Hi friends – just a brief post inspired by ~*~*summertime vibes*~*~.
As everyone in my lab left for fieldwork (literally everyone) and regular obligations wound down for the semester, I suddenly found myself with free time. Over the past few weeks I have been exploring how I choose to spend my time and how I judge those choices.
I derive a lot of my self-worth from being productive and prepared, having a purpose and a plan. I see the same values reflected in many of my peers. I cannot think of a conversation where a colleague expressed feeling productive enough. The drive to produce often feels overwhelming: if you ever feel like you’ve done enough, it is quickly followed with the feeling that you’re obviously not doing enough.
But life is about so much more than just having a purpose and being productive. Maybe, by focusing our self-worth on work, we are robbing ourselves of the joys of purposelessness. But purposelessness can also be productive. I watched a talk by Dr. Brené Brown where she described time spent without purpose as ‘play’. Upon hearing that I realized that I rarely play!
Even in my discussion of play and purposelessness above I snuck in a possible purpose for play – it might inspire me, making me a better worker. While research supports this idea, such purpose-driven play is oxymoronic. The academic world seems to be waking up to the idea of play and time absent of productivity. I’ve noticed folks on Science Twitter working to break down the normalcy of constantly working and improving your work output. I was particularly struck by one quote: “your productivity doesn’t define your worth”. But shouldn’t that just be a given?
My well-practiced critical thinking skills often keep me from focusing on fun. In science, we are trained to question everything. Asking questions makes us successful in our work but can also lead us to question ourselves too much. Whether we are judging ourselves for how we spend our time or being hypercritical of our accomplishments, our thought patterns can erode our self-worth and make us feel guilty about play.
I adopted a kitten this month and he is a good reminder of the importance of play (and naps). His daily routine is all about doing things that make him feel good: he takes big leaps and fails often, but that doesn’t stop him from trying again and having fun. He is free from judgement. We would all benefit a bit from taking a page out of the cat manual – not from the songbird chapter though.
I want to challenge myself and you, friends, to prioritize purposelessness.
- give ourselves permission to do something fun without any other reason?
- allow ourselves times to be free from self-criticism?
- measure our worth in ways other than our productivity?
Here are some of my recent personal examples for putting play into practice:
- I spent the past weekend with a friend reading for fun, hiking, and having a fire on the beach.
- This week my dad is visiting so we’ll be sure to spend some meaningfully purposeless time together gardening, reading, hiking and exploring.
- I signed up for dance and sewing classes. Importantly, these are things I am not good at right now. Accepting that makes me drop the judgement and learn how to support myself through new challenges.
- I have a summer reading list that I’m prioritizing in addition to my academic reading.
- Later in the summer I’m going to visit family, friends, and my horse out west.
This initiative might end up making me more productive or sparking some creativity that influences my work, but I will do it regardless because there is value in being purposeless.
If you like these ideas, maybe tweet (@proko_eco) about how you will try to be a bit purposeless this summer – I’m excited to hear what everyone gets up to!
I would like to thank Jaclyn Aubin, Levi Newediuk, and Bella Richmond and for chats that helped to shape this blog post and for being my fun companions.
Further discussion of these ideas are in posts below –