One Extra Hour

Photo Credit: 123RF
Photo Credit: 123RF

One hour. I have just one hour.

I spend a few minutes putting away groceries, a few more minutes returning some long overdue emails.

45 minutes left.

Should I clean the kitchen? Should I write a blog post? Try to scribble a few notes for a chapter in the book I’m starting? Should I send out marketing emails? Should I make a dent in some work emails?

I don’t do any of these things. Instead, I scroll through Facebook for a few minutes, read some blog posts, and wonder why I can’t be as popular as that writer. I consider ways to build my platform and readership and then I throw up in my mouth a little bit for using words like “platform” and “readership.” Yuck.

30 minutes left.

What would be the most productive way to spend this time? That is the question. That is always the question. Obviously “productive” isn’t scrolling through Facebook. And it definitely isn’t reading blog posts that lead only to self-flagellation.

Perhaps the question isn’t even what would be the most productive, but rather, why is my primary focus always on productivity in the first place?

Lately my days, hours, and minutes seem to be defined by various metrics of productivity. Chores checked of the to-do list. Freelance projects completed. Hours billed. New blog followers. Books sold.

For some reason, doing something for the sake of doing it, for the pleasure or satisfaction that it brings, doesn’t seem like enough anymore. It’s not enough to write a blog post; it needs to get a response, preferably in the form of hundreds of likes and comments and shares. It wasn’t enough to write and publish a book; it needs to sell, sell, sell. Sell more than that author, more this month than last. It’s not enough to spend the day parenting my young children, playing games and reading a few books; we need to have something to show for it – a clean room, toy bins organized, cookies baked, new skills mastered, extracurricular activities attended. I have become a results-driven person, treating my life like a business, evaluating each portion of my day in terms of its return-on-investment.

When I first started writing, my goal was to connect – with others and with myself – and I told myself that if my writing touched just one person, it was worth it. But somewhere along the way, the criteria changed. Okay, okay, I changed the criteria. Writing has become less about fulfillment and connection, and more about sales figures and numbers. And comparisons. The constant and maddening comparisons! Always to other more successful and accomplished writers.

A few years ago, the writing world felt like a giant door just waiting to be opened. I discovered this writer’s path later in life, so I came into it with a childlike wonder. I was naïve to its soft and vulnerable underbelly. Writing – writing publicly, at least – was new to me and I savored the journey. I enjoyed writing about new things and in new ways, building a following, getting published on a new site, finishing a book.

But lately it has started to feel more like a wall with a tiny window that I peer through, always on the outside looking in. And this results-driven, comparison-heavy, outsider-looking-in attitude isn’t just a writing thing, either; it’s become a lifestyle thing. In my mind, busyness equals value and productive equals worth.

I have no one to blame but myself for this, of course, but something tells me that I might not be the only one susceptible to a worth-as-measured-by-results mentality. We’ve increasingly become a results-driven society, after all. We teach to the test, evaluate based on numbers, and measure ourselves against various metrics of productivity, whether it is hours worked, dollars earned, projects completed, meals cooked, or loads of laundry folded.

But the thing is, I don’t want to be a results-driven person; I want to be a journey-loving person. I still love writing as much as ever – more than ever actually. I feel at home in this space, clickety-clacking away on my computer. But lately I feel myself slipping further away from that door-waiting-to-be-opened sense of wonder and eager optimism.

And I want to get it back.

I want to read books that I love and play board games with my boys. I want to have a long dinner with my husband talking about nothing important at all. I want to feel like I am enough, regardless of my Amazon sales ranking, the number on a scale, dollars on a paycheck, or the chores added and then checked off of an arbitrary “keep busy” list.

I want to write blog posts about what’s in my heart and on my mind, regardless of the number of likes or shares that it might get. I want to stop comparing myself to other writers, to other parents, to other women, to…well…to everyone. I want to write for the sake of writing, to fill up and reach out and connect. I want to embrace the journey a little more. I want to ask the questions and take the steps, without knowing what the answers might be or where the path might lead.

I want to live for the sake of really living, and not for the measuring.

I want to write stories – like this one – that have no answers and no suggestions, that have no measure of productivity, other than an offering of vulnerability and humanness and the slight possibility that you might say YES, ME TOO! and in that we will both feel a little less alone.

Because if that isn’t valuable, I don’t know what is.

 

P.S. Writing this post took more than an hour. I am a very slow writer. But some of it was written during an extra hour I found this morning. The ideas, however, have been percolating for weeks. Like I said, I’m a slow writer. 

6 Comments

  • Another great post! I can relate to every aspect of this, as I’m sure you can imagine:) So hard to get to the point of doing it for the pure joy of it and not carong what it’s doing for you “numbers-wise”. I have days where I’m really good about this and convinced it’s irrelevant, which actually feels really good. But then there are days where those numbers are all that matters. And I’m the worst with the busyness as a sense of worth, nothing makes me happier than completing those checklists…but it’s ultimately such a bad way to go through each day. Good reminder to allow those leisurely days to be enough.

  • Exactly how I’ve come to feel about my active pursuits. Always training to race wore me out physically but much more so mentally. “Comparison is the thief of joy”. I won’t say I won’t race again, but for now, I’m content to cheer on the sidelines, be active because it feels good and continue helping others find their inner athlete, fitness buff, etc. Write on!

  • I can relate to this so well. While I was in college, there was a lot of external pressure to achieve results, which just added to my tendency to do this myself. The last four years or so, the external pressure has lessened, but somehow it hasn’t sunk in yet. I perpetuate the cycle, desperate to get Important Things Done and feeling like I need to justify how I spend every minute of every day. The ironic twist is that the things I believe are most important don’t work that way, whether it is my own health, my relationships, creative endeavors, social justice, or any of my other values.. Health is so much more than a number on a scale (and in fact, focusing on that number leads to unhealthy habits, at least do me), quality time isn’t something that can be quantified, and the pressure to create masterpieces makes me shy away from the arts. Thank you for inspiring me to look at the journey more than quantifiable goals.

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