Why You Don’t (Actually) Suck: What to Do When the “Abyss” Stares BACK
I’ve finally returned safe and sound from keynoting for the Cruising Writers and realized Cait broke into my blog again. CLUE: Cookie crumbs, glitter, red wine stains, and CAIT WUZ HERE LUZR written in crayon on my WP dashboard.
I would expect no less.
Truthfully, I love when she “breaks in” because she’s a master of dropping truth bombs (as well as cookie crumbs), which I hope y’all noted with her last post.
Cait also wrote another blog on HER page: Unproductive: Why the Productivity Industry is Killing Us, which I’d like to riff off today. Productivity can be a good thing, but can also become a soul-sucking abyss.
To quote the great inspirational life coach Freidrich Nitezsche:
“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” ~ Freidrich Nietzsche Beyond Good and Evil (Aphorism 146)
Part of me wonders if Nietzsche was like some 19th century Nostradamus who had a vision of my Yahoo mail *shudders*. As usual, Cait had excellent points about our cultural obsession with being more productive. Talk about facing the meaningless existence.
Alas, productivity in and of itself is neutral. Like TNT, radiation, sugar, or yoga pants, “productivity” is neither inherently good or bad.
The nature of “productivity” is always in how we conceptualize and then apply it. If we fail to take control and define our own metrics? We’ll be like a rudderless ship caught in a storm bracing for the inevitable.
Tossed this way and that until we’re ripped apart or run aground, coughing up mixed metaphors.
What’s the Abyss?
You might be wondering why I’m taking time to mention the abyss at all (other than that quoting Nietzsche makes me sound smart).
It’s because productivity when left as a vague construct is just that…an abyss. It’s a black hole, a singularity that can crush everything. A place where no light escapes.
The entire POINT of being more productive—allegedly—is so we can enjoy more free time. Ah, but here’s the rub. We free up time and it creates a vacuum which sucks in more stuff we “must” get done.
This then propels many of us to download an app, buy a new planner, ponder if cloning truly is all THAT unethical after all…
Why? Because we’ve either a) added more stuff onto our own To Do List OR b) allowed other people to shovel their $#@! onto our list.
We can all fall victim to the productivity abyss. It’s so easy to spiral into fixating on all we do poorly. Instead of noting what we’ve accomplished (and maybe celebrating a little), we can only seem to see what we didn’t do.
We pick at every flaw, berating how we could have done better, tried harder, accomplished more.
The world—our culture—wants us to think this way. Why? Because if we believe we’re a never ending failure, they can sell us a program, a book, an app, a service, a pill, a plan, a shrink or all of the above.
Before we go any further, I am a huge fan of books, plans, apps, and organizational tools.
Namely buying them…then hoping osmosis can take things from there (not much success on this front, btw).
Sure, on some level, I agree with Cait that the productivity grift is real. Anyone who’s ever been efficient at a “real job” learns quickly to be quiet about that skill…unless you want to be doing the job of three people.
For the same pay.
Alas, while the abyss is real we have to watch either/or thinking. If we fail to define what we want, what productivity means, and WHY we are bothering being productive in the first place, the abyss will eat us alive. We’re inexplicably despondent because we’re exhausted from all this activity that seems to propel us nowhere.
Conversely, we cannot do and control everything. Some of us need a reality check…or a sponsor who can look at our goals and then lovingly inform us we’re totally crazy.
This tends to be a unique problem for us Type A+ folks.
***Yes, Type A+ because we did the extra credit unlike the other slackers.
To define productivity, we need to first seek awareness. Like piling all the stuff from your closet on the bed then sorting through what to keep, what to donate (delegate) and what to trash. If we have no idea what our priorities are, what order they’re in, then we have no hope of defining a meaningful metric to measure success.
Malevolent Metrics & the Abyss
The abyss looooves for us to adopt no metrics or absurd metrics. We’ll be happy when we have five percent body fat, no wrinkles, a spotless home, children who speak three languages, and we donate a month a year serving the homeless in Darfur.
***Makes mental note to find actual location of Darfur.
One thing that jumped out at me when I read Cait’s post was how we can so easily mistake activity or busyness with productivity.
The world claims: Busy is GOOD and not busy is BAD (unproductive).
This is a seriously jacked up metric.
If you’ll pause with me a moment, you’ll see how this makes no sense and is completely at odds with natural law. Our culture (Western culture in particular) shames us for taking time off, going on vacation, sitting still in the quiet…doing….nothing.
Yet, nature has seasons. Winter is the time the world RESTS. This is when the trees deepen their roots so they can better weather and even survive future storms and droughts.
How many of us fall apart when life slams into us because our roots are too shallow?
Nature also teaches us that land that’s overworked eventually won’t produce. If forced to produce, each successive crop will be increasingly sicklier and leaner because the ground is depleted.
