The Guilt of Productivity

Exactly four years ago today I quit my job as an attorney.

Four years… I almost made it four years.

Just this past week I found myself at a dead end, thinking it was all over. The feeling came over me because I finally sat down to do something that haunts me; work on my own stuff.

This is an important observation to share because I felt selfish. It took so much effort to carve out the time to actually sit down and focus solely on updating my website, possibly the most important thing I can do that can help me and the programs I work with. However, to do this is inherently selfish because it is all about me, and every moment sitting down filled me with guilt as I set aside all my other obligations.

I say this because we are raised in an environment where productive work is so often grinding away at something that we don’t enjoy that it becomes synonymous. So alike are the two, that when you actually do something you enjoy that is productive, a Pavlovian reflex says “Bad! This can’t be productive because it feels good!” We are raised in classrooms where we are systematically put under pressure to study subjects we are not passionate about, along the way take on jobs to support ourselves where we perform tasks that are uninspiring or tedious, and in the end the lesson we are supposed to learn is “this is the way it is.”

And it is hard to shake that feeling of “how it is,” but it is not; that is just a habit that’s been created with practice.

Even after all these years, as I sat in front of my computer my guilt piled up and compressed. Then, I was smacked in the face with an obstacle that I didn’t know how to overcome. As a result, I was reduced to a scared child, sitting on my balcony overlooking the mountains and thinking “this is not a bad view for the last beautiful view I will see.” I felt helpless and distressed, and I did not see past the obstacle. My website was unfinished, and I was paralyzed. It was a familiar lesson.

See, if there is anything the past four years has taught me, it is to trust myself. I have run into so many walls, pits, traps, you name it. Yet, no matter what happened in the past, I am still here. Maybe I’m not on the cover of National Geographic, or receiving praise from the Smithsonian Institute, but I’m alive and I am still able to adventure, help remote peoples, and keep going!

What helps in these moments of distress is thinking about the old me, about the moment I will be reflecting on these experiences. I think to myself that this is the journey, this is the ups and downs and the spectacular experiences I will tell stories of. This is the roller-coaster ride of my life and these moments are the exciting ones; the ones filled with uncertainty and fear, the ones where everything seems lost, and the ones that make my heart feel. And it is beautiful.

I submitted to the experience, I confided in my friends, and I trusted for life to go on. This allowed me to focus and make progress, and not be paralyzed in my seat. And today, on the fourth anniversary to the day from when I quit my job, I am able to bring this site to you. It was not easy, but nothing worthwhile is. We force ourselves to grow when we do uncomfortable and new things, not when we pace in a circle.

The future is uncertain, and that’s the beauty of life.

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