The Importance of Being Earnestly Receptive (A Productivity Hack)

It’s a quiet morning. Grey Vancouver light pours into the windows as I sit down on the couch next to the dog I’m housesitting for, Maddi. She snores gently as I open up my computer, the blank computer screen illuminating my face.

I think through the to-do list, trying to prioritize. I have a client call in an hour and I’d like to finish revising the article I wrote yesterday. But I didn’t write a blog post last week, and there’s an email that I still need to respond to. A dozen other tasks filter through my mind, vying for importance.

I take the last sip of my french pressed coffee; gritty silt clinging to the rim. That familiar tightening in my chest clenches—the nagging reminder that I don’t have time to waste.

Productivity.

This is one of my biggest triggers for anxiety and shame. The daily evaluation of whether I was Productive Enough. The chase for Utmost Efficiency in accomplishing the tasks on my list. The meticulous analysis of whether or not I’m Wasting Time. 

productivity vs. receptivity 

(And inevitably, ironically wasting time reading productivity hack articles online… Am I the only one who does this?)

This near idolization of productivity has been engrained in me. Raised in the hardworking Midwest, bootstrap-pulling was brought to an Olympic-level. The demonization of laziness was a part of the ethos. Then I chose a profession that glorified those who made work an all-consuming lifestyle. The five years that I was an elementary teacher were accompanied by a constant buzz of guilt over not doing enough.

Without explicitly announcing it, my worth sidled up to my ability to Get Things Done. How I felt about myself when my head hit the pillow at night was directly related to how productive I felt that day. We get a release of dopamine when we accomplish tasks, but I’d become addicted to the hit, needing it to feel secure.

I left the relentless pace of the teaching world with the hope to live a life that felt more…human. But old habits die-hard. A few months into freelance writing, I’m still struggling with the same battles.

The problem with obsessing over productivity is the collateral side effects. It requires that I act like a martyr, isolating myself to avoid all distraction or any threat to my efficiency. And beating myself up at any sign of weakness or failure. I stake my happiness on an impossible standard of perfection. When I dig down, demanding productivity is really an attempt to create and maintain and image of worthiness.

It’s true—I’m still facing the same old lies. (To be honest, I wouldn’t trust a quick-fix solution anyway.) But the bravery that has been showing up and whispering new possibilities is giving me hope that this isn’t the way that it has to be.

creativity and being receptive

What if I actually believed that my worth wasn’t dependent on what I do or how much I get done?

What if my primary responsibility wasn’t to muster up the effort to Accomplish Everything, but to remain receptive to what is needed only for this moment?

See there’s a big difference between valuing productivity and honoring receptivity:

Productivity requires a constant hustle. Receptivity means submitting to a rhythm.

Productivity demands specifics outcomes to feel ok. Being receptive chooses to gently trust the process.

Productivity is fueled by an anxious suspicion of scarcity. Receptivity invites a hearty hope in a generous world.

Choosing a posture of receptivity means remaining open to possibility. When inspiration flows through, I roll up my sleeves, but I don’t force it to perform on my own terms or timeline. It means being hospitable towards ideas and projects along with the uncertainty and risk that come with them.

If I’m going to be a receptive human, that means that things like getting good rest and taking breaks are not wasted time. It means showing up consistently, expectant to be surprised in the best way. Because being receptive acknowledges that things aren’t only up to me. I’m invited into collaboration—with others, with Inspiration, and The Creative One.

Being receptive requires paying attention to the present moment with open hands. It means letting go of expectations and accepting my limits. (The paradox is that I am often able to accomplish far more when I’m not obsessing over productivity, however.)

receptivityThis morning, I choose to close my computer screen, choosing to put the to-do list on hold for a second. There’s still a gap between what I’m learning and processing about receptivity, and the evidence of freedom in my reality.

I am slowly learning to retrain my thought patterns–because a receptive heart has to believe in its enoughness. And freedom happens in a collection of small moments.

The dog looks over at my big sigh as I set my computer on the coffee table. “What do you think Maddi, want to go for a walk?”

The Art of Not Having Things Figured Out

I have this friend who is a counselor. She works with a lot of women in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties. I asked her, over coffee one day, for her thoughts on our sub-species— the young woman of the 21st century. What themes did she see on the other side of the counseling couch?

“I see a lot of young women who have so much anxiety over not having their lives figured out. Some feel this sense of panic, that things aren’t turning out the way they thought. They are frustrated with themselves that they can’t be this idealized version of themselves that they’ve created in their heads.

Others have gotten to their mid-twenties and have checked off a lot of the things on their lists. They’ve started their careers. They’re married, maybe even have children. And yet they have this sense of loss. Like what do I do now? Is this it??

What I want these women to know is that, developmentally, they’re not done yet. All of these regrets and existential crises are actually premature and unnecessary. They see their stories as already written. And that just isn’t true.”

gutsoverfear

I set my coffee cup down with an emphatic nod of my head. I felt like I was just like those women she was talking about. I have felt those panic attacks. That feeling of claustrophobia—is this all there is?! I’ve felt stuck, frustrated that the narrative I’d planned out wasn’t unfolding according to plan. I’ve been on the counseling couch, grieving over the story I was supposed to be living, but wasn’t.

And that grieving was important. I had to mourn and die to the version of myself I thought I was supposed to be. I had to come to grips that the “American Dream” wasn’t going unfold like the predictable path of a Life board game.

But just like my counselor friend pointed out, for a lot of my twenties, I assumed that my story was already written. In recent years, I’ve been surprised, daunted, encouraged, and terrified at the news that I actually had more freedom than I thought.

girl-in-the-lightFinding myself in the midst of a story unfolding feels equally risky and hopeful. Especially this past year, it seems I’ve chosen the even more reckless option to “Choose Your Own Adventure.” I’ve become untethered to any sense of long-term plans or clear ideas for where I’ll be in five years, let alone three months. As I have the typical conversations with family members over the holidays (the well-intentioned questions about my Plans) the words “I don’t know” have become very familiar on my lips.

I don’t know where I’ll travel to next.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll keep traveling.

I don’t know if my freelance writing will support me.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next.

I don’t know the long-term plan yet.

But I do know the very next step, and I sometimes have a hazy idea of what might come after that.

So that is where I start. I’m practicing the Art of Not Having It Figured Out. I’m trying to let go of my demand to be this ideal Allie that always has the answer and never messes up. (To tell the truth, I don’t even think I’d like that girl.)

girl on top of carI’m finding myself replaying that conversation with my counselor friend that I had all those months ago.

It’s relieving to remember that I’m not alone in wrestling with this anxiety. That might not be what we’re presenting to each other on our filtered social media feeds. But when we encounter the gift of brave honesty, we discover we’re all wrestling self-doubt and fear.

But my friend’s observations are also a call to change the script. To insist that it is a good thing that I’m still in progress. To expose the disillusioned lie that we’re stuck and things aren’t going to get better. A whispered invitation to let go of the martyr’s crusade towards some fantasy version of perfect.

As I set my sights on a brand new year, I don’t have a twelve-step action plan to help achieve all of my goals. I’m not clinging to a specific outcome anymore. But I have a pretty clear idea of what I want.

img_2636I want a vibrant wholeness, not a hollow holiness.

I desire authenticity, not a counterfeit conformity.

I want to become deeply human, not sporadically spiritual.

I don’t want to confuse the process of true transformation

with my ego-inflated attempts at self-improvement.

I want to keep entering into the process of becoming

who I already am.