Column By Virginia Young, ALC
You’re on a hamster wheel. … You’re running, forward moving, striving and don’t know how to just not. The day is winding down. The sun is setting. Nightly routines have begun, but your mind and body are not cooperating, still buzzing along at a harried pace. Logically, you understand that it’s time to slow down, but physically, there is a tug of frustration and annoyance that keeps that wheel turning. And even on very FULL days with little margin for joy or rest, it feels like that everyday-kind-of-busyness doesn’t seem to “count.” So, we are left with a sense that we didn’t get a thing done, a sense that is always accompanied by nagging restlessness and anxiety. Just like that, you
don’t have permission to be done. Your internal drive continues until it is satisfied. After all, it seems your rest has to be earned.
Personally, it’s easy for me to blame this sense of internal, motor-like drive, on my ADHD, but if I’m honest, being comfortable with rest is an area of weakness for me.
Sure, there are reasons I idle at this level of intensity, and I can justify all of those reasons, but also, busyness kind of works for me socially and culturally. People around me state,“How do you do it?” “I don’t know how you do it?” “I’m not like you,” comments that certainly reflect our American cultural ideals of doing it all, and all by yourself. In fact, on the website USAHello, there is a whole article that points out that individually performed hard work is considered a reason “for praise … being busy with work and activities is something to be proud of,” (2023). These ideals stem from concepts like the “American Dream” where the unlikely “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” and concepts like “America, the Land of Opportunity,” something we dare not waste; our hard work stacking on the backs of the hard workers before us.
Let’s be real, it is obvious that industrialization after WWII threw America into an obsession with efficiency and productivity. Doing more and getting more, for less … less time, more work. Less workers, more productivity. Less resources, more output. As Dorcas Cheng-tozun states (2016), “busyness, once seen as the curse of the disadvantaged, has become equated with status and importance.”
In fact, “hustle” and “boss” culture” are direct examples of this. Regardless of the fact that all of our machines and advances in technology were likely intended to make our lives easier, they can also fuel this insatiable drive by allowing the individual to accomplish three times as much with just the push of a few buttons. Without an intentional shift in thinking and doing, these modern conveniences can simply make it all the more possible for us to push the limits of productivity to new heights and perpetuate the myth that productivity is the same as purpose.
The drive for more can bleed into everything. Practically speaking, it’s easy to see how it shows up at work with constant connection to email, text, apps, etc., alongside non-stop marketing and streams of information coming at us from every direction. This always-on reality has shifted productivity expectations ever higher as anyone can now “work” anytime from anywhere, and it has become increasingly expected that you will.
But productivity and efficiency are not just limited to career, but find their way into nearly every other life space. Social media is full of cleaning videos, work outs, eating and nutrition, minimalism, parenting, fashion, etc., Endless advice on endless subjects. And while, certainly, this advice can be helpful and hacks can solve real struggles, indirectly or otherwise, these tips and tricks can be received as messages or expectations.
— Insert Sarcasm —
What? Why can’t you just … keep everything clean, home-make every meal with actually organic, from scratch ingredients; labels which you have meticulously scanned with a fine toothed comb, or better yet, grown yourself … in your spare time, not forgetting, of course, to post about it with curated videos and advice on how “you, too” can do this.
Prepare yourself, reader. I’m going to state the obvious, and I’m going to state the obvious with a quote because clearly this line of thinking is not strictly mine. “Humans are not machines,” (Staff, 2023). We are not meant to be. AND this is good. We have far more parameters and intentional limitations than we like to think. Our finitude is quite individual. Our limits and humanness, though full of overlap and similarity, are also unique. And this is as it should be (Kapic, 2022). Diversity is a concept woven through all natural elements. But to take it further, the quote above goes on to say, “[humans are not machines,] and attempting to maintain constant productivity is a recipe for burnout,” (Staff, 2023).
Please note, it is this warning that I came here to make. As an industrialized people, we are both intentionally and unintentionally programmed that our worth is directly tied to our productivity. It is a message woven into culture through what and how we praise on social and other media. This message threads through our jobs, to our children through their schooling and extra-curricular responsibilities.
