Women are exhausted by overworking and overdoing. And, if what I believe is true — that women have been languishing for years — it’s worth it to dive into the political — small p political — traps that have led to the feeling that women cannot seem to do anything to get ahead. This series will go under the hood of the everyday political structures that my clients — and myself — have experienced that keep women feeling trapped and stuck in exhaustion and in being unable to make as much progress as they wish they could. The goal is to highlight some of these power structures and start to lean in to change them for yourself and for others. This post and podcast is the first in a series called The Politics of Languishing and I’m sharing these ideas from my own perspective and experiences as a white woman and mother who lives in a rural area of the United States. Your experiences may be very different.
KEY SUMMARY POINTS
- Work in this article is defined by me as anything that is not pleasure or joy.
- Breaking down the many layered baggage of work ethic is often a part of the coaching work I do with my high achiever clients who lean toward perfectionism and people pleasing.
- The tethered relationship we have with technology has played a role in our overwork that leads to extreme exhaustion.
- Capitalism is another part of the power structure to which we feel tied to this constant state of work.
- Overworking is actually causing deaths. Surprising new studies show that people who work more than 54 hours a week are at serious risk of dying from overwork.
- Are you trapped in Toxic Productivity mode? This is a constant state of needing to improve yourself or your life and not ever feeling satiated by those attempts.
- 3 ways to fight back against overworking and toxic productivity.
- A fun yet powerful action to take TODAY to help bring ease to all.
When I was a teenager, I would get home from a long day at school, grab a snack, watch some bad television and often fall asleep.
After a nice break, I would clean up, do my homework and my chores.
But on some rare occasions, before I could emerge from my downtime, my step-father — who was a hard-working truck driver — would arrive home early.
Beep. Beep. Beep … this was the alarm clock dinging me awake from my dreams as his 18-wheeler backed into our longish driveway.
As the beep-beep-beep sound rang in my ears, I would jump up off the couch frantically, hurry and clean up and pretend like I hadn’t been sleeping or resting or watching television because I didn’t want to face his judgement that I was lazy.
My heart still pounds thinking about the ridiculousness of those moments.
It didn’t take long in my adulthood to realize that kind of living is not for me, that I value being fulfilled through the art of being and the vastness of what pleasure and mindfulness can bring to a life and a family.
And, it’s something I still have to catch myself getting caught up in if I am not careful. I’ll easily choose over-functioning over under-performing and I have to make sure that I am thriving in mind, body and spirit as I work to make an impact in this world.
Breaking down that longtime work ethic is almost always at the heart of the private coaching work I do with highly ambitious creatives and changemakers who value a more meaningful, fulfilled life but have no idea how to achieve it AND their dreams and inner longings.
At the heart of all the hard work that has women feeling exhausted and trapped is what I call soul exhaustion.
And the root of soul exhaustion is an insatiable desire to keep forcing and striving — often without a real vision of what you’re aiming for and you are just overdoing everything in pursuit of a better tomorrow, a better you, a better life.
All of this is why I believe strongly that many women — especially mothers trying to take her work and her family seriously — have been languishing for years and the pandemic actually gave them a glimpse into slowing down and enjoying another way of life.
I know because when I was a working mom out of the house I was constantly trying to avoid falling into exhaustion and despair while simultaneously striving to get to the next level.
Until I realized that life is not for me.
In 2013, I designed a more aligned life for myself so that I can serve and empower women to design a beautiful life of impact and ease, earn and income and be home with my daughters as needed.
I’ve been running my own soulful yet strategic coaching business for eight years where I have freedom, simplicity, pleasure and joy — as well as struggles and hardship because no job is perfect.
The Challenge of Designing a more Aligned life for Ourselves
Designing a life along with a business or career that infuses our authenticity with our values and creates a feeling of wholeness requires that we change how we’ve been doing life and set down some of the old patterns we’ve picked up along the way.
For me, I had no problem shedding the politics of overworking when I started working and living a much slower pace.
But, for many, that kind of a big change feels nearly impossible because the politics of overworking is so ingrained in us that a thriving life filled with meaning and impact seems unattainable. We simply must keep striving for more and overdoing to keep up with everyone else.
