January 28, 2021
“Who am I without all the doing?”
I’ve been wrestling with this question after listening to the final episode of season three of Jocelyn K. Glei’s Hurry Slowly podcast titled, “R.I.P. Productivity.”
In the episode, Jocelyn reflects on her journey in the world of “productivity” and how she is moving away from the be-your-best-self culture that surrounds it.
It is true that many of these ideas are rooted in the idea of “self-improvement” and that yes, I do offer perspectives on “productivity.”
I’ve been reflecting on why I’m drawn to the world of self-improvement, and I wanted to share that exploration with you all.
To begin with, personal growth is an important value to me. I place it high on my list, next to values like friendship, health, family, and compassion.
I do believe that working on ourselves and striving to improve is important, even vital to our own well-being. The words of Viktor Frankl on this topic deeply resonate with me:
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”
At the same time, I acknowledge that this belief is entangled in the broader culture in which I live, work, and exist.
Defining this “culture” is hard, but there’s no shying away from the fact that in the Western world, we celebrate “hard work” and reward people for being “productive.”
One of the byproducts of this culture of doing is an almost endless supply of self-help and productivity advice. We see it everywhere:
“21 tips to make 2021 the best year of your life!”
“If you’re not eating these three superfoods every day, you’re
“Why this amazing CEO reads 100 books in a year and how
you can do the same!”
There are a lot of people who make a living telling you what you need to do to feel better, be better, do better. Often, there is a product attached. (See link in bio...).
I believe that most of these people have good intentions, and dedicating your professional life to helping others is a noble cause.
But what happens when we’re cultured to believe we’re never “enough”? That happiness and success are always just around the corner?
For one, we end up in an endless cycle of trying to change, improve, and better ourselves that can leave us feeling exhausted. Always striving, always doing.
No doubt this cycle leads to the increasing amount of burnout we see among our family, friends, and coworkers.
This cycle also blinds us from an important truth: that we are okay just as we are. Our spirit does not need a 30-day detox or a new house to be okay. It’s okay as it is.
So what’s it going to be: do we just accept everything as it is, or do we keep working to improve?
The answer is yes.
The struggle is good. Striving is good.
And so is acceptance. And so is contentment.
As I set my sights on where to focus this year, this balance of being vs. doing is where I am drawn.
Encouraging growth, and acknowledging how far we’ve come.
Suggesting improvements, and reminding us we’re already enough.
I think the simple Zen proverb below can sum up this attitude in all its complexity and beauty.
I hope you'll join me as we continue to explore this delicate balance in the year to come.
"Everything is perfect and there is always room for improvement." — Shunryu Suzuki
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