Most of us get the same lessons handed to us again and again throughout our lives so that we can change and evolve and become better versions of ourselves. One of my recurring lessons is this:
My worth is not tied to how productive I am.
This is a tough one for me, and one I thought I’d pretty much dealt with over the past couple of years. I can see rationally why my value doesn’t lie in what I do or produce, but gnarly messages still rear their heads sometimes when I take a break or want to do less.
I think this is a common issue for those of us raised in the United States. We were fed a narrative that says that we’re the hardest-working country on earth – a country full of scrappy individualists who carved out their place in the world with sweat, blood, and tears. Of course, this isn’t true – African slaves built this country, and besides, there was no country needed, as this place was already inhabited and cared for by Native tribes.
Still, we were told again and again that if you just work hard enough, you can succeed here, no matter what.
If it were an equation it would be Hard Work = Success. So simple!
But it isn’t that simple, is it? These beliefs – that we are what and how much we produce, or that the good life lies just on the other side of decades of drudgery – get stuck in our systems. We repeat them over and over to ourselves, and it’s no wonder that we feel like lazy pieces of shit when we’re out of work or unsure of what it is that we want to create for the world.
These messages become part of us, and even when we think we’ve gotten past them, something else comes up to remind us that we have more work to do.
For me, that reminder has been getting pregnant and growing a little being inside my belly for the past four months or so (Integrated Baby coming March 2017!).
My pregnancy so far has been a mixed bag of feelings. Sometimes it’s lovely, full of joy and excitement, and other times I’ve just wanted to be done with it, forever. The nausea, exhaustion, and an entirely new set of rules about what’s good and not good for me has, at times, felt like a burden I don’t want to bear.
More than anything, this pregnancy has challenged my beliefs about myself, once again showing me how addicted I am to this need to feel productive.
Now that there’s a ticking clock until baby arrives and my life changes forever, I feel extra pressure to put my head down and do work.
Except my body’s like, “No.”
Most mornings in the first trimester, I wanted to lay down and watch nature videos instead of doing my usual uber-productive meditation and writing routine. By about 2pm most days, I’m completely drained and wonder how anyone works until 5 or 6 every day. I simply can’t do as much as I used to, and that’s been tough to accept.
These changes have forced me to shed, more than ever, the harmful beliefs I have about what it means to be a hard-working, professional woman. Which is very frustrating at times (why can’t I just do more?!), but is also a huge gift.
Our addiction to productivity robs us of the sweetness of slowing down. When we’re compelled to go slower, whether it’s because of a pregnancy, an illness, or just being too damn tired to keep going, we have an opportunity to look more closely at ourselves and the lives we’re living. However, we miss out on the gifts of that time when we spend it chastising ourselves for not going faster.
Who would you be if you weren’t able to produce or “add value” in your organization anymore?
What’s underneath what you’ve achieved, and what would still be there if you were never able to work again?
I bet there are things in your life that are being overshadowed by our cultural addiction to productivity. Maybe you’re falling in love and just want more time with your sweetie, or maybe your body is undergoing major changes like mine, or maybe you just want to spend an hour staring out your window.
What can you reclaim by doing a little less today?
Can you slough off any shame or guilt you feel for going at a pace that works better for you and your body?
Like any addiction, productivity or workaholism numbs us from feeling what we feel, and that’s usually things like fear and shame. Part of recovery is looking at those parts of us that want to hide and lovingly holding them instead of bulldozing over them with more and more of our drug of choice.
If any of this rings true for you today – if you think you might have work to do in this arena – then I invite you to slow down and look at why you feel the need to do more.
If it’s helpful for you to process this with other people, I encourage you to check out our Facebook group, where we discuss issues like this.