On Self-Worth and Productivity
***Note: I wrote this during the first year of the pandemic. I just found it in my drafts and it took me back to how scared and anxious I was during COVID. Hindsight’s 20/20 and I wish I took what I wrote to heart more than I did, but the topic is still something I’m super passionate about. Enjoy!
Life is so uncertain right now that the only thing I know for sure is that I don’t really know much anything at all. The not knowing of what tomorrow’s going to bring terrifies the daylights out of me. I’m someone who naturally scares very easily, and one of my big fears in life is the feeling of uncertainty. Of uncertainty and not knowing what’s going to happen to me and to the people I love the most. For someone with such a deep running fear, I’ve sure been facing it head on a LOT lately.
Nowadays, the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning is having some sort of plans for that day. Of course, my schedule looks nothing like it used to. My “plans” for the day are minuscule and non-important things like taking my cousins outside, or going on a grocery run, or making a phone call.
No longer having a filled planner each day has been a really rough adjustment, because I can’t remember the last time I experienced this much restfulness. For the first time since I can remember, I’m at ease from the copious responsibilities of adulthood- and yet, I can’t help but feel the opposite of at ease. For some reason that I just can’t explain, I don’t know how to sit still. It’s not in my DNA- my body pretty much fights it. Having a day off from responsibilities stresses me out more than it should, and also makes me feel like a failure- no matter how much I deserve it from working my butt off previously.
Before coming home from college, my days were shooting by as fast as a bullet. It was all GO! GO! GO! pretty much from the hour I woke up to the hour I went to bed. Most days I could barely keep up with all the things that needed my time and attention. College, am I right?
So having to force my brain setting to go from 100 mph to a slow and steady school zone speed made me realize just how much of my self-worth I tied to my productivity.
Somewhere along the way, I think I started equating productivity with a sense of self-worth. The more I would jam-pack my schedule with things to do, the more productive I would feel. The more productive I’d feel, the more self worth I had in myself. The circle of life, in my case.
I started seeing myself as a byproduct of all of the things I did in life, instead of all of the things I am everyday.
Some people can pass their entire lives doing the bare minimum, and avoiding unnecessary responsibilities like a pro. I really envy those people sometimes. I wish I knew how to stop the circuits in my brain from constantly firing and not catching a breath. Where others bolt from extra responsibilities, I am drawn to it like a moth in a flame.
And on days when I feel like I haven’t gotten enough productive work done, I can’t go to bed unless I wrench something else into my day that makes me feel semi accomplished. Like starting to write a book I’m never going to finish at 1 in the morning. Or pushing my body into multiple back-to-back workouts until I’m so tired I can barely see straight.
It’s a problem I have, and I wish I could say I’m working on it, but the truth is I’m not. For so long, I’ve lived my life (unknowingly) believing that the only worth I had in life came from the work I was doing. It’s the only way I feel like I matter.
Sounds stupid right?
Well on the extremely rare days when I wouldn’t have my entire day, or even just my morning planned with something significantly important, I’d struggle to get out of bed and start my day at all.
A tiny voice in my head would ask me: why bother? What’s the point?
And I’d really believe the notion that if I didn’t have something important to do with my day, there was no point in going about the day at all. Pointless, and useless. Just like how I constantly made myself feel any time I wasn’t doing something important. And then I’d spend the rest of the day in bed, loathing myself for not signing up for another stupid thing that I didn’t care for. Loathing myself for not being able to get out of bed, and loathing myself for loathing myself.
It’s a vicious cycle with no end.
One time when I was having one of those really crummy days, the only thing I was able to do that made me feel sort of productive was making a list. I love lists for that very reason- they scream of importance and something meaningful that matters. So I did what I do best- I dug out a pencil and some paper and started listing the first thing that came to mind, hoping to feel something after feeling nothing all day.
My right hand immediately got to work writing, and didn’t stop until I ran out of lines on the sheet.
And when the list was done I looked down to see a compilation of all the reasons I’m a failure in life. Not failures I’ve experienced in life- reasons I am a failure (quite a difference). I’m not sure where the sentiments came from, but they can only be things I’ve held onto over the years without realizing I’m holding on to anything at all.
For some reason I can’t get rid of that list. If it were anyone else who wrote that list about me, I’d want it burned, shredded or destroyed. And yet, I still have that list to this day, kept tucked away in a drawer at my college dorm room. I just can’t get rid of it now.
I don’t know why I’m like this, but I couldn’t find a harsher critic of me than myself if I tried. I’m really good at building others up, but can’t fathom ever doing the same for myself. Where others might see accomplishments they’ve earned, I only see failures or things I have yet to become. My list goes: I have yet to become a better sister. A better older cousin. A better friend. A better servant of the Lord. A better journalist. A better person.
And when I’m not actively working on one of these aspects of my life, I feel like I have no self-worth as a person. With nothing to do, I feel like nothing. And that’s something I’m sure I can’t be alone in feeling.
We’ve all heard that being a go-getter and a hard worker will only get you far in life. Nothing good ever comes easy. Don’t stop till you get where you’re going.
What I’ve never heard is that these things should not define us at the end of the day. If someone asks me the most dreaded question of “tell me about yourself” what do I say?
Do I say I’m a hard worker, and someone who spends every waking minute chasing down productivity in life? YUCK- so boring. Maybe that’d be good if I was a robot. Or if I’m interviewing for a corporate job that sucks the life out of you.
But outside of those two settings, we’re all so much more than our productivity levels. Who are we without those things- who are we when our fancy job titles and achievements are stripped away? I’ll go first: a person of faith, a big cousin, a student and lifelong learner, a volunteer, someone who tries hard every day to be a good person. And SO much more.
I’ve also realized it’s okay to have days, or weeks (or whatevers!) when you’re not busting your butt a hundred miles an hour. Being productive isn’t the end-all-be-all of life. I don’t know what made me ever think it was in the first place, but somewhere along the way that thought became inked in my mind, staying put like a permanent tattoo. No amount of trying to remove it would make it budge, and it’s still something I carry within me today.
One day on Instagram, I read something shared by one of my favorite actresses, Bethany Joy Lenz. A simple quote, it read: your worth is not measured by your productivity. Up till that point, I’ve never heard that before. It stayed on my mind all day, and the day after that. I guess it’s a part of why I sat down to write this blog post. I feel like it’s a conversation nobody’s having- or if they are, not nearly enough.
Letting the dust settle down and giving your mind and body a break when you need it is not something to take on with dread. As much as I realize that now, fundamental ideas about life don’t change overnight. Mine sure don’t.
More and more, I try to give myself some grace and remember that I don’t need to be doing something every minute of every day. Being busy isn’t a bad thing at all, but neither is taking a breather from a busy life. What I’m fearful of is maybe I’ll never learn how to stop, and one day soon I’ll have a big breakdown caused by burnout.
I don’t ever want to be one of those bare minimum people in life. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do something with my life, no matter how small. But I also can’t stand to constantly hate myself for not doing more, when I’m already carrying what feels like a mountain top on my tiny shoulders.
Like I said, it’s hard to change fundamental ideas about life. But I can only hope to get there one day and continue working on how I see myself in the meanwhile.
Little by little, a little becomes a lot. So here’s to cutting ourselves some slack, giving ourselves some grace, and knowing that at the end of the day we are so much more than what we accomplished in 24 hours.
***Last note: I did indeed burn myself out so much the next year that I had to take a gap year to recover haha. But everything happens for a reason! I’m thankful for my crazy college journey because it made me learn this lesson the hard way- sometimes that’s the only true way something sticks for me!