With being on furlough for a couple months and severely reduced hours back in March 2020 – March 2021, I’d noticed an overwhelming emphasis on “making the most” of a bad situation, or “taking advantage” of all the “free time” we had.
Cooking healthier meals. Learning a craft. Trying a new at-home exercise regime.
And if you can do that and it helps you, that’s fantastic. Honestly.
But the main point of this post is that it’s okay if you don’t or if you can’t. It’s okay not to be productive.
Growing up, I was told I could be anything I wanted. This was a concept that was always pushed upon me— any dream was an obtainable one if I just followed my passion and worked hard. This lasted with me even when I was in college: I could live in any country as long as I followed all of the necessary steps and put in the effort.
But I was wrong. Or misled. Or both.
The harsh reality was that I could only get a work visa for certain jobs. And I would only be offered it if no one qualified with the right to work in the country applied. All because I was born here and not there. It didn’t matter how many qualities I had; it didn’t matter how hard of a worker I was— it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough.
I have always considered myself an extremely productive and hard worker, and many days find myself missing my breaks, working during lunch and pushing myself to get the most done that I possibly can.
Somewhere down the line I began to think that this work ethic made me more valuable than my less-productive peers; Somewhere down the line I began to assume things about their characters; Somewhere down the line I began to feel bitter that they were getting paid more or the same as me, when they weren’t doing (in my mind) jack-diddly. But if I’m honest with myself, not taking my breaks, not really eating my meals, working with all of that stress and pressure to produce— it was just another way I was abusing myself. I was letting myself be used. And then I was internally ostracizing others because they, too, weren’t joining in the act of self-abuse and being used. What was this weird source of pride in needing less and doing more than others? And why did it matter so much?
We’ve come to define our worth by our productivity, most of the time in direct competition to those around us. And if we’re not doing something, then we’re denounced as lazy or a blemish. We’re told we’re deserving of the suffering we experience because we’re not, in the minds of others, “actively doing anything about it”.
But this idea that Social Darwinism and private gain are the only reasons for human progress is a lie. It’s mere propaganda used to glorify a capitalistic paradigm.
In truth, our development as a species can be tracked through cooperating and collaborating, whether it be technology, resources or knowledge, so that we can better understand the world around us and how it operates.
We’re told to just “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps”, when we don’t even have boots to begin with.
Many of us don’t have the means or access to bettering ourselves. We weren’t born with or just don’t have an equal footing to that of our peers. What do we say to those with disabilities? To victims of systemic racism? How can we ethically say they don’t matter because they aren’t producing enough?
We assume people who don’t message us back or whatever don’t do so because they don’t think about us, or they do, but we don’t matter as much as other things to do. And while it’s true that we all are given 24 hours in a day, our paths all look very different. What do we say to people with attention deficiencies? To those with trouble focusing? How can we assume they don’t care, when we have no idea what it’s like living with their brain?
And my point here is, we don’t have to identify with any of these categories. Just existing is enough to be valuable. Everyone means something, regardless of the output or capabilities thereof.
No one chooses to be born.
I think about this quite a lot. I never asked for the life I’ve been given. I never signed up for this heart that beats when I don’t want it to. And because we’re brought into life without consent, the basic necessities to live should be available to all. These are things we should have as a right. Food, shelter, healthcare when we are sick, meaningful education, etc (I include electricity and internet in this list, but that’s another rant and I’m trying my best to keep this post concise).
Because none of these things are guaranteed, we feel we have to work, and in turn, we will not be able to live without work. The motivation is largely fear-driven, with little meaning. It’s just a huge, tangled ball of stress that we can never untie. How can we willingly bring life into a world that has a work when we’re 70 because we have to make ends-meat? And that’s just a fraction of the problems with the world in which we’re living.
When I finally was brought back from furlough, my employer decided to bring several teams back into the office to work and I was met with a three-page summary and explanation of how our tasks had changed in my absence. There was a specific mention in this document that I was expected to get more done in less time. I’m paid hourly. So, to translate, I wouldn’t be getting paid for some of my work.
This was a place that put me on unpaid leave for months, dropped me because I wasn’t valuable enough, with no real answer if I would have a position after my waiting period was at a close. And suddenly I’m expected to put more work into less hours, at the expense of my health for the sake of what? Nothing that will truly matter in the end. Nothing that couldn’t be achieved with economic restructuring.
Several times at my job, I have pushed back on projects or processes I know will take more time and will inconvenience more people than just me. And the response I’m met with is almost always disappointing and makes me feel incredibly despondent. Here’s an example: we’re creating another round of mailers (flyers) to send out to prospective costumers asking them to purchase our products or donate to help us ensure our future. I work for a company that has over 30 different publications, so that’s roughly 30 mailers, each with 4 different art components for a total of 120 pieces that need to be made by the design team. All with tailored verbiage, images and sizes. My boss will then insist that one of the art pieces’ font “feels too big” and will insist on having it changed to a smaller type. During the next proofing phase it will be another issue. The next, another. I feel bad having to go back and forth all of the time for them to make these changes. It feels like such a waste of effort for them.
And what does my boss say?
It’s their job. We’re all lucky to have a paycheck in the pandemic.– Annie’s inhumane and uncompassionate boss
Perhaps the above isn’t a good example, but you get my point. At some point, we’re expected to sacrifice our humanity, sanity and health for the sake of our output. Our work. Our productivity. Sure, I’m lucky to have a job right now— a lot of people don’t. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay or ethical for me to work under inhumane demands. We were all working remotely for about two months and things were fine, but we were brought back into an office environment because it’s “easier” to collaborate on things, and therefore we’re more productive. In the middle of a global pandemic. Again, we’re expected to sacrifice our health in the name of results, which haven’t been proven to have any significant gains.
For now, we have to work. But I encourage you all to fight with me— however it is you choose to fight. Whether that’s organizing with a union or committing to taking your breaks, I hope you are able to prioritize your health in all this. You’re worth it. You’re so worth it. And you will always be worth it, not matter what you do for others, no matter how much or how little you contribute.
You are enough, just as you are.
Thanks for reading until the end; this one took me a lot of time and some tears, but I think it was something I needed to say.
Take care, Annieme-niac!
The original meaning of the phrase ‘Pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ was to suggest one is trying to do the impossible. First seen in 1834 in reference to the purported invention of a perpetual motion machine by one Nimrod Murphree. According to the Mobile Banner…
“Probably Mr. Murphree has succeeded in handing himself over the Cumberland river, or a barn yard fence, by the straps of his boots.”
Somewhere along the way it got corrupted. But it remains an impossible thing to do.
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