The ideal in farming is to let the land go fallow. Give it time to do…NOTHING. Time to “produce” what it wants—dandelions, sunflowers, crabgrass, poison ivy, ant hills, weeds.
When the land has time to do NOTHING, time to be UNproductive….it comes back better than ever.
Why do we use the term, “Dumb as dirt”? Seems to me the dirt’s smarter than I am. The dirt, at least, knows it needs a break. Knows winter is it’s time to…chill 😉 .
Ah, but modern industrial farms believe they can break the natural rules. They artificially add critical nutrients using chemicals and science and produce bumper crops of freakishly large berries that taste like…nothing. Outside looks pretty, but the proof is on the palate.
How many of us are doing the same thing? Using caffeine, energy drinks, sugar, motivational speakers to try to replenish what rest could do much better? We, too, look pretty on the outside but in truth? Life has lost all flavor. Our writing is bleh, our passion threadbare, our mind is moth-eaten and dreams all dusty.
Healthy Metrics, Happy Heart
Rest IS being productive. Being still, learning to be quiet, giving ourselves permission to enjoy the moment is crucial. When WE define what productive means, the abyss retreats. If my definition of success is a peaceful, joy-filled family then me screaming at everyone threatening them with a can of Endust does NOT serve my metric.
As writers, are we enjoying writing? When was the last time you had FUN? Science has proven the almost miraculous benefits of daydreaming. We do our best thinking when NOT thinking, our best problem-solving when NOT problem-solving. Maybe, just maybe we need not a NOT TO DO LIST way more than a TO DO LIST.
I get that I’m not saying anything you’ve not heard before. Encouragement is vital. We are a distracted species, now more than ever and need to be reminded of what we know to be true.
“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing, that’s why we recommend it daily.” ~ Zig Ziglar
Nietzsche and Ziglar are both making the same point. We become what we focus on the most. If we focus on how we can’t get it all done, how we suck because we didn’t do X, Y, T, D, F and B and only did all twenty other of the letters in the alphabet…we’re doomed.
Perception is reality. Ah, but since that is still a tad existential, here are some practical tips for keeping the abyss at bay.
Not everyone should have permission to walk in and out of our lives. Boundaries benefit everyone. Givers must set boundaries because takers never will. Guilt is a lie and boundaries benefit everyone.
I know it can be a tough life skill to master, but if we want to keep the abyss at bay we gotta learn to Invoke the No.
Computer acts up, what do we do? Unplug it for a while. Works on people, too. Take regular breaks. The best thing we can do is prioritize rest. Think vacations are pricey? Try burnout.
I know I’ve blogged on ALL of these action items and I strive to walk my talk. Tuesday, I returned from keynoting for the Cruising Writers retreat (and will have more things to say about that later).
I had NO idea how battered I was from stress until I stepped onto a boat with no email, no wifi, no social media, and no life/family drama. A place where it was OKAY for dirty clothes to go in a closet and a place where I didn’t have to do dishes. This magical dreamland where having FUN was the entire POINT.
My left eye stopped twitching after a day or so.
Granted, I worked my tail off (being the speaker and all). But, just having a week where all that other “stuff” was peeled off my shoulders opened my eyes. Too many of my priorities were (are) seriously out of whack. But guess what? REST helped me see this. Having a break gave me perspective.
Whose To Do List am I doing anyway? Do I really HAVE to be doing blah blah blah blah? Maybe, maybe not.
In fact…probably not.
If I’ve not convinced you, maybe Henri can.
For those who’ve not yet encountered the fabulous Henri the Existentialist Cat (a.k.a. Ennui Cat), you’re welcome. You can also get your own copy of Henri’s book Henri, le Chat Noir: The Existential Musings of an Angst-Filled Cat so you can hold authentic suffering in your own hands.
What Are Your Thoughts?
Other than going as “crippling self-doubt” for Halloween? Are you like me and can be your own worst enemy? Fall prey to organizers, planners, apps only to end up MORE confused? Which planner did I write that in?
Has it been too long since you had a break? Do you feel guilty for taking a nap? Reading a book? Enjoying a movie? Believe you should be at least folding laundry or doing yoga at the same time? Have you hit a wall where nothing seems fun anymore? And maybe your metrics need resetting?
I swear my personal metrics need to be reset more than my Apple password *face palm* .
Or are you good at setting boundaries and priorities? How do you do it?
Other than being a cyborg? KIDDING!
*mumbles* Not really.
What tips do you have? Are there noticeable signs and symptoms you need to stop and reevaluate? Aside from a restraining order from AT&T’s customer service department?
I LOVE hearing from you!
Talk to us in the comments! Do you struggle with some of this stuff too? Or, have you gotten past it? What have you overcome? Share your success with us!
What do you WIN? For the month of OCTOBER, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).