But for many women creating a more aligned life where you are making a bigger impact AND living with more ease and joy doesn’t seem possible — and, quite frankly, for some it’s not necessary. We can make changes and live more in alignment without burning down our careers and lives.
But, first, you have to understand:
- Work is essential even if a person isn’t.
- Money is necessary even when it’s not enough.
- Being trapped in a bad situation is better than being out of a job.
- Hustling is rewarded more than settling for less.
Being caught up in a system that keeps you busy leads you further away from your zone of genius and higher purpose, but it’s safe and comfortable so you stick with it.
Today, as capitalism soars, we are all paying the price of the unintended consequences of the overworking ethic of past generations mixed with an inundation of constantly evolving technology that has us tethered to our own personal work ethic more than ever.
For the sake of this article, I want to first define work and overwork in my way, a very unofficial definition, in fact.
I see work as being anything that isn’t pleasure, rest and joy.
Work can be the dishes. It can be a deadline or project. It can be answering emails, checking emails, texting with committee members or bosses. It can be social media. Paying bills. Mowing the lawn. It can be working long hours for your boss just to prove your worth. It can be homeschooling.
If it feels like work, it’s work, in my book.
And, as for technology, anytime we pick up a device for something other than pleasure, it’s also work.
Thus, our endless connection … to work, over-functioning and neverending productivity.
How Technology is Leading the Way to Our Languishing
Sometimes when I am in a space of overwhelm and overwork, I think about the old days and how simple it must have been. I like to teleport myself into the Anne with an E series — that sadly ended too soon — and imagine lighting candles for light and doing everything by hand manually.
Those days are long gone and I wonder sometimes if we’re trying to be more like robots than human beings and if this great desire to keep up with technology is making us work harder because, honestly, we’re just not that smart or evolved yet as a species.
But we are trying to be smarter than our computers.
The end result is that we’re exhausted by the overworking we are doing simply because of our ability to grab a phone and start working (learning, absorbing, communicating, consuming.) The pandemic life drove these bad habits home for so many, literally.
The fact of the matter is that we are easily influenced by the overworking and overdoing culture simply through our convenient devices:
- We can wake up and check email.
- We can eat lunch and work on our social media accounts.
- We can be at our kids’ soccer game and take the client call.
- We can respond to our boss’s text messages in the middle of family dinner.
- We can wake up and go into our home office and stay there all day and all night, if we wish.
- We can rock our baby to sleep and take a professional development eCourse.
- We can hop on an important zoom call during our vacation.
But, there is a larger issue at play here — something much bigger and harder to tackle.
And that elephant in the room is capitalism — which is driving our overworking culture.
The Pressure to Overworking and Overdoing is Leading to our Languishing
Once you start going under the hood of the economy, poverty and the politics of who is thriving and who is not, it’s hard to not see the truth of the matter.
It’s hard to not see how white elitists are worrying about their boats and their elaborate vacations and yet your friends in a different zip code are worried about how their child is going to get internet access and safe drinking water.
We have a huge well-being gap caused by capitalism and income disparity.
According to the Theory of Capitalism at Columbia University, “Capitalism is a system of largely private ownership that is open to new ideas, new firms and new owners—in short, to new capital. Capitalism’s rationale to proponents and critics alike has long been recognized to be its dynamism, that is, its innovations and, more subtly, its selectiveness in the innovations it tries out. At the same time, capitalism is also known for its tendency to generate instability, often associated with the existence of financial crises, job insecurity and failures to include the disadvantaged. “
This means that anyone can bring an idea forth at any time — which is a beautiful gift of freedom for anyone who wants to be a business owner. But it also means that competition is fierce and sales pitches are everywhere and the marginalized and disadvantaged are being left behind.
I found this article to be a great read on how millennials are struggling with this power system: “While the millennial generation has been called lazy, entitled, and impatient, data suggest that 30-somethings are actually working more and for less than the generations preceding them. Significant attention has been directed to this phenomenon in recent months. In a viral article published on Buzzfeed, Anne Helen Petersen described Millennials as the ‘burnout generation’ where leading a stressed and emotionally straining lifestyle has become the norm for many young adults.”
