I’m an achievement addict, and I’m working on breaking that addiction.
Before I go on, I want to be clear that this isn’t a humble brag. This is not the equivalent of the person who walks around fake-lamenting about how they wish they weren’t so talented at absolutely everything! This isn’t about talent; it’s about a deep emotional attachment to defining myself by what I produce.
I’m talking about a mindset where the search for achievement overrides everything else. It’s a kind of obsession that drives every decision you make. It’s exhausting and it’s dangerous. It sustains ideologies about work that are bad for everyone. It’s a monolithic goal that stands in the way of happiness because it clouds judgment and overvalues production.
I’m pretty convinced these days that productivity often functions as a cult. Do you ever feel like you are committing a cardinal sin if you aren’t constantly trying to maximize your output and produce as much as possible? Do you feel guilty about not doing something productive? Do you fetishize being busy as a way of feeling important?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, you might be in the productivity cult. And once in, it’s so hard to get out. So hard!
When your productivity practice becomes the goal — and you are no longer thinking about what you produce, how you produce it, and whether or not you should produce anything at all — you might have become a productivity cult member.
Don’t feel bad if you are card-carrying member because you are not alone. Let’s practice un-brainwashing together.
Tell me how you will resist the productivity cult.
After Dinner Conversation publishes short stories about ethical or philosophical questions. It’s been fun to dive into fictional worlds that explore questions about what it means to be human. If you like short fiction, you should definitely check them out. They include discussion questions along with each story.
My story, “Survival Kit,” just hit #1 on Amazon downloads. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it or any of the other stories. Better yet, write your own and share it!
In my zeal to be old, I often forget how instructive it can be to listen to kids. Sure, they are generally little sociopaths with broken moral compasses–and they smell like hamsters– but they often have excellent ideas about how to live.
Here are some things children have recently taught me:
Don’t Waste Your Time with Dumb Stuff
My niece patiently explained to me that showering is optional. If she can sleep for an extra half hour, she isn’t stepping into a waterflow of any kind. “It just seems pointless,” she told me. She’s not wrong. Personal hygiene is totally the thief of joy. Greasy hair isn’t a crime. “It just likes like gel,” she insisted. She’ll bathe when she “gets to it.” Here’s a kid with priorities.
She also doesn’t muddy her memory with useless details. When I asked her what time she goes to school, she had no idea. It could be eight a.m., it could be seven a.m., it could be hamburger. She simply doesn’t know! “I just go in when the bell rings,” she explained (with a fair amount disdain, as if she just had to inform me that rain comes from the sky).
Her ingenious approach to life ensures she doesn’t have a head full of useless knowledge. She uses all that free brain space, she explained, to think about more important things, like whether or not she wants pizza.
Do Take a Reasonable Approach to Problem-Solving
My nephew is only twelve, but he has the common sense of an eighty-year-old. He goes to bed early, does his homework as soon as he gets home from school, disapproves of Tik Tok, and gets to class early to “center” himself. He’s also a keen pragmatist.
“Would you be willing to eat people?” he recently asked me.
“Why are you asking me that?” I asked. I was suspicious because he was handing me a taco at the same time.
“Just curious. I myself wouldn’t do it.”
“No,” I answered, “I’ll definitely pass on eating people.”
“What if they wanted to be eaten?”
“How would we know that?”
He thought for a moment. “They could tell people. Like sign something that says it’s okay to eat them.” He went to craft a complicated system that was sort of a cross between organ donation and The Hunger Games. Then he left to watch YouTube, satisfied that he’d essentially solved global hunger and cemetery overcrowding in about twenty minutes.
The whole conversation left me wondering I can’t easily come up with reasonable solutions to even the smallest recurring problems. Yet he has enough reason to create a plan for responsible cannibalism.
Don’t Lie, Even If the Truth Hurts
My ten-year-old niece is pathologically honest. If you give her a gift she doesn’t like, she’ll give you a sour expression, utter a perfunctory thank you, and then give the gift back. I once handed her a picnic basket to hold. She mistakenly thought it was a gift. “No thank you,” she told me. “I prefer not to picnic.” She’s basically a tween Bartleby.
Once you become an adult, you start to rely on little lies to lubricate social situations. It doesn’t take long before you’ve told your coworker that you love his singing, reassured your neighbors that you don’t mind in the least if their cat eats everything in your garden, and donated to your brother-in-law’s multi-level marketing business that sells leggings for goldfish.
Not my niece. She puts it out there. And as a result, you are never in doubt where you stand with her, and she never feels compelled to be someone other than herself. Not long ago, she met her old brother’s new girlfriend. She took one look at the girlfriend, turned to her brother and said, “This will never last. She’s going to dump you.” That’s radical honesty.
Be Better, But Still Be You
I was once asked to give a speech about how to change the world. I agreed to do it, but the truth was that I don’t have a clue how to change the world. I only recently learned how to change the furnace filter. (That’s a lie. I have no idea how to do that either.)
So I asked my friends with kids to advise me. How do you change the world? The kids’ answers were delightful. They advised more love, more smiles, more puppies, more kindness, less bullying, less greed, and less jealously.
They also gave me some bonkers answers that I still think about:
“I go under the tables.”
“After lunch I take a nap.
“If I play in the front room.”
“I like lollipops.”
What I took from their answers is that we can all agree that kindness and generosity are never bad ways to approach life. At the same time, it’s okay to be you. Get under the table and fart! Take a nap after lunch! Have a lollipop!
Life is hard. Find joy.
Above all, listen to the kids. They know what’s up.
Let’s talk about your bedroom for a minute. Do you use phones or other screens in yours? If you do, does using technology in your bedroom affect your sleep? Your focus? Do you know for sure?
I have a Kindle, but I leave my phone in another room. I know if I have a screen nearby, and I’m trying to sleep, I’ll end up thinking about work. For me, the mere presence of a screen puts in me in work mode.
Recently, I read some research about what happens when kids/tweens have screens in their rooms. It turns out that using screens in the bedroom is far worse (in terms of cognitive effects) than using screens elsewhere. So I wrote an article about that research for Your Teen Magazine, a leading source of trusted advice for parents raising tweens and teens.
Let me know what your household practices are for digital devices. In a world of digital distraction, we’re all trying to find ways to balance the addictive pull of technology and the need for silence. What’s your last refuge for silence?