Pinterest, I don’t want to be more productive. I don’t want to tick off more boxes on my to-do list. For the first time in a long time, I want to just be.