On Value & Worth
What does a productive day look like to you? What are the things that make you feel accomplished? How do we decide what has value in life, and what is worth our time? I've been considering these questions lately, and reevaluating and reconsidering what value and productivity really means in the context of our day to day lives.
I've been back in school for about 2 weeks after a 5-week winter break. I entered the break excited for some extra time to "get work done." Work in this context was directly related to either career or school - working extra hours at my desk job to earn more money, doing a cartography project to add to my portfolio, working on my thesis, maybe taking an online GIS or programming class or two. But of course time is never what you expect it to be and I suddenly found myself with one weekend left in the break having "not accomplished anything." My to-do lists sat unchecked, my goals drifting off into the horizon undone. Feelings of dread stirred up in me. I've wasted my time! I'm wasting my life! I'm never going to make anything of myself!
Hold on though, pump the brakes, chill out tiny anxious neurotic person that lives inside my brain and tells me I'm not good enough. Here is a not entirely comprehensive list of the things I did over the break:
Baked bread every week
Sewed a shirt
Read 5 books. OK read 2 books and listened to 3 books.
Went on a brief but restorative Colorado mountain hot spring vacation
Got back into running regularly
Saw 2 movies//ate movie popcorn twice
Filled half a journal
Wrote a couple of blog posts
Went to therapy
Applied therapy lessons to real life and put in the work to process a lot of heavy emotional shit
Made and ate several delicious dinners
Kept my apartment tidy and cozy and a pleasure to be inside of
Gave my cats hundreds of pets and scratches
Went on coffee dates with my sister
Had friends over for dinner
Took baths, read magazines, watched some shows, listened to music and podcasts, went for walks, looked at the mountains from Cheesman Park, watched the sunrise and sunset, all that good self care shit.
I did all of these things, but still at the end of the day felt like I had accomplished nothing of value with my 5 weeks of time away from school. Where does this disconnect come from? Why is it so hard for me to acknowledge these things as accomplishments, or place value and importance on them in the same way that I do finishing a homework assignment or earning money?
The terms "value" and "worth" often feel intrinsically connected to capital, meaning we tend to place more value and worth on activities that are perceived to get us somewhere - financially, in our careers, in our social standings, academically, etc. This is something I, like many others, have definitely internalized. And tying these ideas to capital often devalues the things that we do simply for pleasure or joy. Sure taking a walk in the woods is lovely and nice but can I really count that as something that I "accomplished?" It was just something fun that I made time for in the midst of all the other more important things I need to get done. That walk wasn't really doing anything for me. But ultimately that idea just relegates my own mental and emotional well-being to a lower echelon of importance than my perceived success as measured by external forces - society, capitalism, whatever.
We are living in an age of wellness and self care that is often also tied to capital. Practice self care by buying this bath bomb, treating yourself to a manicure, taking a trip, buying yourself this or that. Of course these acts can be helpful, and TBH do whatever the fuck you need to do to live your damn life and be happy, the world is hard and shitty and I'll never criticize a person for employing a coping mechanism that works for them. But more and more these days I'm realizing that perhaps the most radical act of self care we can offer ourselves is to value these small and mundane acts that we do - the things that don't get put on our to-do lists but maybe should, the tiny offerings we make to ourselves that show respect and gratitude and love. 10 minutes spent journaling, 20 minutes spent making an extra nice lunch, 30 seconds to stop what we are doing and take a long deep stretch. These things that don't necessarily have material value but help us to cultivate a rich life.
Anyway, this post is a long-winded way of me saying that one of my goals for 2020 is to redefine what value and worth means to me. To ground these ideas in happiness and pleasure and joy rather than money and status. To place academic and career success on the same playing field and level of importance as self care and preservation. To be intentional about making time for well-being.
Here is a not entirely comprehensive list of things of value that I have accomplished so far this weekend:
Bought myself flowers
Took a bath
Took a run/hike in the hills with my lovely sister
Finished my third journal (!!!) in 6 months
Started a new journal
Played half a game of scrabble with my partner (does anyone actually finish scrabble games? Or do they just get tired and bored halfway through like Dylan and I?)
Made my bed
Wrote this blog post