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Here’s why you should never tie your self-worth to your productivity

PHOTOGRAPHY BY OLIVIA REPACI

WORDS BY TANESHIA ATKINSON

We need to talk about the glorification of the hustle.

It’s that smug satisfaction we feel when we are super busy. It’s when we wear our burnout as a badge of honour.

I’m sure many Australians have felt it, and as I understand it, in a colonised and capitalist society this is only normal. From a young age, we are conditioned to believe that we are a commodity, and our most valuable ‘asset’ is our labour.

I’ve spent the last eight years of my life glorifying the hustle. My self-worth has been tied to my productivity. I felt significant and important when I was busy. When I was drained from work, it signalled to me that I was really achieving something.

When I didn’t have time for self-care, it was okay because I believed my labour was directly helping make the world a better place. I found that busyness was an effective way to postpone dealing with my own trauma.

Glorifying the hustle seemed to work until earlier this year, when I experienced burnout and felt an impending sense of restlessness and dissatisfaction. My 13-hour days consisting of over eight hours sitting behind a screen no longer aligned with the lifestyle I desired, a lifestyle that had been largely romanticised for decades.

Whilst I was grateful this year to be considered an essential worker and acknowledge the privilege I hold to be mostly unaffected by the pandemic, earlier this year I made the decision to take a few months of leave from my full-time role followed by my eventual resignation.

I wanted to enjoy the sunrises and sunsets a little longer, to live more mindfully without the rush. I wanted to take time picking native flowers and nurture my creativity without brainstorming ways to monetise it.

Enter: agonising guilt and insurmountable pressure to be productive. Whilst trying to rest and reverse the dissatisfaction I’d been experiencing while working full-time, I found myself living in a constant state of anxiety. I began associating my rest with laziness.

Thoughts like ‘Have I worked hard enough to be deserving of this much rest and relaxation?’, ‘Have I achieved enough in my almost 30 years?’, ‘I shouldn’t be having this much free time’ and ‘How can I match the achievements of the 1700 people I follow on Instagram?’ were constantly running through my mind.

I did a bit of digging to unpack this a little bit more

As a way to boost the economy following the Great Depression in the 1930s, Australia gave way to the modern capitalist economy we know today. Since then, we have seen almost continuous economic growth. The belief that time equals money and being busy is a virtue has been firmly cemented in Australian society.

An article published by the Sydney Morning Herald in 2019 claimed that Australians are addicted to being busy and found that we are collectively working 3.2 billion hours of unpaid overtime annually and have 134 million days of accrued annual leave.

As if that’s not bad enough, a health survey conducted by Deloitte Access Economics in 2018 found that almost 40 per cent of Australians do not get enough sleep. So not only are we overworked, but many of us are also just plain tired.

In an interview with the ABC, Madeleine Dore, the creator of Extraordinary Routines, explained how deeply entrenched the pressure to be productive is in modern Australian society.

“There’s a societal pressure to be productive, to equate doing with being worthy and busyness has almost become a badge of honour for some of us, and there are a lot of complex, structural, systemic reasons for that, to equate our productivity with our worth, but we sort of take that on personally and there’s a lot of self-blame and productivity guilt that can come from that,” she explained.

Much like me, Madeleine believes that whilst productivity can be a positive thing, it’s important to find that balance and to allow yourself to let go sometimes.

So, how can we counter this urgency to be productive and busy?

It’s not easy to break out of years of productivity conditioning, and it’s incredibly hard not to compare yourself to those around you and measure yourself against their careers and their successes, but it’s essential to take some time to listen to what it is you really want and need. The following has helped me, and I hope that it provides you with some reprieve from the pressure to be productive, too.

  • Consider and appreciate your qualities outside of the labour you can provide
  • Celebrate your small wins
  • Remember that binge-watching Netflix is nothing to feel guilty about
  • Find balance and commit to it
  • Remember that stress and urgency can be counterproductive and that foundational self-care is productivity too
  • Prioritise your self-care
  • Put in the work to let go of the productivity guilt

You are not a commodity. You are human. Your worth is inherent, and you are deserving of rest. You don’t have to be productive for productivity’s sake. Move a little slower if you need to – that email can wait.

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