By Caitlin Kelly
I always thought I was ambitious and driven — and I am! — but hoo, boy, living in the United States, and especially in New York, can make people working 24/7 feel lazy, slow and — the worst insult here — “unproductive.”
If there is a word I loathe, it’s “productive”, and wrote one of my most popular and controversial early blog posts about it.
It assumes our only value in the world is financial — making lots and lots of money and proving to everyone how hard-working you are, when many of us, so many, would have preferred more available parents or friends or relatives to just hang out with for a while. I mean, working way beyond financial need or your work’s requirements to keep proving to someone (who?) you are a valuable person.
No one, I assure you, no one, dies whispering regretfully they wish they’d been more productive.
They mourn lost or broken relationships, the travel they never enjoyed, the loss of health and strength.
I was too driven for my native Canada but am far too European for the U.S. — because I nap almost every day, vacation as often and for as long (pre-COVID) as affordable, and keep urging others to lay down tools and rest.
So I loved this piece in The New York Times on the unfashionable joys of being lazy:
America in 2022 is an exhausting place to live. Pretty much everyone I know is tired. We’re tired of answering work emails after dinner. We’re tired of caring for senior family members in a crumbling elder care system, of worrying about a mass shooting at our children’s schools. We’re tired by unprocessed grief and untended-to illness and depression. We’re tired of wildfires becoming a fact of life in the West, of floods and hurricanes hitting the South and East. We’re really tired of this unending pandemic. Most of all, we are exhausted by trying to keep going as if everything is fine.
Increasing numbers of people are refusing to push through this mounting weariness: There are currently 10 million job openings in the United States, up from 6.4 million before the pandemic.
This trend is being led by young people; millions are planning to leave their jobs in the coming year. Some middle-aged people decry the laziness of today’s youth, but as a chronically sick Gen X parent, and as a rabbi who has spent much of my career tending to dying people as their lives naturally slow, I am cheering young people on in this Great Resignation.
I have seen the limits of the grind. I want my child to learn how to be lazy.
I also like this, from Seth Godin’s blog:
In our fast-moving world, it’s easy to get hooked on personal velocity. What’s in your inbox? Did someone follow you in the last ten seconds? Where’s the beep and the beep and the beep from your last post?
Perhaps we talk faster, interrupt, talk over, invent, dissect, criticize and then move on to the next thing. Boom, boom, boom.
Don’t want to fall off the bike.
But life isn’t a bike. It works fine if we take a moment and leave space for the person next to us to speak.
Are you going fast without getting anywhere?
11 thoughts on “Aaaah, far niente! The joy of being lazy”
Thank you for this.. Sage commentary in these crazy times.
Thanks! I figure the more we get stressed — the more we need downtime as well.
i am so with you on this. ‘busy’ is often celebrated and admired, yet it is what stops one from really living life. not that don’t all have times when we need to be busy, for work, for a special event or set of circumstances which may arise, yet to have busy as the normal state of being, quickly grinds us to a halt.
It’s a very American obsession. I’m glad I lived in Canada and Europe, where life seems to matter more than work.
My Aussie son in law is appalled by our lack of vacation time
It’s easier to contemplate your soul when your belly is full. I do agree that you you have to be willing to fight for your life at times, but work is free trade and the boss has a right to expect certain things as well. An open minded attitude from both sides of the argument would be very, I’m going to say it, productive.
Not going to defend the wish to live a life, not working oneself into an early grave.
This insistence on WORK or else is deeply American….and i don’t admire it.
After being constantly told I have no ambition, I have realised I do have ambition.
To retire early,
To work less,
To do more with my family and friends,
I still have work to do, paying work to pay my way. But on all of this, My aim is to do more and worry less about my job. Work to live as the old saying goes. We seem to have lost the balance of life somewhere along the way and if this time has made some people, younger or older think about it, that may be something good that comes from this whole time.
Exactly! While I still very much enjoy writing — I am sick to death of looking for work, pitching ideas, negotiating fees….My industry is a mess now so there is no good freelance income to be made, regardless of talent or experience.
Yes! A rethink is long overdue.
The challenge now is the stupidly high cost of post-secondary education so downtime becomes a luxury if you’re burdened, as many are, with tens of thousands (or more!) of student debt.
Student debt in the UK is a joke, they have in theory upwards of £50,000 in debts after university. But most can’t get work at th esupposed income levels a degree would get you. So much of the debt is written of anyway. I think that less than half of student loans get repaid, not sure of th ecurrent level post covid. But couple that with the cost of admin and it is a huge loss for the govenrment. They might as well go back to giving grants, and have less stress for students.
In the U.S. is is shocking — debts of $100,000+ and NO ability to discharge it through bankruptcy.