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
In a recent post I asked what kind of heroes were appropriate for the new normal unfolding in the world. It’s clear they will be vastly different from the old ones. And the same goes for our stories!
The coronavirus is not the first pandemic in history – and it won’t be our last! We have a rich library about life during and after plagues, spanning over the last thousand years, whether it’s about the Plague of Justinian in the 6th century, the Black Death in the 14th or the Great Plague of London in the 17th century (to name just three).
There are two things we can learn about storytelling from that history
- During a pandemic we tell stories to entertain, distract and fact-check. These popular narratives include: conspiracy theories, bawdy tales, what-if setups, high drama scenarios & futuristic escape. Does this sound familiar?
- Once the pandemic dust finally settles, there is no going back to pre-pandemic ‘normal’. Our existing stories, the ones that made sense of our old normal, are irretrievably broken. A corner stone of modern physics was developed by Sir Isaac Newton – theory of gravity – while cocooning at home in 1665 from the Great Plague of London.
The biggest challenge we face is this: our story has no closure. We see the challenges, but no resolutions.
History tells us we’ve been here many times before and we have two choices:
- We try to retell the old narratives to cover the gaping cracks created by the crisis. But these fragments quickly collapse into the cavernous holes left in its wake.
- Or we stare into the uncertainty and the unknown and after a time realise we are different now – wiser, more compassionate & more resilient. We begin to tell stories about the experiences and the insights that got to this point and how these can help us set our compass for a way out.
We tell about the lack of solid ground, the absence of a pathway ahead, the challenges of sitting with uncertainty, the faint outline of new possibilities emerging, the flicker of hope in the darkness.
Then, one small story at a time, we slowly begin to create a new normal.Learn More