When I lived in America, I watched as so many people around me (read that as everyone) immersed themselves in the energy of “Productivity”. Everyone was up at the gym by 6am, had read the papers by 7am (back in the day) and was at their desk showered and power dressed by 8am. They left work at 8pm, had dinner with friends and then squeezed in another two hours of studying for their part-time MBA.
Three years ago I went back to Manhattan. Nothing had changed. Only they had now moved into enforcing the same belief system onto their children.
“What do you mean she’s not going to college” screamed my friend. “All the kids go to college here”. My daughter sat perplexed. She was taking a GAP year to explore the World, work and do teenage thangs…probably the most productive thing you can do as a teen to be honest.
You see, I grew up in Nigeria. I went to primary school every day from 8:30a.m. -12:30p.m. In the afternoon I sometimes attended Brownies or Art class, but always after 2 hours at our friend’s swimming pool. When I was eventually shipped off to Boarding School in Scotland, it only took me six weeks to catch up. If you have read any books by educators John Holt, John Taylor Gatto or Sir Ken Robinson, you’ll know that we are having the metaphorical wool pulled over our eyes.
If Donald Trump and his lifestyle are the pinnacle of productivity, I am so glad I turned the other way, took my kids out of school and travelled around the World with them when they were 7, 4 and 5 months. I now have 3 children who are independent thinkers, question everything, are kind and empathetic, and fierce card players. One loves pottery, the other is a sustainable fashionista, and the third will be flying a plane before he can drive. Outside the box… yes, but then they never knew there was one.
Last week, I had a friend speak to me about feeling unproductive in their life. They were going through a relationship break-up and instead of ‘doing’ they had been crying. In his book “The Smell of Rain on Dust”, Martin Prechtel talks about his experience living in a South American village where people revered the howling madness of grief. “The grief was not a sickness nor any kind of affliction, but a pain-filled testament of courageous praise they bore whomsoever their heart had lost”. Yet all around my friend there were people saying “get your ‘shit’ together”. The truth is grieving is absolutely necessary in order to release and rejuvenate our physical, emotional and spiritual bodies, anything less is just plain nonsense.
So if you wear productivity like a badge of honour you have my empathy, as a recovering perfectionist I did too. Don’t get me wrong I like to feel fulfilled at the end of the day, I like to feel I have contributed mindfully to it, but ‘mainstream’ productivity is exhausting us, it is exhausting our planet, but most of all it is exhausting our souls.
In its place I invite you to consider becoming part of the gentle and receptive aspects of life by living more in tune with them. I know it is super hard when you are surrounded by noise, and ‘look at me’s’ proudly showing off their productivity, but try anyway. Try because I think deep down we are being called to light candles and rest. After two years in bed with a chronic illness I can tell you I never once missed the busy-ness. It was the experience of savouring life through my many senses that I longed for the most. A swim in the sea, sand between my toes, campfires, walks in forests or just lying on the grass and reading a book. In the end it was the land that called me back and gave me the hope to get better.
It will be 15 years this March that we left the rat race.
I don’t turn left as I get on the plane anymore but I do have the space and freedom to choose how I spend my day and that feels like glorious abundance to me.