Back in olden times, when this technology existed, my dad would make a big deal of taping golf tournaments on a dedicated VHS tape, either hitting record when we left the house or setting the timer on the VCR, and then carefully labeling and writing DO NOT RECORD OVER before putting it in a special place. Say we were going to church on Sunday: this routine would take place in the shuffle of getting us all out the door, so that he could watch the tape in the afternoon.
He was on the end of a dying breed of employee, the nine-to-five “Honey, I’m home!” kind while removing a sports coat and changing into running clothes or lounge wear, or arriving at a sports event still in his tie. He was the CEO of our local hospital, and so while I’m sure it was an intense job, he also rarely brought it home with him. I got glimmers of stress when someone would write an op-ed to our local newspaper, which came out on Wednesdays and Saturdays, railing that the such-and-such bond measure to build a new hospital to replace the tiny brick building built in the 1930s (1938, to be precise, but I’m proud I remembered the general decade—a piece of trivia lodged in my brain between my dad’s telling and a school project about the history of the hospital).
No one would ever fault my dad for taking a break to watch the golf tournament on the weekend. Not even when, after all his very careful planning and threatening to disown us if we taped over his VHS, he’d invariably fall dead asleep on the couch within five minutes of pressing play.
Part of the Midwest/Puritan/Scandinavian/German work ethic that I grew up in was a sense that you had to earn your rest. You worked, a solid day’s work, you had a hobby or a social group or two, you mowed the yard and worked around the house, and then, on the seventh day, rest.
Not only is this incredibly outdated, it is incredibly patriarchal and classist, assuming that those little people in your house would just take care of themselves, or that you didn’t have to work another job to pay rent, or that you had the luxury of a full-time job, or, or, or.
Given this context, it’s perhaps no wonder that whenever I think about a nap (god forbid during the week) or tv or to go for a run or run an errand during “working hours,” there’s this little voice with a Minnesota accent whispering the word, “lazy.” (I suppose she’d have to say something like “lazy bag” in order for the accent to truly be noticeable.)
It’s taken me the entire year of working from home, on a schedule that is totally my own, to take advantage of the privilege I have of a steady job that allows me to work from home and in a role that isn’t counting my hours.
This is both a blessing and a curse: there’s the joy of flexibility and the curse of having work bleed into all corners of my day. Setting clear boundaries for myself around email and basing my workday “success” around what I can get done in a reasonable, human-sized day, rather than counting the number of minutes and hours I’m ass-in-chair, is something I’m proud to be good at, or at least something I’ve gotten better at.
There are a lot—a lot—of jobs that require an on-site presence, tracking of hours, filling shifts. But even with those, there is this antiquated modeling after a factory line, that forty hours is the definition of a full week of work, that eight or nine hours is our standard block of time for a work day, that there is zero room for flexibility for doctor appointments and kids’ soccer games and taking care of a sick parent.
And it makes zero sense for most desk jobs to be considered in the same way as a factory job.
But I digress. Since the standard of a work day isn’t going to change any time soon (despite what we’ve seen during the pandemic; this is a big ship to turn), I still need to reconsider my definition of lazy. I write in my journal a smattering of what I did, from taking the dog to the beach to cuddling with Josh to a work task. Y’all, I’m certainly not lazy. So why do I have this voice telling me that I am?
I think the thing that makes me feel lazy is my tendency to focus on all I didn’t get done in a day, rather than what I did get done in a day. So of course, there’s a reason to feel guilty over taking a break instead of wanting to DO something, which just paralyzes me instead of motivates me.
Aha. So it’s not laziness that is the problem: it’s guilt. Guilt is never a sustainable motivator. It’s a negative push: instead of being pulled towards something I want to do, I’m pushed away from something I want to avoid.
If I think of it in terms of guilt, I remember that when I am mindful about my breaks, and don’t “accidentally” spend thirty minutes scrolling through Twitter and Instagram, I feel refreshed rather than depleted (that is, it was a true break rather than spending the time “resting” when in fact my mind is churning in guilt, which isn’t restful at all).
I can listen to my body in terms of when I need a physical break—a day off of running, yoga instead of weights—and knowing that rest is part of being physically fit and healthy. Now it’s time to listen to my mind.
I’m working my way through this list of words that have changed in meaning for me over time.
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