Productivity is an interesting concept. Society seems to perceive it as extremely positive. It’s essential in the arena of life achievement. In moving forward. We each experience a range of productivity and motivation. When I’m feeling energetic I’m often impressed with the amount I’m able to get done. On lethargic days, if I can muster up the energy to do one or two productive things, I’m proud of myself. I’ve moved the needle, if only by a millimeter. The sticky side of productivity is when it’s confused with busyness and used as a sly tool for avoidance. I’ve fallen into the quicksand more times than I can count.
Life has been busy for me lately – in the most thrilling ways. I recently got engaged to an amazing man, and we’re about to embark on the biggest adventure either of us has taken. We’re leaping into a year of travels, away from our careers and life of stability in Fort Worth. I plan to write more about this in the future. For now, I want to discuss the inspiration block I’ve experienced as a byproduct of these exhilarating life changes.
With the excitement and joy of planning a wedding also comes a never ending to-do list. Add on a year-long trip, visiting places I’ve only imagined, and it’s incredibly easy to get lost in dreamland. Visualizing future events instead of engaging with the world around me.
Living in the present isn’t a natural talent of mine. That’s why I’m drawn to experiences that ignite adrenaline. Skydiving, hang gliding, jet skiing, and most forms of competition ground me in the present moment. They require focus and attention, which ultimately create the most potent experiences. When I don’t have all consuming activities to zero in on, my mind loves to launch into the future. I envision all the excitement to come. This is not a new pattern for me – it’s been present my entire life. There was always something to look forward to: summer break, weekend activities, celebrations. Anything to take me out of the mundane now. Anything that I could anticipate so that I didn’t have to exist in the in between. The moments where things might be boring, or worse, sad. The moments when the fog creeps in. Where things seem less magical.
I’m enamored with magic. Novelty is an enchanting form of magic. At some point in life I fell under the spell of novelty and mistook it as the answer. But novelty fades, and you’re left with the memory of an exciting experience, without any tangible growth (unless there’s a lesson learned). I never practiced being okay with being just okay, much less sad or angry. A coping mechanism I learned at a young age was to project into the future. The future can always be bright and shiny – full of possibilities. When you’re constantly projecting and escaping, you miss the journey. Over the past few years I’ve learned a lot about enjoying the present and tuning into the magic it offers. Even the moments of melancholy and frustration can bring gems of wisdom to the surface (in fact, they usually do if you’re willing to sit with the feeling and listen).
At this stage of life, there is an overwhelming amount of future experiences to look forward to. During the month of January, I got an insane amount done. I was incredibly productive. I expected to enter February in a relaxed state, content and inspired. Instead, I felt depleted. My excitement around the future had fueled my seemingly bottomless pit of energy. I was happy to get things done, because every step brought me closer. But I forgot to exist in the present. I forgot to read, write, listen, and be. I forgot how beautiful the trees are against the bright blue sky. I forgot the magic of a misty rain when walking home after a hard workout. I forgot how to feel inspired by the now.
I spent February remembering. I scheduled a massage, read a book, and practiced a little more yoga. When March arrived, the clarity began to set in. I cannot live in the future. It isn’t here yet. Inspiration lives in the present moment. In the mundane. The in between. In the moments where I set the to-do list aside and listen. Listen to the world around me and to my inner wisdom. When I turn off auto-pilot.
Enter COVID-19. I can’t imagine the trials people are experiencing around the world due to this pandemic. My heart and hope go out to those enduring the most challenging circumstances. I am grateful to those risking their safety for the benefit of others.
I am blessed to be in the position I’m in. I have a comfortable, safe home to take shelter in, and a partner to spend time with. I am privileged. With this privilege in mind, it seems the universe has presented me with an interesting paradox. The world is changing at lightning speed and yet, I feel bored. There are new developments daily. I’m witnessing immense pain juxtaposed by sublime grace and beauty. Jobs have been lost, families are struggling to make ends meet, and people are dying. Physically healthy opportunists are hoarding masks and racing old ladies to the toilet paper aisle. But I’ve also seen communities band together, supporting those who were once considered strangers. Our earth is receiving a break from constant mistreatment. People are slowing down and considering how they can contribute to a better world. It’s striking. The best television writers couldn’t create a more engaging Truman Show-esque existence. And still, I sit here, fending off the fog.
An apartment that was once a welcome escape from the chaos of the world feels confining. This cozy space now symbolizes a restriction of freedom. How is this possible? I haven’t had enough practice with stillness. I grew up in a bubble of freedom. Freedom to roam free and take part in any activity my heart (or head) desired. Freedom to distract myself – to get lost in busyness and avoid boredom at all costs. I didn’t know how to slow down. I wasn’t taught to pay attention to tiny miracles: When a friend reaches out at the precise moment you felt alone, when a white dove flies by while on a run, when an intriguing thought pops into your head out of nowhere, or when you feel unexpected connection with neighbors through a common plight. These little moments of magic make up our lives, yet most of us hardly notice them.
Highly unlikely beneficial events happen to us all the time, quietly, knocking on the door of our awareness…
They have always been happening to me. Some of them I recognize. Some of them I may take advantage of without even being aware of their miraculous nature. There is no way I have of knowing how many I have let slip by.– M. Scott Peck
This adult time out has granted me the opportunity to practice paying attention. Things are outside of my control, but due to the comfort and safety of my home, it is an opportunity to grow. I get to practice one of my greatest weaknesses: sitting still. Without a certain future to project into, I must learn how to find inspiration, hope, and beauty in the present. I know it’s here. I get to choose to practice tuning in. I get to open my eyes and witness the beautiful magic in the mundane.
May you all find grace and beauty in uncertain times.
These can all be used productively, but in excess I find that they inhibit creativity and send me into auto pilot: Netflix/TV, over imbibing, social activities, social media, over eating, to-do list obsession.
Spending time outdoors, going for a walk or picnic, bike riding, yoga, creative activities, dancing, reading, writing, music, meditation, conversing with friends & loved ones, and anything else that brings you JOY rather than numbness.
*I am by no means promoting laziness – rather a different perspective on productivity. Accomplishing goals can be incredibly fulfilling, but at times slowing down can be one of the most productive things you can do for yourself. I plan to write another post around the topic of laziness. Stay tuned.
*It has been pointed out to me that what I thought was a white dove may have been an albino pigeon. Maybe my lack of bird watching knowledge was a part of the tiny miracle experience?? It was significant enough for me to notice, so in my book the example qualifies.