I’m inspired by how driven some people can be. It’s not everyday that you get genuinely impressed by someone’s energy, particularly not through social media. But I did today and after the inspiration surged through my veins, I find myself just sitting here and wondering two things. Why the hell am I sitting here watching people do stuff? What will I do if I had that kind of energy?
Let’s get one big thing out of the way first. “That kind of energy” is not something some lucky or special people are born with. No, I don’t buy that. It’s obviously nurtured. I know this because I’ve felt incredibly motivated before, and chances are, you have too. It depends on what you’re doing. I think we just need to do something we’re decently good at and find meaningful. That’s the trick to getting “that kind of energy”.
Well, at least part of the trick. There’s an important part that is less examined, I think, and that’s our natural tendencies.
I naturally tend towards being in quiet places. Without supervision, I also tend to be lazy. If I had the lovely evening after work to myself, I tend to not create but consume. And even though I recognise that this is inhibiting my growth as a professional and as a person as a whole, I just tend to be lazy, you know?
Now here’s a non-revelation: a tendency to (not) do something is a phenomenon, a manifestation of some underlying idea. I think the idea that underlines my tendency to consume instead of create (ie. being lazy) is that there’s no need to work so hard all the time, every time.
After a long day’s work where I’m not lazy (it’s a professional environment), why get home and do more stuff? Productivity is a business idea. Sounds fair enough, right?
What I haven’t realised before is that the way I think about after-work work is wrong. Calling it after-work work is already a fallacy. While not working hard all the time is something I still agree with as a general principle in life, the things we do during time we have after work and on weekends (minus that which is spent with family) are not work. They should not be called work.
The things we do in our free time are expressions.
Expressions of our expertise gained from working hard at our day jobs.
Expressions of our creativity, pent up and brewing from every walk around the block, every moment of politicking, every pocket of thinking unmolested by distractions.
Expressions of our identity, as a “writer” or “programmer” or “some other label”.
Expressions of us. Me. You.
Witnessing this stranger’s expressions on social media today helped me come to this epiphany. On the surface, it looks like this person has unbelievable energy. Something unique, something unattainable. Born with.
But as I dug deeper, I felt more uncomfortable. What’s the secret? Why is she doing all that and I’m here doing all… this? Sitting here YouTube video-hopping. All this while knowing in my heart that I really want to read a book, write something or strum my ukulele.
I think that was when it hit me. As much as I do, this person I stumbled upon from watching one too many videos on YouTube probably doesn’t see herself as working hard. That’s me seeing the world through my lens. Through her lens, she’s just making good use of her time expressing herself!
To put this new idea to the test, I sat here, in my swivel chair at home staring at my monitor with my dog Brownie lying on the floor next to me. I told myself this isn’t work. I am not working. Whatever I do now is extra, it’s unaccounted for. Whatever I choose to do now is just an expression. So… what will I do?
It took five minutes for my mind to accept that this idea might have a kernel of truth, but when I did, I suddenly felt the urge to write. What I wrote is what I’m writing now.
(This is by no means justification for always writing only when you’re inspired, nor is it an excuse to write unfiltered, stream of consciousness essays all the time. Too much of either lands any writer in a world with few and mostly unenjoyable essays.)
So… what’s the TLDR?
- Stuff we do in our free time should never be seen as “work”
- The notion of “working hard all the time” confuses us into thinking that if we do anything productive in our free time, we must be working too hard
- What we do in our free time are expressions
- When you express yourself, you appear to have high energy
- When you appear to have high energy, you actually have high energy
- When you have high energy, you’re happier and express yourself more
Ultimately, for maximum happiness, focus on expressing, not consuming or even “creating”. Now I get why the prolific reader-writer Maria Popova says “there’s nothing more toxic than calling your writing content”. Just express, don’t create and measure it!