We have a productivity problem. I’m not referring to the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic. I’m referring to our collectively narrow view that work productivity is synonymous with individual success and well-being. This existed long before COVID-19 did.
The chasm between what has been anointed “essential” versus “non-essential” work has all of us standing along the precipice, staring into the void, wondering how to make sense of it all. What has careened into the darkness, no matter your side of the gap, is the purpose we thought work gave us.
Essential workers are now burdened with having to go work, as opposed to choosing to, despite the heightened risk and lack of protection. Non-essential workers are burdened with being told they cannot go to work, despite being able to implement appropriate safeguards.
A fundamental problem undergirding the presented situation is that we define ourselves by what we do. Our self-identities are hopelessly intertwined with our work. We assume our work IS our purpose. This is entirely untrue. It is merely a product of the culture of western democracies measuring success by growth of their GDPs, and all of us buying in.
My message today is that it’s OK to hit pause. It’s OK to stop doing all of the extra things you were doing that no one else recognized anyway. It’s OK to stop caring more about your job than does a society that tells you professional athletes can continue to play sports while local gyms are closed. It’s OK to stop believing that you live to work.
The pandemic has short-circuited our entire economic model and work-first philosophy. If anything good comes out of this, I hope that it’s a better appreciation, at the individual level, for what is truly important in life. Maintaining health, having enjoyable experiences with people you care about, and having a purpose that YOU determine are key to living a good life.
So go ahead, hit pause, think about what you’ve taken for granted, examine your relationship with work, decide if it serves your purpose. Unravel its threads from the fabric of your identity. The path to well-being is cluttered with labels and definitions that restrict us from imagining what we can be or do. Work is but one aspect of our lives, and nowhere near the most important.