The evidence is clear: overworking and overdoing isn’t creating a system for well-being for all. If anything, it’s causing extreme disparities in all areas of life, including financial.
As a business owner, I talk to women entrepreneurs all day and they, too, are exhausted by the hustle to do to keep up with the current economy as well as the current challenges of modern day marketing, which is a lot like shouting into a crowded street and hoping someone will respond.
Fierce competition and saturation of the market have some women-owned small businesses feeling stressed about clearing a profit and exhausted by the constant demand to do more and be more.
How Overworking and Overdoing Morphs into Toxic Productivity and Over-Functioning
Of course, we all want to work hard and be good workers. That’s always the mission.
So when does hard work lean toward something unhealthy and unfulfilling?
That is going to be up to you as it is a subjective definition for each person. But it’s pretty clear that when working hard becomes a 24/7 nightmare with no breaks, little life fulfillment, and resentment, you have begun to morph into toxic productivity.
Toxic productivity should be our No. 1 enemy as a society. It’s what eats at you when you just can’t stop and rest. It’s what keeps us from connecting with ourselves and each other. It’s what steals family time. It’s what steals pleasure and joy.
“It can be defined as an obsession with radical self improvement above all else. Ultimately, it’s an unachievable goal; no matter how productive you are, the result you are left with is a feeling of guilt for not having done ‘more’,” shares expert nurse Emma Selby, clinical lead at health & fitness brand Results Wellness Lifestyle.
Getting things done and being a part of things is awesome and a great way to bring life fulfillment, but toxic productivity takes over when you do all of those things and you still don’t feel like you’ve done enough.
It’s not enough. You are not enough. Your partner or kids are not enough.
You know something needs to shift when you are stuck in the overworking and overdoing cycle.
One attribute that can really pop out in this space is over-functioning.
Brené Brown describes overfunctioners as having the tendency “to move quickly to give advice, rescue, takeover, micromanage, get in other people’s business rather than looking inward.”
I am a chronic overfunctioner myself — as is Brené — and I know the signs when my over-functioning side takes over and I have found that giving myself compassion for wanting to be a hard worker goes right back to those younger years of my life when the beep-beep-beep of that truck jostled me into a panic.
What is all this overworking and overdoing doing to us?
The same people trapped in the cycle of overworking are the same people who are stressed, burned out, overwhelmed, anxious and angry.
This is exactly what I see with my clients who want to make a bigger impact in their life and their work or business but also don’t want to feel burned out and exhausted by taking on too much.
In fact, all this overworking and overdoing is actually killing us.
According to a new study published earlier this month by the World Health Organization, “Alarming new research shows that people working more than 54 hours a week are at major risk of dying from overwork. It’s killing three-quarters of a million people each year.”
And the funny thing is that the only real conversation around overwork and work ethic is that it’s really hard to find good workers (ie: hard workers).
While there is evidence that the work ethic that most of us grew up with has only become more and more toxic and demanding, there is the other side of the story that believes we’re still not good enough or working hard enough or doing a good enough job, according to this article in Aeon:
“The work ethic is a tent-pole of national identity politics. Reading between the lines, across the media, or even just skimming the headlines, gives one the impression that we are a nation under attack. One national poll in 2015 found that 72 per cent of respondents said the United States ‘isn’t as great as it once was’. The principal culprit was the country’s declining belief in the value of hard work. More people thought ‘our own lagging work ethic’ was a larger threat to American greatness than the Islamic State, economic inequality, and competition with China.”
And yet …
That same article says this: “Widespread anxiety about a diminished work ethic is confounding when considered against the actual data on how much time Americans spend working. The hours of all wage and salary workers rose 13 per cent from 1975 to 2016, a total of about five extra weeks per year. And there’s evidence that those of us still working through the pandemic are putting in longer hours than we were before. In addition to long hours, workers suffer from irregular schedules, volatile by design, that change at their employers’ whims. And there’s also the mass of the so-called involuntarily unemployed, constantly seeking, but not finding, enough work hours to survive. These three features – overwork, unstable schedules, and a lack of adequate hours – define the paradoxical time signature of the work life today, especially for low-wage workers.”
