A Mantra for When You Feel Like You’re Not Doing Enough

What the pandemic taught me about pausing the Rube Goldberg machine of life

Photo: Justin Paget/Getty Images

Lately, my brain feels like a full sponge: Nothing else could possibly be absorbed, and most of the stuff already in it is just spilling out. (What a delicious visual, especially if your sponges are anything like the ones in our sink.) And yet my brain often believes it should be doing more.

When the pandemic started, I was irked by the number of people pushing out messaging that this was the time to really dig in and make your dreams happen. Sure, there’s a mysterious and highly contagious virus ripping through our communities, but don’t you want to come out of quarantine with chiseled abs and a finished screenplay? Why don’t you use all this newfound “free time” to start a side hustle or write a novel?

The more time you spend on Instagram, the more certain you become that you are the only person in the world who is struggling right now, the only person who hasn’t figured out a way to optimize their way through 2020. I’m a person whose self-esteem is buoyed not by past accomplishments but by thinking through what’s next. What else can I be doing right now to reach my full potential?

But “potential” is such a loaded term. We want to meet it, exceed it, live up to it. From childhood, we’re caught in an endless emotional Rube Goldberg machine: “First, I’ll do this, and then I’ll do that, and that will lead to this, and then I can feel this, which will lead me to that, and then and then and then.” Is not reaching, not striving, not optimizing ever an option?

Recently, I was scrolling through Instagram — something I used to judge myself for but now see as a form of self-soothing — and I stopped on a story posted by my friend Anna Roth, who’s a psychologist. Like me, Anna is self-employed, highly caring, and wants to do all the things to make the world a softer place to land for people in free fall. And like me, like so many of us, she is tired. Down to her bones.

After taking a break from work and social media, Anna returned to Instagram with a simple phrase that struck me:

“Nothing new for now.”

Reading that the first time — and even now — is like a big, restorative breath, in and out. It’s an unclenching of my jaw, a settling of my shoulders.

No matter how you frame it, we do not have more time than we did a year ago. We were always cramming five pounds of work into a one-pound bag; now we’re cramming even more. When the line between work and home becomes the threshold of your closet office or the shutting of your laptop as you drift off to sleep, you cannot possibly tell yourself that you have more time on your hands. Your time is still spoken for many times over, and the things you struggled to fit in before might be just as hard to achieve. The new thing, the next thing, can wait.

Do you need a reminder that where you are and what you have and what you’ve done is enough? I did today. It’s Friday morning as I’m writing this, and the first communication I had with my colleagues on the East Coast was at 8:30 here in Arizona. They were already solidly into their workday, and so of course I had to let them know I was sorry, and that I was ashamed of my laziness.

My teammate Hannah replied, “I was still in bed at 8:20. And you know what? I don’t care. I’m a human being, not a robot. I need sleep.”

None of us are robots. And none of us — as humans, businesses, or creatives — can sustain constant growth. You don’t need to be racing toward the next big thing or turning your suffering into a self-improvement exercise. You can simply be here, breathing, surviving.

So, say it with me, friends: “Nothing new for now.”

Creator, Terrible thanks for Asking and Still Kickin. Author. Remarried Widow. Very tall.

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