Updated: Jul 21, 2019
Everyone's wired a little bit different. I, like my father, am wired a bit on the neurotic side (sorry Dad, but a tiger can't change its stripes). My dad retired several years ago and has held more jobs in retirement than some people do in a lifetime. He likes working, he likes making a difference, he likes waking up with a sense of purpose.
My husband is a man who knows how to relax. I envy him, in a way. When he is sick, he will stay on the couch, have junk food, and watch movies until he feels better.
When I am sick, or in the recent case of severely spraining my ankle, I will spend the next day putting weight on it and painting our fence because in my mind, painting is a stationary activity, and if I have to be stationary, at least I can be productive. Two weeks post-sprain and the ankle is still inflated. I reckon' my method of "rest" is not the most effective.
I come from a family of farmers and scholars. The two don't seem like they go hand-in hand, but they have more in common then you'd think. Hard work is a way of life. Hard work was ingrained from my father's side of the family, who were immigrants who had to excel in education in order to get hired anywhere. Hard work was ingrained in my mother's family through generations of farmers where work meant the difference between eating and not. These lessons passed down the ladder, so I get it honestly.
Rest is a difficult thing for me to do. It's always been tough. Sure, hard work is something I've seen modeled through my parents, grandparents, and relatives, but on a deeper level my constant drive towards productivity is a direct reflection of issues around my own self-worth. On a gut level I have this sense that if I push harder, work harder, create more, or do more, I would feel like I'm worth something.
Over the weekend, I was talking to my brother about the concept of "self-worth". Puzzled, he cocked his head to the side and said, "Huh...I never thought about my worth. Thinking if I have value or not has literally never crossed my mind."
"Oh to be a man," I thought.
Men aren't immune to issues around self-worth, but through socialization it seems issues around worth have been pounded into women.
I'm not alone in this thought process. And years later, as a therapist and a person who has spent years doing my own work on issues around self-worth, I know intellectually, that I am worth a whole lot. On days when I'm sick, or injured, or fuzzy-brained, I find it hard to remember. I know most of the CBT, mindfulness, and thought challenging tricks in the book, and yet there are still days where my productivity feels like it is the measuring stick for my personal value. I know it's a false ruler, but my brain tends to default there none the less.
My recent injury, or perhaps my initial response of intolerance towards it coupled with four days off for a holiday, got me thinking about what it would be like to win the lottery. I've played the lottery (probably more than I'd like to admit), but for the first time I thought, "Would I actually even want to win?"
Sure it'd be great to ensure my family is provided for, travel, set up a foundation, etc. but if I'm being honest, I know that winning the lottery would not fulfill my deepest sense of purpose for being on this Earth. There are ways to do immeasurable good with money, and that's what I would hope to do, but when I'm operating from a wise place (few and far between), I know money would not bring the fulfillment I desire.
Yet neither would work, in its entirety. I've lived many years in waiting for accolades and accomplishment to finally fill my soul with worth. I've given and given in an effort to feel better about myself, and while I am grateful for those times of service I realize that no amount of giving, doing, creating, or producing will fill up that jar with coins of self-worth.
My recent injury has led me to explore satisfaction and meaning. I have often measured a good day by the number of miles I biked or ran, the amount of paragraphs I wrote, and the care of my lawn. Yet over the past 2 weeks of being unable to "get things done" in the physical sense, I've found a new kind of freedom. I realize the tether that productivity has had (and still fights for) on my life.
The moment I heard the pops in my ankle, I looked up to the sky. It started to rain and I had about a mile and a half to hobble before I reached my car. So I cried, not from pain, but from the frustration of knowing I wasn't going to be able to be in the woods or run for a while. I immediately looked up, shaking my head and said, "I know why this is happening, I know it's time for growth, but that doesn't mean I like it." I cried at the frustration of my own resistance and rigidity.
And now I sit, leg propped up in a coffee shop, typing away and thinking even now of productivity, of "taking advantage" of sitting. But for today, I think I'm going to ease into the day, take in the warmth of the sun, the coolness of an icepack on the old ankle, and the creaminess of my coffee. I'm going to look at the toddlers below me playing Connect Four and reflect on the time spent with my nephews last weekend as we giggled and attempted to play the same game.
At the end of the day, we could produce the great American Novel, discover the cure to various diseases, or sit as a prisoner in a cell for the rest of our lives. Neither the laureate, the lottery winner, nor the inmate are worth any different in the end, and neither are we.