If you’re anywhere online, you’re going to be bombarded from dusk till dawn with all the listicles, sparks of wisdom advice you need to control your body and your life and your mind and your spirit. And probably your damn bowel movements too.
People are going to tell you that if you just do all the things that the founders of million dollar companies do before 5 AM, and if you drink enough skinny tea, and if you keep your water levels the same as Gwyneth Paltrow’s, and if you outsource and prioritize like God knows who, and if you weigh your body waste like Tim Ferris, you’ll be happy, healthy, wealthy and wise.
I mean, Entrepreneur Magazine has all the traits, qualities and commonalities of successful folks already crammed into a bunch of lists:
There’s so much pressure to always be improving ourselves. To always be functioning at our peak. To be able to account for every waking hour, and use it to prove our value. I think we’ve lost what it means to be normal, fractured, messy-as-all-hell, walking disasters of human beings who still manage to survive and be happy in our own ways.
And instead, we’re pursuing an imaginary and completely false ideal of performance and success that could never, and should never exist, in which we become productivity machines instead of people.
You can’t be a productivity robot.
You can’t treat yourself like a robot or a computer or a great big walking talking productivity device. No matter how much you pump in fuel and data in the form of life and time hacking tips from Quora, it won’t translate into happiness and achievement.
What we’re all prone to is just letting ourselves believe that we’re machines, and that all the stuff out there that’s meant to help us lead better lives must be 100 proof, and that if it doesn’t work, our processors must be faulty. But the flaw isn’t in our personal flaws. It’s in the belief that we shouldn’t have personal flaws.
You have to take it easy on yourself. Because you’re a human, you’re going to have good days and bad days. Productive days, and Netflix/Dorito/Couch/Twitter days. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just because I need at least one day a week where I don’t get anything done, can barely get out of bed and lose myself in Breath of the Wild doesn’t make me a bad person.
It just means my brain is taking some time to reboot and my body doesn’t want to go to running or skating, and my motivation is squarely focused on doing absolutely nothing.
You can’t let yourself be bullied into always panicking and stress-focusing and trying to remain productive and on top of the world. If you never give yourself leeway, I can already tell you what’ll happen. You’ll start to think that any failing or human chaos is unacceptable, and then when you miss one work out, or you can’t face going in to work one day, you’ll feel like a failure and slip into a downward spiral.
That’s just about the worst thing you can do. You’ll lose faith in the one person you’re meant to believe in: yourself. I know that sounds like a Sesame Street lyric, but I stand by it.
We’re all just a bunch of messy, incoherent weirdos hurtling around the galaxy on a spaceship we don’t fully understand, pretending we’ve got our shit together...
…and I’m okay with most of that. But I’m done with the pretending.
I don’t want people to think my shit is permanently together. It’s not.
Sometimes, I’m a complete wreck.
Sometimes, so are you.
Every time, we should hold forgiveness and space for ourselves to be that.
We can’t hold ourselves to an impossible standard. We can’t expect our minds and our bodies to always be switched on and be performing at full strength, and we sure as hell can’t punish ourselves when we’re functioning at less than 100%. That way lies darkness, believe me.
Life is strange and wild and unpredictable, and so are you. There’s comfort to be found in that. All you can do is your best, all you can expect is your best, all you can aim for is your best, but you can’t let yourself believe in perfection.
Go forth and be messy.
And don’t be productive today.
Joan Westenberg is an award winning Australian contemporary writer, designer and creative director. She is the founder of branding and advertising firm Studio Self. Her approach to messaging, communication and semiotics has built her reputation as a writer, and she has been named as one of the leading startup voices in Australia by SmartCompany.
Her writing has appeared in The SF Chronicle, Wired, The AFR, The Observer, ABC, Junkee, SBS, Crikey and over 40+ publications. Her regular work can be found on Pizza Party, a blog about creativity, culture and technology. Joan is the creator Transgenderinclusion.com, an open-source workplace inclusion hack, and the author of the book #DIY, a manifesto for indie creativity.