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Finding joy outside of being productive

When Lisa and I left our jobs, online we imagined that we would spend the next month sleeping in, there going on leisurely bike rides in Marin, and reading novels in coffee shops while scoffing at all of the 9-5 workers who have to rush around all day. We were so wrong.

In the few weeks since we’ve been jobless, Lisa and I have gotten into more mindless arguments than we ever have before (the biggest of which involved a planned bike ride to Marin that ended up with one of us riding off without the other in a huff). Instead of having all this time to take care of daily tasks and prepare for our impending trip, we feel like we’re accomplishing almost less than we used to. The checks I planned to deposit are still in my drawer, I haven’t exercised since Monday, and the laundry has been sitting in the dryer for the last 4 days. I am also sad to report that I have yet to begin any novel.

Instead, it just feels like we spend our days trying to get a lot done but not actually accomplishing much. A typical day in our new lives:

7:00AM: Lisa wakes up and starts trying to wake Jenni up
7:30AM: Jenni still refuses to wake up despite Lisa’s most valiant efforts
8:00AM: Lisa gives up and goes for a run by herself
9:00AM: Lisa returns home and Jenni finally wakes up. Jenni gets mad at Lisa for not waking her up and causing her to miss the run (“I tried!”, “No you didn’t, I had my ear plugs on.”).
9:30AM: Jenni and Lisa map out their to-do lists for the day with grand expectations of productivity
10:00AM: Jenni opens her email and attempts to get through her inbox. However, she is distracted frequently and starts 5 tasks without finishing any of them. Lisa is reorganizing boxes in the basement or cleaning the kitchen cupboard – basically, anything other than what she’s supposed to be doing on her to-do list.
12:00PM: Jenni and Lisa have a networking lunch or interview for Out & Around.
2:00PM: Jenni hunkers down and makes some progress on her to-do list. Lisa takes her father to a doctor’s appointment.
5:00PM: Lisa returns, and Jenni and Lisa go through status updates for Out & Around and try not to overwhelm each other by reminding ourselves that “this is supposed to be fun!”
7:00PM: Jenni and Lisa go to dinner with friends or stay in and cook.
9:00PM: Back on the computer to punch out a blog post or write a couple more networking emails.
11:00PM: Lisa forces Jenni to shut down the computer and get ready for bed.

The upshot of this? We end the day feeling like we could have done more – gotten through more of our to-do lists, spent more time with friends and family, and most of all enjoyed ourselves more. It turns out that losing the definitive structure of a workday can be just as challenging as it is freeing. You start each day with high expectations of fun and leisure (“I don’t have to go to work today!”), but you can’t just allow yourself to loaf around all day. You feel you must be productive or you’ll be a waste of a lump of flesh, so you spend the day attempting to be productive but without the structure or discipline to efficiently accomplish anything.

So today, we decided to try something different. After a morning interview with Supergay Kate Kendall, we went on a long lunch date instead of going to a coffee shop to work. We allowed ourselves to just take some pleasure in our newfound freedom, to find some joy outside of being productive.

Whether its a product of American society or my Chinese upbringing, I have a really hard time feeling good about myself unless I feel like I’ve accomplished something. The result is that I’m a pretty productive person, but I’ve lost the ability to relax. Watch TV? Complete waste of time. Read fiction novels? Makes me feel guilty. Quiet time for reflection? Only if I’m exercising at the same time.

Lisa and I shared our predicament with our friend Trisha at dinner tonight. Trisha spent half a year jobless by choice herself recently, so she completely identified with our struggle to fully embrace the jobless life. Its a tough one for people to understand (“What the heck are you complaining about, I would die to trade places to with you!”) and believe me I’d still take not working over working, but finding joy in just being is not an easy thing.

The good news is that we have 12 months to figure it out. I hope that we do learn how to find more joy outside of productivity. So who knows, when we come back, you just might find us sitting on our couch watching reruns of Glee.

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7 Responses

  1. Sounds VERY familiar! Trust me, it won’t take (too) long to find a groove that feels right. Remember, a change this big requires lots of “undoing” of your previous lifestyle – the routine, the structure, the certainty, etc.

    Excited to keep following your journey.

  2. I think the urge to be productive is a tough one. You can end up spending a long day pretending to be productive and achieve no joy at all — as you’ve of course learnt. Taking days off is important, and worth making a goal in themselves…

  3. I’ve been out of the rat race for almost 2 years now and I know what you’re talking about. I long ago gave up trying to be productive when the mood doesn’t strike me or if there is no compelling reason to be. When you’ve got so much time on your hands and no boss peering over your shoulder, you find out that there really isn’t a whole lot in life that is important or time critical. The way I handle this is by allowing myself to sloth about until it drives me mad and then I become driven to do something! Other times I just get a burst of energy and do something. But most of the time I don’t and I think that’s OK. 🙂

    1. Thanks Adam.

      I love your blog! We are heading to Sydney, Brisbane, and Bali first. Loved your Bali photos. We’re hoping to slow down and relax our pace once we jump on an airplane.

  4. This was really interesting for me to read. I am still working full-time but will be retiring in three years and I am a bit concerned about exactly what you’re describing. I’ve relied on that structured workday to be the goal posts in my life, to draw the frame around the day. I’m worried that if I don’t HAVE to do things, I won’t do anything!

    On the other hand, I also think that some of my least productive times (watching too much tv for instance!) is a rebellion against the structure, so I’m hopeful that I will feel set free enough that I will no longer feel the need to rebel.

    Thanks for something to think about!

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