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Musings on Productivity

Updated: Aug 28, 2018

Productivity curse

Today I looked at the calendar on my phone. The calendar I lovingly and without irony called “my lifeline” just a few weeks back. Empty.

My now empty calendar is actually kind of a big deal. My structure-free life, daily routines nearly nonexistent, to-do list trashed…kind of a big deal. A big deal that I am learning takes some getting used to.

As we walk around new-to-us towns, with unknown-to-us people, Joel and I have been talking about productivity. A week and a half into our four month trip, we find ourselves wondering about the balance we need to strike between being on the move, creating art & writing, and finding time to relax. We want to see every place we visit, not quite as tourists but as possible future-inhabitants, and we also want time to just be. To just be still.

Peace and quiet has a lot of appeal right now. Part of what propelled us on this trip was the desire to create a new way of being in the world and a new way of working. The stress of the 9-to-5 was destructive; we could feel it in our bodies. Is it a coincidence that my stomachaches and foot pain has mostly cleared up in the month away from a desk job? I wonder…

And now that I am a stranger in every place we visit, my desire to listen in on the lives of others is fully actualized, and I am hearing over and over again a common theme: people are tired, stressed, burnt out. I am hearing baristas complaining to each other about bosses who demand too much, parents in parks wishing for “me time,” and people passing by as they rush to the next thing.

I have to admit that the transition to this life hasn’t been straight-forward for me.

When I left my job as a nonprofit fundraiser, a leader on my team asked me how I was processing the loss of the fundraiser part of my identity. I brushed her off a bit because I felt, at the time, like I was losing more than just this one identity: I was also losing my identity as a homeowner and my identity as a resident of Minnesota. It was a lot of change and transition, so I didn’t think much of the professional change - particularly because it was a change I was very excited about. Despite much of our journey being about reflecting on professional and vocational spaces, I didn’t realize the immediate impact of walking away from the work identity I’d built over a decade.

So now, a month out from that question, I realize she was on to something. And here I am, out in the world, aware that how we structure our lives 9-to-5 leaves something to be desired, and yet I am still a bit unsure how to simply be a person, a person without her work identity. Who am I without my identity of stressed out professional?

I keep saying to Joel, “I can’t believe I don’t have a job!” And he says to me, “How does it feel?” And I pause for a really long time and then mumble, “I am not sure…” (Also, let’s be fully transparent here and share that I do still have a job: one I categorize as my “side hustle” that takes time and provides a bit of income, one that I was able to take with me remotely. It’s just so much less than I was doing when it was the side hustle plus my 9-to-5, that I almost forget. Which, of course, says a lot about how deep this productivity ailment is for me.)

Who am I without the constant productivity of my life before this? The work trips and weekend events and hitting fundraising goals and rushing home from work to meet a friend and tending to my garden and making my house look like a “museum of cute” (as someone once remarked to me), and cooking balanced meals and getting a good night sleep and repeat and repeat and repeat…Who I am without the “…” looming over everything as it was before? Without a constant

Even thinking about the way things were before, I feel a little spike in my pulse, my breaths get a bit shallower. I tell myself to relax but in my relaxing I am asking myself an important question: is it possible to not recreate this imbalance wherever we land next? Is there a way out of this partially societal partially self-imposed productivity sickness?

Before we left on this trip someone said to me, “wherever you go, there you are.” I believe it’s a concept of Buddhism, and my friend was sharing it with me to remind me that despite being in a new place, everywhere I go I will bring with me my unique gifts and talents as well as my dysfunction, insecurities, and areas of growth.

The concept is on my mind as I think about how it feels to slow down a bit and structure my days differently, while on the other hand also attempting a 45 city road trip in four months. Or how I’m torn between a desire to constantly share what we are doing and make compelling content (productive, creative side) and a desire to enjoy it privately without much fanfare (reflective, live-in-the-moment side). Wherever I go, there I am.

Today, I recognize I am on a path to a new way of living and being, and the most healing thing I can do is try not to rush the process. And, yes, I need healing from my ways of being at work and in the world! I can look at my empty calendar with awe instead of confusion. See the road ahead of us as an invitation for taking the time I need to get there - wherever there ends up being. It won’t all get done today. Or tomorrow, for that matter.

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