We can do better for our neighbors and our community.
We can do better for our families.
And we must do better.
The Staggering Connection Between Hard Work and Languishing
And so when all you do is work and work and work and when rest is seen as lazy and unproductive, you end up feeling exhausted and empty.
If your identity and self-worth are tied up in your productivity and work ethic, you will feel bad when you are doing nothing, resting, or experiencing pleasure rather than productivity.
Hard work without rest, without space, without nourishing self-care time leads to languishing and burnout. Gone are the days of our mental health days where we could slow down and recover. Now one set of work activities bleed into the next and, these days, from one room to the next.
Not too long ago, a reader responded to one of my emails about rest with this quote and her thoughts …
“But in a society reflexively suspicious of rest, getting a restorative break tends to require a formal mental-health diagnosis. Otherwise, you risk getting called a slacker. That’s what happened to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a couple of years ago when she announced she was taking a few days off for “self-care” after a grueling election. “ Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t yet started her new job,” Fox News blared, “but she’s already taking a break.”
My reader said this: “This got me thinking that maybe we need to bring back the nervous breakdown, to protect the nation’s collective reserve of nerve force at a time when it’s stretched so thin. What would the modern version of a culturally accepted, nervous-breakdown-precipitated time-out look like?”
Once you know better, you know better — but what do you do about it?
Living in alignment has never been more valued and never been easier. When I started my own business in 2013, I approached it as a freelance writer.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Starting a business where you can be free isn’t always ideal for you or your life circumstances. Finding gainful employment AND feeling like you are in your values can be a challenge. And we can’t just walk away.
And yet one of the greatest outcomes of the pandemic is that more and more companies now value remote work as being a viable option.
That doesn’t make it any easier, though.
Anne Helen Peterson wrote in her newsletter that while we have the support of technology, our self-worth is still pulled from being productive.
“At some point the brain and body says no. Nowhere is it more apparent than in the endless Wednesday of the eleventh month of attempting to work from home against the backdrop of a horrific pandemic. Every day we wake up and complete our tasks and grasp at peak productivity and fail and go to bed and wake up and grasp all over again. The exhaustion of continual failure compounds the exhaustion of the work itself.”
She goes on to write: “We’ve reached the point of diminishing returns. I think we know this. You can see it explicitly manifest in anti-hustle culture, in the renewed embrace of unions and the labor movement, in the popularity of books like How to Do Nothing and movements like The Nap Ministry. Some people have known it for a long time, some are just gradually coming to terms with it. A lot of it, I’ve found, depends on just how inculcated you were by productivity culture. Were you surrounded with examples of productivity as success? Or were the “productive” people in your life the most exhausted and pissed off?”
It’s not About How Much You Accomplish. It’s about the Impact You Make.
In my podcast, The Brave Yes, which focuses on wholeness and life alignment as a way of living and leading and interviews women who have made Brave Yes Leaps in their lives in order to experience greater well-being and wholeness, there is a theme:
If you want to be authentically happy with how you spend your days and your time, you’re going to need to live your values and seek out life fulfillment.
Your self-worth impacts your ability to flourish and thrive.
In my last piece, I wrote that women have been languishing for years.
Adam Grant wrote in his article for the New York Times that “Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.”
The only way out of languishing is finding meaning and purpose in your life — not necessarily less work time but more aliveness.
We need to feel like we have purpose and meaning in our lives. And we can’t do that when we wrap up our worth and identities in how much we accomplish each day. Long list of to-dos crossed off may feel good but by the end of the day we still feel empty.
That’s why my coaching helps you focus only on the highest impact and long-term gains in your life and why we spend a lot of time asking questions like:
- What can I do to make the bigger difference this week?
- Who am I when I put away my to-do list?
- How can I stay true to myself and my values?
