I have a productivity complex: I feel like if I’m not being productive, I’m wasting my time. And yet, whenever I accomplish something, I don’t bask in the enjoyment of accomplishing that thing. Instead, I’m worried about the next thing I need to accomplish. The to-do list of life is never-ending. You can see why this can become a problem. To describe this phenomenon, I’m coining the term personal productivity paradox (“productivity paradox” is already taken to describe some socioeconomic phenomenon).
I don’t believe I’m alone in this feeling. We’re living in the era of social media, which means we can see when and what everybody is doing. Never before in history have we been able to see what every generation of people are doing. I’m a week short of being 25, so I’m smack dab in the middle of my 20s. On social media, I see what people in the decade younger and the decades older than me are doing. It causes me to question the decisions I made in college, and it makes me wonder if I’m making the right decisions to be properly “established” in my 30s, 40s, and further (check out this piece for the complexity of thinking long term with a disease like CF).
I find myself using the terms “established” and “right decisions” and realize those are buzzwords anyway. What does established even mean? I think I’d be considered established at this point to people younger than me: I have a solid career, I have a nice side hustle, I have a dog, I have a decent head on my shoulders, and (I hope) a bright future. I haven’t purchased a house yet, but I don’t really want one. Why don’t I feel established, then?
The personal productivity paradox is a figment of my anxiety. I should be able to relax at the end of a hard week of work. I have a full-time job, I spend a lot of time writing, and I’m doing things on the side as well. My mind convinces me that I need to be doing more to “become successful.” I could write a dissertation on why these thought patterns are irrational. But telling someone else or even your own mind that something is irrational doesn’t suddenly make them or it see the light.
I’m honest enough with myself that I can recognize why I struggle so intensely with this. It’s rooted in insecurity. It’s been there since I was young. I have always felt less than my peers because of my chronic disease. As much as I “don’t let CF hold me back” (another phrase that puts the onus of the disease on the individual with the disease), it does hold me back. It holds me back in my mind. It holds me back by forcing me to wonder what life would be like if I had the luxury of thinking 50 years into the future. It holds me back by making me feel that I have to do the absolute maximum in my time here so I’m not forgotten for a long time and so I can make a difference for generations to come.
This paradox, though, also drives me. I am motivated to do more as I complete more. When we accomplish tasks and we’re proud of how we did, it gives us the confidence to take on bigger and harder tasks. We become better by working hard. The personal productivity paradox is both a motivator and an inhibitor. It is our responsibility to learn how to navigate the thrill of success, the pain of failure, and the apathy of moving slowly to merge these feelings to one where we can be our best, most introspective self.
I’m a work in progress. I’m learning that relaxing makes me better at the other skills and hobbies in my life. And I’m learning that I deserve to relax after working hard, since it is a feedback loop. We cannot be our best selves if we never allow us to be our best selves.
Follow along with Tré’s other writings on his humbly named site, www.trelarosa.com.
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