Truthfully, this message can appear to be a nod to valuing the community over the individual, like we are sacrificing our peace for the whole, but this is artificial. On the outside, the neglect of self looks like selflessness and martyrdom, maybe even some level of heroism … but in reality, it often comes from a self-centric desire to be recognized as exceptional. The always-on life is unhealthy but is many times used as an acceptable means of avoiding the discomfort of change. And I’m with you, kin. The discomfort and uncertainty of stepping out of the stream of culture with its constant striving seems risky in a lot of ways. How does one even do that when everything around us is designed with this expectation and pull? In my
research for this article, I looked into info on the slow living movement, a movement that reflects the pandemic-accelerated shift of many away from productivity as their purpose, and to intentionally cultivating a life of meaning, worth living.
Slow living is described as “a mindset whereby you curate a more meaningful and conscious lifestyle that’s in line with what you value most in life … living better, not faster,” (Crane, 2023).
In a thousand ways this is as ancient as it is “new”. Meditation, prayer, yoga, mindfulness, even the making and taking of tea, are all practices that have come and gone and come again in their popularity as mainstream “health and wellness” practices.
Like nearly everything in history, the wisdom of slowing down, rest and pause continues to reappear as a necessary counter-response to culture. The need to regulate demands and output is timeless, but with the increase in cultural pace, our awareness of and attendance to our own needs is grossly minimized leaving us feeling desperate.
It is time to shift our paradigm on productivity. The purpose of human existence is not simply to produce until we are used up and then die. Human worth and value is not dependent on what we can produce and how efficiently. Our purpose will be individual in the way of diversity. Your skills, talents and values align in a way that makes you pricelessly unique and distinctly necessary. Without plowing through a bookful of thoughts on intrinsic value, I will let you in on the secret to escaping the hamster wheel.
When you learn your values and then live them authentically and unashamed, you will find peace (unconditional rest) and joy. But if you, like me for so many years, are stuck in that spinning state, maybe it would help to note that even machines need care, maintenance and rest. Overused machines breakdown, overheat, trip safety mechanisms that force quit. In much the same way, overtaxed humans can end up with a a great number of problems including depression, substance abuse, shortened lifespans, a great number of illnesses, isolation and disconnection at the social and emotional levels, breakdown and more.
It is time, my friends. Time to schedule that rest. Yes, put it in the calendar. If we wrote prescriptions as counselors, I’d write you an Rx for self care. Echoing these sentiments, Rabbi Michael Barclay writes, “We must pause. We must disconnect from the issues of the physical world for one to two hours per day… Take an hour or two a day and give yourself permission to disconnect from your phone, computer, television and news source. Go outside and appreciate the beauty of life. Listen to your favorite music, work out, play a silly video game or board game with a friend, share a cigar or glass of wine with a loved one or do whatever you need to in order to emotionally and spiritually disconnect from the … all news. And don’t feel guilty about it, but rather recognize that this pause is important,” (2023).
You see, rest is not something to be earned. We don’t need to justify it. It is a part of who and how we are made. “Rest is an end in itself,” (Koessler, 2016). Sometimes being intentionally unproductive is the most productive thing you can do.
Virginia Young, ALC works under the supervision of Dr. Misty Smith. She has a bachelor’s degree in music — voice performance, a master’s degree in arts in worship ministries and a Master of Science degree in clinical mental health counseling. She will be featured as a regular columnist in LIVE Lee non-themed issues from here on out.
Barclay, Rabbi Michael. (October, 2023). The Importance of Pausing. PJMedia.
Chang-tozun, Dorcas. (February, 2016). You Were Never Meant to be ‘Productive’. Christianity Today.
Crane, Beth. (August, 2023). What is Slow Living: Meaning of Slow Living. Slow Living LDN.
Koessler, John. (2016). The Radical Pursuit of Rest: Escaping the Productivity Trap. InterVarsity Press.
Staff. (2023). What is Productivity?. Psychology Today.
Staff. (2023). What are the most Important American Values? USAHello.