For as far back as I can remember, I have admired and longed to be the person that is so busy, so overbooked, that every minute is more valuable than gold. Feeling productive was maintained through being able to complete more than one project at a time and juggling my attention in multiple directions. Feeling productive was about being efficient, able to calculate each minute of the day to forward commitments, no matter how tight and/or multiple these overlaps became. Breakfast needs to be mobile, cars need to have blue tooth, bathroom breaks are considered networking opportunities, and even over-the-phone meetings. Trips to the water-cooler became simultaneous political strategies, and leaving work on time was only acceptable if there was something else awaiting your attention elsewhere. Collapsing into bed was my sign that I was pushing myself to live a bigger fuller life, that I was contributing something that was necessary and needed me and only me to do it. Running about multitasking was my que that I was on the right track, and my time, and therefor I was valuable.
But I’m starting to see this line of thinking as being a lot like modern factory logic. The concern for product, for faster, cheaper, more efficient methods of producing lends itself to the conveyor belt system, and it doesn’t belong in my mind as a way for me to treat myself or my body. Being “productive” (as we know it today) is a Capitalist invention, and is sustained through us each seeking self worth. If time is money, and I work more efficiently, and I am completely necessary for the success of xyz… then I am valuable. What if we could shake ourselves out of this perspective and know that we are inherently valueable, not because of how many meetings we can crank out, or how many products we can manufacture…
Combine the factory-esque understanding of value, and our own internal anxieties around self worth, and then bring in the American Way “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” attraction, and we have a nation filled with overworked, under valued, lone wolfs with crippling self esteem that don’t ask for help. I count myself in those numbers. When I feel unproductive, I feel depressed. My output is directly connected somehow to my happiness. When friends of mine leave their jobs and move to Hawaii, or travel the world, I wonder if they can be fulfilled, or if they are using their skills to contribute to the world. When I lost my job, I slid into a depression. Going from non-stop management to suddenly sitting at peace in my backyard was shocking, and I suddenly started to doubt my worth. As I’ve been realizing that the need for speed is a social construction, I’ve been actively breaking down as much as I can of my assumptions of time, value, and productivity. I’ve been taking care of myself, and doing what I love. Staying present with my projects has been a challenge to re-train myself in. I sit at the pottery wheel, trying to stay focused just on that clay, speeding through my fingers, but I inevitably start to think about my to-do list and the clay collapses without my full attention and care. I see the importance of relishing each moment, not forcing tasks into submission to fit like sardines into a schedule. I wonder, that if we work to reverse our need for speed, and cherish each moment, that we can stop searching for the end of the race, and be fulfilled now (not when the work is done– which it never is).
After now almost a year it is still hard to allow myself to feel worthy while staying present. I have been actively working to re-imagine what being “productive” feels like, and how I truly value my work, and my gifts to the world.
Over the past month I’ve been looking for a job in the Bay Area that serves my need to work outside my home, and help me dive back into my activist roots. For the last three weeks I’ve been working with a powerful, passionate, and intelligent woman and her non-profit, serving local communities of color through environmental sustainability and health reform advocacy work. Every time I hear more about what they are doing and what they are committed to, I get goose bumps.
But as suspected, I am coming face to face with my old friend, speed. We have all contributed to the expectation for speed at any cost. We have enabled Capitalist structures to imbed themselves into our psyche so far that we are hurting ourselves to move faster. We treat ourselves and others like machines, and even work through the pain when we break down. Yes, we are needed, and vital to whichever projects we are working on… but not stopping, and not asking for help is unworkable, and only threatens the very work we so dedicate ourselves to. If we fall out (get sick, step away…) and the work we do falls and dies, then we did not set ourselves up for success. We set ourselves up for dependency.
This is the story of what I’ve been seeing with this organization that I am working for right now. The leader is so passionate, and yet has created a one-woman show where everything that progresses in the work of the organization necessitates her involvement. She has not trained and empowered leadership outside of herself, or handed off tasks to others, but rather has worked herself into becoming the heart and soul of the organization, with it unable to move an inch if she were to leave. It’s a dependency that I know all too well, and know that it doesn’t end well.
We all need each other’s help, and we all need to remember that sometimes our egos can run the show and demand more from us than necessary, just because we need to feel worthy and valuable within a culture founded in corporate greed and high rates of production.
We are valuable, the work we do is valuable, and we just need to slow down to see it.