The Productivity Myth

This post is dated 7/10/16 and has been taken from my old blog.

So I’ve decided not to take my second summer class at UW-Madison.

Although I grappled with the question for a while (whether to take the class or not), I realized that it’s really not how I want to spend the rest of my summer, plus I don’t need to take the class right now.

But then why was this decision so difficult for me?

This is the issue I want to delve into. Many of us believe that if we are not doing something “productive”, whether that be working or taking classes, we are being lazy. Some of us, including myself, even go as far as to think we cannot be happy or have self-worth if we are not spending our time productively. However, when I am working or taking classes, I spend much of the time looking forward to when I’m done working or when I’m finished with all of my homework for the day. I think we can all agree: working and studying are, for the most part, not inherently fun.

My decision made me feel trapped. Every time I decided to take the class, I was filled with anxiety. But every time I decided not to take the class, the anxiety hit just as hard.

I felt like this second anxiety was where my bigger issue lay. If I have worked hard my whole life to enjoy the free time I have, why am I so disturbed by the idea of having free time?

I think the answer is that we are taught that when we are not working or in school, we are being lazy. Society tells us that with the exception of holidays and a few week-long vacations throughout the year, we should be spending our time “productively”.

But why can’t taking some time off and enjoying ourselves be considered productive?

I often find that when I’m not caught up in the hype of work or school, I experience my greatest spiritual growth. Many of us feel the need to keep ourselves constantly busy because we can’t stand being in our own heads, left with the thoughts that haunt us. We bury the desire for personal/spiritual growth deep inside ourselves because it’s easier to obtain self-worth from society. When we get an A in a class or are praised by our boss at work, we believe we are receiving all of the validation we need.

But what many of us lack is self-validation. This is one of my biggest pitfalls.

I, like many others, constantly seek validation from others. Whether it be my professors at school, my friends, or my parents, I feel the need to be told that I’m doing a good job, that I have worth. When I’m sitting around “doing nothing”, who is going to tell me I have worth? If I binge watch a show or color (yes, I have several coloring books, but they define themselves as “adult coloring books” so I’m fine right?) no one is going to give me a gold star. More likely, someone might say, “oh my gosh, you have no life” or “yep, that’s what happens when you have nothing to do.”

To these people, I would counter that enjoying life and taking a break are necessities that most people deprive themselves of. I sincerely believe that U.S. society severely undervalues spiritual growth and free time. It’s no wonder many people in our country go off the deep-end: even if you need a break, there is no time for such musings. There is always time to fix the problem we are having with a customer, but there is no time to fix the problems we are dealing with at home or in our heads.

If you want to work on yourself, you aren’t going to be able to figure things out over a week-long vacay to the Bahamas. You’re going to have fun, you’re going to enjoy yourself, and you’ll probably say you feel rejuvenated when you get back, but there’s no way you spent your vacation reflecting inward. You didn’t spend time learning about yourself or peeling the tape off of the box of insecurities you’ve stashed deep inside yourself.

But when we force ourselves to stop for a prolonged period of time, we are often able to grow. It is a great tragedy that our society does not see the value in this, but I encourage you to start busting the productivity myth and stop forcing yourself to do things you don’t want to do when you don’t need to do them. Enjoying yourself and relaxing are just as productive as working an 8-hour shift or taking a class. I would say that becoming a happier and more relaxed member of society is an extremely productive outcome.

You deserve to take a break.

Love life, love yourself, and love those around you. You’re a precious gem, the only one of your kind, and no one needs to tell you that.

Much love,

Jordan

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