Let’s Find a New Place to Live: Productivity Isn’t Home

High-Achieving Black Women, Perfectionism

If you’ve ever experienced the satisfaction of solving a difficult problem or finding an answer that felt like it was buried under so many rocks that you were close to giving up when you found it, you’ve likely encountered how gratifying productivity can be. Successful productivity can really rock our worlds in a good way.

Yet when the value of our self-worth and esteem become wholly dependent on the problem solving efforts of our minds and hands, we may find ourselves becoming like Pinocchio. The strings prompting us up is perfectionism, and let’s imagine that productivity is Geppetto. We tell ourselves that productivity is our safety net, our home, our main way of overcoming self-doubt and that it’s easier than the navigating the minefields of our emotions. Productivity feels like a a clear formula on how to “get it right”, how to “solve for x” and then move on.

Only, here’s what we miss by relying all too much on productivity:

1.) A life built on constant productivity doesn’t shield us from being controlled by perfectionism’s fear of failure. In being controlled by fear (usually disguised as the never ending must-do’s that can’t wait until the morning), we can start to believe that the only way to stay on top of things is to always be doing something that brings “value”. Yet, if we’re always so focused on the value of our hands and minds, we may underestimate the need for leisure of being.

2.) The productivity of our efforts eventually run on fumes. Usually, I’m all for kicking imposter syndrome’s butt, but with thought to constant productivity, there’s truth to imposter syndrome. The fear of being “found out” or “dropping the ball” highlights the body’s awareness that constantly functioning at such a pace is unsustainable. Even the brightest and most energetic of folks eventually run on fumes, and they are “found out” to be human. When the  “ball drops,” they learn that there’s still a life waiting for them. Despite, productivity preferring that we operate as “super-humans” 24-hours a day.

3.) What seemingly gives value to self-worth and esteem through productivity can also create sensitivities around the slightest bit of criticism. Criticism is then perceived as the antithesis of value contribution when productivity is the hub of our functioning.

4.) Productivity only feels like home, because it’s what we’ve given most of our time and energy to. It seems safer to give our time and energy to something that has a clear return value, rather than extending our efforts and attention to other parts of our lives that require vulnerability of self.

5.) Productivity kicks into gear the pride of “doing”, but creates guilt around “being”. And that’s the issue with productivity. As much as we would like it to be home, it can never be. It affirms value through performance and doesn’t give room for who and what we might be outside of the impulses of “having to perform” or “contribute”. It’s possible for home to be more. Home can be acceptance; home can be freedom to explore; home can be fresh air that you don’t have to earn; home can be more than what productivity leads you to believe that it gives. Productivity isn’t home.

Carmelle Ellison, LCSW

I help high-achieving adults, especially in the BIPOC community live authentically wholesome lives via telehealth therapy throughout California.


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