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Your Worth is Not Your Productivity

By: Kelsey Hoeper, LPC, NCC, CT

person looking at a computer whilst biting a pencil

March 2, 2022

Sunday “scaries,” bubbling anxiety, paranoia, restless nights. One could say I am in active recovery from perfectionism. Not only that, but I have been setting the intention to separate myself from, and challenge, romanticized stories of hard work. The kind of hard work that celebrates answering late-night emails, bulldozing through illness for the sake of meeting deadlines and “staying ahead,” and the pervasive story that one must always – always – run faster towards new and better opportunities. Why? Because to stand still, breathe, and cherish what is is just…downright lazy.

If any of this sounds at all familiar, you are not alone. We are part of a much larger social epidemic called The Laziness Lie – a phrase coined by author and professor Dr. Devon Price, Ph.D. It is the source of our guilty feelings that we are not “doing enough”; that deep down, we are lazy and that we must work very, very hard to overcome that laziness. What happens is our sense of self-worth becomes linked to our levels of productivity and what we accomplish. The Laziness Lie tells us that a life of unrelenting hard work is far superior to a life that moves at a slower pace.

Most of us would agree that pushing ourselves to the brink has not been working for us. Ignoring our basic needs, like rest and recovery, is causing us to become sick and fall victim to burnout. The Laziness Lie, as ubiquitous as it is, is unsustainable. It can feel greatly inauthentic and push us farther away from who we are, what we want and what we actually deem as important and meaningful.

Of course, not all of us are working 40-60+ hours a week at an office. Some of us work part-time. Some of us work four days a week and are home around 5pm. Some of us work during the day, others at night. Many of us are working hard to raise tiny humans. Sometimes we are monetarily compensated for our work, sometimes not. Some of us are in survival mode, putting out fires, taking things one moment at a time. Then, perhaps we are first called to consider what “work” means to us on a philosophical level; to consider the many cultural expectations that we measure ourselves against and what it means to contribute. And, in addition to that, to reframe and deconstruct the word “lazy” and who and in what circumstances we often attach that word to.

In any culture, there is a dominant “story” about what it means to be a worthy person. We can get quite good at giving the impression that we have things together, that we are independent and abundantly available for more and more. I might encourage you to consider the expectations you do measure yourself against and those that you do not.

The expectation to always keep it together.
To climb the corporate ladder.
To produce things.
To know exactly where you are going in life.

Are there things you value now, or things you deem precious, that would lead you to rewrite or let go of these expectations? When you step back and look at this life you are aspiring to, what would you call it? What are you hurtling towards?

In moving away from The Laziness Lie, can we set the intention to focus on quality and savoring the unique, pleasurable moments of our lives? In other words, what do you actually like? Self-care does not just encompass prioritizing good nutrition, sleep and exercise – although undoubtedly important. Self-care can also include taking the time to be silly and doing things where we are not the expert or in charge. To remember, we are always students, always learning. We always have the capacity to be extraordinarily creative and intuitive.

Another essential item to consider and exercise: boundaries. We have every right to prioritize and protect our peace. Many of us fear setting limits, especially at work (of course, when we are in fear of losing our jobs, it is difficult to implement boundaries). Yet, we can be assertive without being aggressive or passive:

“I’m not going to be available to answer emails or phone calls after 5pm.”

“I have a lot on my plate right now, so I won’t be able to assist you with this particular project.”

Therapist and writer, Nedra Glover Tawab, stated it best: “The more you appear to handle, the more you’ll be expected to handle.” Consider what you can do to limit the possibility of overextending yourself. However, because The Laziness Lie runs so deep, and because some workplaces do not offer leeway, there are times when the best option is to leave and consider other alternatives.

Lastly, think about it this way – we are never “doing nothing.” Even when we are lounging on the couch, we are breathing; we are regulating our nervous system; we are digesting; we are seeing, hearing, touching. Consider this a call to action to live our lives on our own terms. To connect with goals and pursuits that actually excite and motivate us!


Read more from Dr. Devon Price;

Read more from Nedra Glover Tawab: