You know what’s funny but also not super funny at the same time? How bloody hard it is to relax, or more precisely, how hard it is to sit down and do nothing. I dream about it loads while my brain is whirling around like an Addams Family pinball machine and yet, when I finally find myself on the couch with an open afternoon spreading out ahead of me, I panic.
I panic because there is always more items to check off on the to do list, because it feels so good to be productive and moving towards a goal, and because — which I cringe to admit — taking time for myself often registers in my brain as being undeserved, selfish, or lazy.
I first developed this productivity idealization in college after feeling such pride at being known as the girl who could do everything at once. A lack of sleep, an unhealthy amount of anxiety due to stress, sacrificing time with loved ones — this felt like the price one needed to pay in order to make their dreams into a reality and every time I reached a new goal, I was onto the next without taking any time to sit down and appreciate what I was actually creating.
This was all going swimmingly (*heavy sarcasm*) until last summer when I hit a wall. Or as blogger Amber Burns put it in her recent newsletter, “I didn’t break up with hustle culture, it dumped me, HARD.”
This January the New York Times published a feature titled, “Why are Young People Pretending to Love Work?” which was a followup to BuzzFeed’s viral op-ed essay, “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation.” In both articles, the writers address the growing dangers of “hustle culture” for glamorizing unhealthy work-life balance among millennials, many who have taken on this collective mindset of “work hard, play hard, do everything, you’ll sleep when you’re dead.”
I have definitely fallen into this hustle culture trap, especially with freelance work, where your success is based off how much or little you’re putting in. But what I didn’t realize until I hit my wall was how much I was sacrificing along the way. Sleep, mental health, physical health, time with loved ones, the ability to be spontaneous, the ability to see what things were/weren’t actually working in my life, and just a general enjoyment of the little things in life — the things whose value aren’t related to furthering my goals but simply for making me happy.
This past year I’ve been working on overhauling my knee jerk reaction to overplan and overcommit in the name of the “hustle” (literally just rolled my eyes so hard at my own use of the word “hustle”). I hate to admit it, but it’s a hard habit to undo! At least once a week I catch myself stressing about all the things I’m trying to balance at any given moment. How do I keep up with friends outside and inside of NYC AND work on my long-term work projects AND enjoy my time of creativity AND carve out time for working out AND be there for my family 2000 miles away AND still have time for myself?
The answer I learned after a particularly rough week is that I can’t do everything at once and that’s okay. It’s okay to put some tasks to the side, it’s okay to unplug, and more than anything, it’s okay to sit on the couch and do nothing. Because what matters even more than the external accomplishments around me are all the things happening inside my overzealous, passionate, ever-changing mind and heart.
^^ Favorite Billy Joel song that I listen to on repeat when the stress sets in. ^^
This is all easier said than done and this past month I’ve been doing a bit of a life revamp, or a mental decluttering if you will. This means I’ve been slowing down and prioritizing self-care over everything else, which is hard! Choosing to go on a run, or sit and read, instead of driving myself crazy over a pitch letter has felt like I’m reseting my mental code. But this time around, this mental decluttering has truly allowed me to re-engage with productivity in a more focused and intentional way — which feels like a breathe of fresh air. Now I set timers for how long I’m going to work on something each day, I don’t try and do 18 things in my two free hours after work, and in general, I feel more on my own team. It’s a work in progress but it feels good to be doing it slowly but surely.
So if you’re in the same boat, consider this my permission slip to you to slow down you crazy child, and do something just for the joy of it today. All the chores will still be there after you take 30 minutes to turn off your phone and paint your nails but your mindset will have shifted into an entirely different space. You can still be ambitious and passionate and yes, productive, while also having a healthy, balanced life. This is not something you have to earn, but something you inherently deserve.
So best wishes my recovering over-productive friends, you are worth all of your dreams coming true as well as the time to sit and enjoy the hell out of life in the most unproductive, spontaneous, adventurous, relaxing ways.
To be honest, I think this might have been my own permission slip as well.