I’m going against the grain here, and I’m aware of the difficulties that might bring. But, hear me out….we are a culture that values production. If we aren’t producing something (a 40-hour work week, an organized home, a 40 bullet journal plan to fix everything in our life) then we aren’t worth anything.
If you stop and think about what we honor in our culture, you get a pretty clear picture of our love of production, and the way we find worth for ourselves and others:
We honor people that work 60 hours a week at a 40 hours a week job as “hard-working”.
The corporate sector honors people that don’t take all their vacation and sick time.
Employees are honored for not taking lunch breaks.
If we lose our jobs, we suddenly don’t have “value” and it causes an identity crisis.
Stay-at-home moms have the hardest job in the world, and still, often feel like they need to justify their lack of “producing”.
If our house is disorganized then we’re lazy.
If I am not “producing” an organized, productive kid with good grades, then I’m a bad parent.
Don’t get me wrong, there is value in production. Work results in money, which we need to live. But, I believe that the way we define production is way off base. Our culture looks for what we’re “doing”, not what we’re giving, believing, or loving.
In my coaching and counseling practice, this is one of the first places we start when we dig into the internal chaos people experience: how do family and cultural values infect the way we define production? What are the narratives we say to ourselves when we take a day to binge Netflix or go away by ourselves with no plans and nothing to do?
Here are three ways to reframe these narratives:
What am I producing as a good human?
Our culture rarely honors people who produce love and kindness in the world. Our brains love black and white. Things are either good or bad and if we aren’t producing something solid and tangible, then that’s bad. I would argue that what our country really needs now is to value love and honor the intangible.
I like to make a list of the “good human” things I did for the day, or that were provided to me as well. My list last week included:
Someone held the door open for me at the gas station.
I bought the person behind me a gift card at the coffee shop so they could have a free coffee.
I actually listened to a friend after I asked them how they were doing, instead of thinking about the 40 things I have to do that day.
A friend offered to bring me dinner after a long travel day.
I purchased grocery gift cards to give out to homeless folks.
Here’s the interesting thing about this exercise: it actually helps my brain look for good human things to do that are so valuable to other people. And, it produces good human things in return.
As a parent, how am I producing a good human kid?
Parenting for production is a whole other blog, but I think it’s important to mention here. We get really emotionally tied to our kids’ good (or “bad”) grades, standardized test scores, how they’re doing in sports, are they're doing enough activities, and it gets in the way of the big picture: are we producing good human beings?
There is so much pressure to perform and produce that we’re putting this same pressure on our kids. I have a very smart kid, who does not like school. He was very challenged this year after changing to a school with a rigorous curriculum and I could feel the societal pressure of “good” grades infecting me. The message wasn’t about his learning or needs, but about how others would judge my production as a parent related to my kid’s success. That is not about our kids at all, but about ourselves - pretty selfish, right? When I feel that pressure, I stop and look at my loving, funny, good human kid. Those grades mean nothing in the scheme of living a full, healthy, and happy life as a good human. And just to be clear, I can assure you I was not a straight A student (or A-B student to be honest). What I am most proud of myself is my empathy and emotional IQ - which have nothing to do with the production of grades.
Social media is not our friend in the production game.
One of my first suggestions for my clients who struggle with the perfection of production is to get off social media - or at least take a break. This is ironic considering most of my business model is related to social media but the perfectionism game is rampant and the need to compare what I’m producing to “everyone else in the world” is inflamed by social media. The DIY posts seriously make me feel like I’m an oaf. The seemingly perfect inspiration posts make me want to spend five hours on Canva so I can keep up. The perfect family vacation pictures from Disney World cause me to think about why our last family vacation seemed so dramatic and that I’m not producing enough to take that kind of vacation.
Take a break if this is a struggle for you…if it’s hard to do, use your rational brain to remember that people are not perfect - any of us have a behind-the-scenes story that is not always told.
And in my case, hire a virtual marketing assistant because I simply don’t have five hours to spend on one post when it is not my strength.
Stop trying to work 110% at work.
During my last employee position, I was experiencing some difficulties in my personal life that were infecting my work life. It was really difficult for me to feel good about going to work when I didn’t feel like I was 100% present. And then it happened, I made a pretty major mistake and walked into my boss's office to tattle on myself. She looked at me as I’m explaining that I am not giving 100% at work and said, “You do realize your 80% is everyone else’s 60%”. I remember feeling like a hammer had hit me because I was doing it again - valuing myself on what I was producing, not what I brought to my employer.
My standards for myself are high, and that’s not a bad thing. I’m a great leader, CEO, coach, and counselor because of those standards. But, if I'm not producing up to those standards, I feel like a failure and that I’m not giving value as defined by the company, not myself and the long list of values I do provide.
It’s hard for us to get to a place where we understand that our intangibles are just as worthy in the workplace as our tangible outputs. My ability to defuse situations for tense moments, my complete empathy and compassion for clients, and my ability to see the big picture are just as valuable as the number of billable hours I produce and the income I create. All of those things are important, but we forget that the intangibles are what make great employees, and therefore a great company.
Production of things, time, hours, and honors are not what defines you. Being a human makes you valuable. The good vibes you give out into the world are what make you valuable. Producing generations of good humans is what makes you valuable. Your next step is to define for yourself what makes you valuable, and start producing more of that!
Mattie is a counselor, coach, and CEO of Cerebrations, LLC. With over 25 years of experience in understanding how the brain affects our emotions, reactions, and our experiences, she is passionate about empowering women to harness the power of their brain and body connection to create intentional action and deeper connections with their families. You can reach her at email@example.com or by scheduling a free consult chat.