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If You Feel Pressured to Be as 'Productive' as the Healthy People Around You

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Between #GirlBosses and side hustles and everything else Instagram and Khloe Kardashian are always telling us, it’s pretty clear that productivity is important nowadays.

And generally I think that is great! Encouraging people to do more and be more sounds like nothing but a good thing, right? Except it’s possible that it’s trapping us. Because when you place all your self worth in your productivity rather than your personality, or just your own human goodness, how do we live as people outside of our accomplishments?

Sure, you “have as many hours in a day as Beyonce.” But Beyonce has a trainer, and a team of nannies, and stylists who make her look awesome. Do not judge your personal value by your ability to keep up with Beyonce, please and thank you. You will go insane and spend a lot of money on bodysuits. But more importantly, maybe don’t judge your personal value by your ability to keep up with anyone. Whether it’s a co-worker or a sibling or a mommy blogger whose handmade cakes make you feel subpar, try not to sit around wondering why you can’t get as much done as them, or have their level of success. Everyone’s lives always seem really sunshiney on the outside, but it’s possible that on the inside, that mommy blogger is struggling to keep up just like you. At the very least, her kitchen is probably covered in organic flour.

So what if we all just cut each other a break? What if we stopped glorifying the hustle? What if we instead started glorifying things like taking care of yourself, writing your sister a letter to make her smile, re-reading your favorite Harry Potter book in the sunshine, or just making it through the day? What if we placed value on the things that made us happy, rather than the things that made us appear outwardly valuable?

I’m guilty of obsessing over productivity. I’ve always liked a list, or something exciting to put on my resume, or just feeling at the end of the day like maybe I somehow was a little closer to my best Beyonce-like life. But being ill has put a lot into perspective, including what a true trap the rat race for productivity can become if you let it take over. I’m not saying we should all lay around and do whatever we want all the time — the world would stop working and no one would be staffing Burger King to make me Mac and Cheetos. But what I am saying is not to beat yourself up if tonight, all you want to do is drink a glass of wine and watch “Veep.” The “hustle” will still be there in the morning.

And putting the onus of life on productivity is a dangerous mental trap for the chronically ill. I know I can’t “do it all,” and that’s OK with me, but when I see people pushing for us all to constantly have some exciting new project or business plan, it’s exhausting. Some days it really is OK if all you did was get out of bed. This is true for everyone, but especially true for those with mental and physical illnesses. Try not to beat yourself up if your disease means that you aren’t “on track” with others. I try to set smaller hurdles of productivity that feel more realistic than taking on the world or getting a book published by next year — things like meditating (almost) every day, cooking for myself or organizing my bills.

It’s also important to remember that often, rest is productive. If your body is struggling, ignoring it in favor of powering on will burn you out and leave you in worse shape than before. As hard as it is to feel limited by a disease, it’s even harder to deal with a flare after ignoring signals from your body to slow down. So maybe redefine your notion of productivity: restful activities like coloring, watching a movie that makes you smile, or even taking a nap can be incredibly productive for someone trying to keep their health in check.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that human worth is not measured in productivity — or at least, it shouldn’t be. It should be measured in things like friendship, and days where you felt genuinely content. It should be measured in how you make people feel, not just checking off boxes of what you think you’re supposed to accomplish. Once you get a team of nannies and assistants and personal shoppers, then you can redefine your productivity to include building an artisanal cheese empire.

Originally published: July 6, 2016
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