Like the annual business review, our New-Year-Resolution ritual belongs to a culture that celebrates the tyranny of productivity. Our obsession with goal-setting and to-do lists is a self-imposed method of monitoring our output and adjusting our productivity accordingly. We almost always adjust our productivity upwards.
Covid has Exposed the Mirage of the Promised Secure Future
Why do we willingly participate in an end-of-year ritual that gives us a false sense of control over our lives and our future? Is it because we have become so convinced that our worth in the workforce and our self-worth can be itemised, monetised and measured by living a ‘productive’ life?
If the crisis created by Covid has taught us anything it must surely be that the price of living a socially-approved productive and successful life is enormous. We have sacrificed our physical, emotional and spiritual well being for the promise of a secure future for ourselves and our children. In less than two years that promised future has turned out to be a mirage.
The Home Office has Given us Time to see how Empty our Full Lives actually were
As we finish our second year working from home we’ve learned that the home office is certainly not the perfect answer to the work-life-balance question. But we’re also discovering that is has potential to become close to that when both sides are willing to be open and flexible. Shattering the 9-to-5 daily routine has given us new options about how we want to live. It has also given us is more time to discover what our best options are.
Covid has also given us time to reflect on the lives we were so busy living we never had the ‘time’ to question whether this was the life we actually wanted to live. Covid put the brakes on our busyness. When we came to a standstill we could clearly see how empty our full lives actually were.
For all the misery and pain Covid created, it also gave us the down time we strove for with our to-do lists, but never achieved. We never earned that longed for down time because our to-do list was never empty. Reaching our goals demanded that we amplify more, optimise more, strategise more … We were so busy being busy, we didn’t have time to notice just how tyrannical our productivity goals actually were … until we were no longer so busy.
A New Year – Without the Tyranny of Productivity?
So how do we move forward into the New Year without falling victim to the updated version of the tyranny of productivity? Here’s one simple option. Instead of trying to manage our lives more efficiently, we can begin to create lives that give us joy, fill us with a sense of personal fulfilment, open up new creative possibilities, allow us to prioritise our well being, etc. And still find satisfaction, enjoyment and reward in our work.
Instead of goal-setting and to-do lists, we could take the advice of the great 20th century poet R. M. Rilke and savour the space in our lives that allow us to finally create the life that serves us best:
“And now let us believe in a long year that is given to us, new, untouched, full of things that have never been,Learn More
It was the day before Christmas and Nora was not in a festive mood. In fact, Nora had been in a bad mood for over a month.
The strain of working from home with two small children and an unemployed partner had pushed her to the brink a few times. She was exhausted. The parts of Christmas she loved had been cancelled – no carols, no visiting friends or family, no parties. All the hard work she’d invested in her consultancy business since March had barely managed to keep it afloat. Right now, Nora doubted whether she has the stamina to keep it going much longer.
A wave of anxiety washed over her as she stared at the blank screen. Nora shut her laptop and hurried out of the room. She could easily explain why her motivation was gone, she assured herself, zipping up her jacket.
“How can I plan for next year in a world getting more unpredictable by the day?”
Dusk was falling as Nora headed for the nearby park. A walk there normally calmed her worries. But today her mind raced faster then she could walk, so after 20 minutes of being pursued by her worst fears, she turned for home.
The Christmas tree caught her attention as she rushed past the local square. The lights were turned on now and their warm glow had a strangely calming effect on Nora. She walked over to the bench opposite the Christmas tree and sat down. For the first time in weeks, the endless chatter in her head stopped.
“You do have a choice, you know. Instead of filling your mind with stories about the past and the future that make you agitated and despairing, you just have to be in the moment. Live the story unfolding now!”
Nora wasn’t aware of anybody sitting beside her until she heard the voice.
She turned to look at the woman, who continued to stare straight ahead. Nora followed the woman’s eyes until both of them were sitting side by side, looking into the lights.
“How can I live a story that is all about losing everything I’ve worked for”, Nora asked, watching the small beams of light illuminate the green branches,
To break the silence between them, Nora explained just how hard she’d worked, for years now, and how this on-going uncertainty had exhausted her and crippled her ability to think and act.
The Christmas lights shone brighter into the deepening darkness. The woman’s voice seemed to come from the glow of the lights in front of Nora.
“All you have to do is this. Just show up for yourself every day, do today’s work – without planning for tomorrow, without an agenda for next year, without trying to fix what’s not yours to fix. That’s the story to live now. Can you do that?”
Nora wanted to tell that woman how wrong she was; how she didn’t know what it was like to struggle every day; how planning ahead was what helped her cope.
She didn’t say anything.
Nora knew she’d tried everything since March, only to see her efforts come to nothing, like sandcastles washed away on a beach at high tide.
“I don’t know if I can really do that. I feel so lost,” she mumbled eventually.
She stared into the yellow lights looking for an answer to the question that filled her head – how do I get through this uncertainty?
“You just show up, like I said, and live the uncertainty of today, instead of trying to control it, or run from it, or deny it. That’s how you create the new story that is unfolding right now,” came the soft reply.
Nora looked around her.
“Who are you?” she asked when she saw that the bench beside her was empty.
“I’m the spirit of Christmas” came the reply. “I’m always around at Christmas, even during a pandemic.”
Nora slowly got up from the bench.
“Happy Christmas to you” she whispered into the darkness.
Turning for home she was certain she could hear bells ringing in the distance.Learn More