At the start of the year, I set a goal to post weekly. Up until now, I was meeting that goal. It wasn’t easy, but I always managed to find something to write. A few weeks ago, I started feeling very tired. Much more tired than usual. Everything felt like a drag. Focusing felt like a struggle.
To cut a long story short, I had a kidney infection that was resistant to antibiotics. What this means is that even though I was being treated, I got quite a bit sicker before I started to get better. I’m still not back to my baseline energy levels.
I haven’t written or posted a blog for coming up to three weeks and I feel completely happy with my decision. Today, I want to share a little bit about my thought process around this.
Goals aren’t sticks to beat ourselves with
In a weird and roundabout way, getting so sick feels like a gift. Often, when I don’t meet a goal, I beat myself up and call myself a failure (even though I know this is a massive waste of time and, ironically, tends to prevent me from making progress). This time, however, I was so ill that I didn’t have the energy to beat myself up about not meeting my goal. My brain would raise these thoughts and my body would just go “meh, whatever, going back to sleep for the rest of the day”.
I am never (consciously) going back to beating myself up about goals. I give you permission to adjust your goals when shit happens, to be wrong about how long it was going to take, or how often you were going to do the thing. There is no wagon to fall off when it comes to goals. It is not a “failure” to get too sick to work. Deadlines are optional and missing them is not life-threatening.
I choose to model resting
Now, I had some pre-written blogs I could have published. I could have pretended everything was fine and carried on posting. I chose not to, because I’m not interested in perpetuating the illusion of constant productivity.
Constant productivity is one of the key values of capitalism. As an anticapitalist, I am not here for that. I am here to model anticapitalist praxis. If I rest when I need to and nothing terrible happens, I become a better teacher, my experience grows.
I chose to talk about my experience of illness not to garner sympathy, but because overriding our bodies when they are sick or otherwise in need of rest is one of the things my clients struggle with the most. Claiming rest and comfort disrupts the idea that “success” requires constant hard work, or that our value as humans depends on our ability to produce.
Success isn’t a race
Taking a break doesn’t detract from success. There is enough success to go round. Success isn’t better because it happens faster, and it’s no less valuable if it takes a bit longer. Really.
This is because success isn’t really an end point, it’s more of a state of being. I know people for whom success is living outside of systems and people for whom success is making lots of money. One person I knew defines success as working the minimum number of hours needed to fund his basic needs and climbing trips. We get to define success however we want to.
Rest is a necessary ingredient of success
Rest is part and parcel of success, however you define it. There is a tendency to define success in terms of specific results, but success is more like a cake. To make the cake, all of the ingredients are necessary. And rest is one of the necessary ingredients for success.
We need to rest in order to do things well. This is especially true when it comes to recovering from illness. Overriding the physical signals of illness hinders our bodies in healing. We slow down when we’re ill because healing takes resources. When we override those signals in order to be productive, we leave ourselves without the resources we need to heal. And we stay sick for longer or end up with chronic conditions.
Piercing the veil of productivity culture
It is–unfortunately– natural to feel guilty about accessing rest. Productivity culture is baked into modern capitalist societies. The key illusion of capitalism is that we need to work hard to get ahead (or, increasingly, just to stay where we are). This is an illusion.
The reason people feel guilty about rest is not because rest is wrong, but because we are deeply conditioned from birth to believe that it is. This is especially true for anyone who falls into the category of what philosopher Kate Manne calls a “human giver”, ie anyone who holds one or more marginalised identities.
This isn’t a personal failing, but a systemic one. When you are conditioned to believe that you’re not entitled to a seat at the table and that hard work is the way to succeed, it’s only natural to want to prove you deserve a seat. By overdelivering and trying to be a model producer. Productivity culture, though, is insatiable. In a world where extraction of labour is the goal, more is always better. Overdelivering often comes without the expected rewards.
How we sell our labour is not who we are
I am a scientist, I am a coach, I am a lawyer. No, you are a human who does science, or coaches, or practices law. We are all more than our work. But in cultures where work and productivity are seen as integral to our identities, taking a break from work can feel like taking a break from who we are. Without work, we can feel bereft or disoriented.
I am grateful to disabled friends for encouraging me to think more broadly about questions like “what do you do?” Rather than falling back on the socially acceptable defaults of talking about work, I share more of myself these days. Building a self-concept that does not centre work is one of the pillars of my own practice.
I want a world where rest is celebrated
Being ill did not feel good, but allowing my body to recover without rush did. I want a world where nobody feels pressured to put their work before their health. I want a world where trust is assumed. I want a world where we support each other to rest and heal, where nobody has to do this alone.
The more I trust in the signals my body is giving me, the easier life as a whole gets. When I consciously decide to flout the rules of productivity culture, nothing terrible happens. Work sometimes takes a bit longer. Or someone gets pissed off. Not the end of the world. Sometimes work happens faster, because I don’t know about you, but I tend to make more mistakes when I’m sick or tired than when I am well-rested.
If resting feels hard, do it with others.
I got a lot better at setting boundaries around work and taking time off when I joined a union. Talking to colleagues helped me see the ways I was overriding my body in order to overdeliver. Changing your patterning around rest is not something you have to do alone. Going against the cultural grain tends to feel scary and doing it with others lets us collectively hold belief for each other.
The workers’ rights that we have today were won by many people saying “no”. Eight hours to work, eight hours to rest and eight hours to do-what-you-will might feel like a relic from the days of manual, factory labour, but the principle still applies that these rights were fought for, not given willingly.. Saying “no” alone is very difficult. Saying “no” collectively is how we make change.
Hiya! I’m Jane, I’m an anticapitalist mindset coach. I partner with people to unpack social conditioning, cultivate liberatory practices and build flourishing and rooted lives on their own terms, not the defaults offered by society. If you like what you read here, please consider supporting my writing via my Patreon page. My writing will always be freely accessible for all to read and your support helps make that happen. Thank you so much!