I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately; struggling with it in some ways. And oddly, it’s not because I don’t have enough of it or feel like I’m on some endless treadmill; rather, just the opposite!
I find myself uncomfortable with, even avoiding, the spaciousness of time.
I’m a do-er. Super task-oriented. Motivated by efficiency. Profoundly satisfied by getting all my to-do’s checked off on a daily basis (and as quickly as possible). And I’m quite good at this! I get a lot done in a relatively short amount of time. So, to slow down, to stop working, to not take on one more thing just because I can, feels not only frivolous and irresponsible, but damn-near impossible.
When I ask myself why, I don’t have to search very far to find the answer.
Underneath my busy-ness, my schedule, my constant doing, is a deeply ingrained belief: my value and worth are determined by how efficient and productive I am.
I’m guessing it’s not just me.
A few questions:
- How do you feel about yourself when, at the end of the day, you’ve not checked everything off your list?
- What emotions show up when you look at the still-unanswered emails sitting in your inbox?
- What is your mood when you get up in the morning to a kitchen that was not cleaned the night before?
- What is your response to the latest post on Instagram that tells you it’s not only possible, but damn-near required that you accomplish more, earn more, be more — and all available to you if only you hustle harder (and buy the program that will teach you exactly how to do so)?
- What would your mother say if you slacked off or took a sick day or gave yourself a break from your endless inventory of tasks and to-do’s? (I know: what your mother might say is not really relevant. But you do know her answer, don’t you?)
If you’re anything like me, you feel some version of less than, weary, frustrated, lazy, even slightly ashamed as you consider any and each of these.
See? Productive and Efficient = Value and Worth (Enough)
It’s not our fault.
We live in a world that wields time through the rubrics of capitalism, consumerism, and patriarchy. It’s a trifecta that demands we convert time to money, “spend” our time consuming as much as absolutely possible (clothes, food, substances, social media, etc.) and remain obedient / compliant to the system itself and the powers-that-be (by converting time to money and consuming as much as absolutely possible).
I cannot begin to tell you just how easy it would be for me to spend a ton of time diving into all of this: researching, finding quotes to support my position, writing more. The harder thing (and the timely one) is to look within, to look at my own life. And so, a few recently noticed examples:
On any given day, I could stop working at 2:00 (or 1:00, or noon), instead of persisting until 5 or 5:30 or 6. I am clear: nothing amazing or life-changing is going to happen in those extra 3+ hours! And yet, to actually get up from my desk, read a book, take a walk, or god-forbid, turn on Netflix, feels not only counterintuitive, but weirdly arduous! I argue with myself. I fuss and fight. And WAY too many times, I talk myself out of doing any of these things. I stay at my desk and work. I am a product of capitalism: believing the lie that my time is money, that my “worth” (not to mention the value of my work in and of itself) is directly dependent on the time spent doing it.
I have every intention of being in bed and asleep by 9:00 most nights. And sometimes I succeed. But more times than not, I pick up my phone and scroll through Instagram, and/or play a few rounds of Wordle or Sudoku. Before I know it, it’s somehow become 10:00 or later! Irritated and determined, I put the phone down. I settle myself under the covers. And I can literally feel the pull to pick it back up. This is the influence and lure of consumerism; I am a product of its sole intention — satisfying me with a hit of dopamine every time I “consume” — scroll, buy, play, or *just* check email.
I could, on weekends, work on the afghan I’ve started for my oldest daughter, give attention to a complicated embroidery project that’s my mom’s belated Christmas present, or read a book (yep, again) instead of defaulting to “a couple things I need to get done for work,” checking email, or editing this letter for the umpteenth time. WAY too many times, Monday rolls back around — my pace never having slowed. The effort required to swim upstream, to do the opposite of working more (or consuming more) feels counterintuitive and hard. Internalized patriarchy has done its job.
Let me acknowledge the privilege of my circumstances: no small children, self-employed, few-to-no external responsibilities or commitments. But truth-be-told, I struggled with exactly the same things when my life was far busier. I rarely rested, slowed down, took a deep breath — even when I could. I didn’t want to. I knew that the space, the quiet, the time would open me up to emotions I’d rather keep tucked away, thoughts that felt dangerous, realities that were painful. Nope: just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. Upstream. Downstream. Didn’t matter.
I can feel the part of me that thinks I should write more, say more, offer more; that the value and worth of even this article would be increased and enhanced if I were to give it more time; that it’s not very productive or efficient. But to spend more time in search of a perfect ending, tidy next-steps, or some profound revelation feels a bit upside and down and backwards, given the topic. This is very hard for me to accept and allow. I’m doing it anyway. A small act of defiance…
Thankfully, at least in this moment, I am not in a place of harsh critique or feeling some internal demand to get this figured out. I have time. I know that there is something that remains under the surface and hidden for the time being. I anticipate that, in time, I will discover and implement ways of “being” in my life that are not tyrannized by time — or money or expectations or insipid-and-endless cultural demands. Eventually I will discover the deeper invitation, the challenge that beckons, the ongoing growth and transformation that is always making itself available to me. Time will tell, of course. And in time, I’ll write about that, too.
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