I want all of my clients to enjoy being more courageous and motivated not for the sake of overworking or overdoing but because they are in their zone of genius and using their superpowers AND because they have the energy to do so thanks to amazing well-being practices.
When we feel trapped in an overworking cycle where we can’t find contentment or worthiness without over doing everything, we feel a sense of emptiness and stagnation.
If all you live for is your to-do list, you’re likely feeling as if you have been muddling through your days.
For me, it’s about balance but I am also a privileged white woman who works at home with a small client base from around the world. I built my coaching business eight years around my own values of simplicity, family, pleasure, joy and freedom.
My coaching work helps you flourish by finding your ideal flow states, balancing your energy and your expectations. And I do have a toolbox to help you with any challenge you encounter.
Rather than keep settling for a life of languishing emptiness, we need to take control and focus on bring ourselves back alive day after day, week after week.
When we find flow and whole-hearted focus in our days again, we experience bliss.
And then, it’s all flourishing from there.
3 Ways to Fight Back Against Overworking and Toxic Productivity
I work with women on finding their authentic life path.
I work with women on choosing their upleveling their capacity as a business owner so they have the time and energy to make a bigger impact.
I work with women on choosing a new career path or starting a business.
But what I do not work with women on is doing more for the sake of doing more. Every decision needs to come from a place of ease, joy and inner wisdom.
And so if you feel trapped under the rubble of overworking and overdoing, I want you to slow down right now and breathe and trust that change is coming to you. It’s on the way right now.
And you can begin right now.
Here are 3 Ways to Fight Back Against Overworking and Toxic Productivity
FOCUS ON IMPACT AND FLOW
We see the evidence of how busy work can really zap our children’s time when they are in school. It’s a waste of time and energy when play and creativity would be a much better source of learning. I’m not a fan of busy work and I don’t think it’s great for adults either.
The next time you think you should be doing something, notice how you fill your time and ask yourself if that is busy work or impact work? And ask yourself if you could fill your time with something even better — pleasure. If you are not sure what brings you pleasure, that is exactly what we’ll figure out in my private coaching.
TAKE YOUR REST SERIOUSLY
As a creative soul and writer and coach, I take energy management and rest very seriously. I have to. It’s the only way I can sustain my momentum and positive energy. It’s the only way I can show up for my family and clients with joy.
Rest comes in many forms — not just laying down and napping. Sometimes rest is asking for help on a big problem or struggle so you don’t have to keep worrying about it and ruminating over it. Sometimes you just need someone to tell you what to do and help you create a solid plan.
FINDING YOUR GOOD ENOUGH QUOTA
For years, I have worked with women on feeling enough. And I have said it over and over that enoughness is an inside job. The only person who can ever help you feel validated and enough is you.
And that means you have to find your good enough quota. We can easily work all day long and keep going with all the things and that is what we will do if we don’t have a good enough quota in our minds. Knowing what is good enough for YOU is essential to being able to stop, relax and let go knowing you did … enough.
Building a Vision of Thriving for All
My coaching work focuses on helping you move into your next Brave Yes. It helps you create and design a Brave Yes Life by infusing authenticity and courage into your life, work or creativity.
In my social justice work, I am constantly talking to women about equity. Equity isn’t just in money — though more money for all is absolutely the fastest way to thriving in mind, body and spirit.
But it’s also important to remember that we all deserve to feel alive and like we matter.
It’s important to remember that living on $300 a month is not a sustainable family budget and yet many are doing just that.
And so the vision you create for yourself must include how to help others thrive as well.
Because as long as some of us are languishing we’re all going to have work to do.
You don’t have to overwork or overdo to find your worth.
But you do have the ability to choose the Brave Yes to use your voice and be in the right places at the right time to be a part of the solutions.
And while we will not destroy the patriarchy or the capitalist system this week or this year, there is one thing we can all do starting right now, today.
We can all help each other immensely in ONE big Brave Yes way.
We can choose to relax.
Relax your expectations of yourself.
Relax your expectations of others.
Stop letting overworking and overdoing drive the worth you give to yourself and to others.
Ask yourself if you are letting toxic productivity lead or if you are letting your heart lead?