First Published: March 23, 2020  | Last Updated:

So last week, I wrote about the pandemic productivity pressure I’m feeling from the business community right now.

If you missed it, the overall message was:

  • Don’t feel pressured to be more productive than usual right now.
  • Don’t pressure other people to be more productive than usual either.
  • Take care of yourself first, and if productivity can come after that, awesome. (Which as you know, is the overall Work Brighter message. Productivity is good, but so is taking care of yourself.)

And other unicorns like you, ones in the Work Brighter community who understand what I’m about, loved it.

Loved it so much they shared it on social media.

And that’s when I started to see what their friends—those who are still more indoctrinated into Hustle Culture—had to say.

Combine that with repurposing that email into a few Instagram posts, 2 of which got pretty popular…again making my ideas a little more widely seen than usual.

Including by people very stuck in Hustle Culture.

Whew…I did not expect that content to be seen as controversial, but apparently it was.

I got a lot of comments and replies along the lines of “sure, BUT…”

And I’m open-minded. So I’m happy to go back and forth with these comments as long as they seem to be useful and I have the energy for it.

In replying to those people, I’ve written a lot to clarify and better explain my ideas last week. So here’s just a jumble of thoughts to expand on last week’s email…

Dealing With Hustle Culture & Pandemic Productivity Pressure

First of all, the memes. Ah, productivity memes.

Let’s talk about the Isaac Newton and Shakespeare memes.

There’s a LOT to say about the productivity of old dead geniuses (including about their places of privilege #justsayin). But today, I’ll leave it at this:

What I don’t like about the motivational posts and memes about Shakespeare and Isaac Newton, is that they’re setting the expectation to be more productive than usual right now.

One of the original tweets that went viral about Newton said to “use your time wisely.”

An article about Shakespeare called the plague “his secret weapon” because he “took advantage of it.”

The pressure of that kind of messaging, not to mention the insensitivity of it, is ridiculous. (“Kim, there’s people that are dying. 🙄”)

And honestly, your greatest work will never come from that kind of pressure.

Do you really think Shakespeare KNEW when he was writing King Lear that it was gonna be one of his best pieces? Probs not. ¯\(ツ)

Some of his work was surely trash that was never seen or remembered, and he couldn’t have known at the time which it was gonna be.

Next, let’s talk about productivity and priorities.

Because it should not be controversial to suggest that being AS PRODUCTIVE AS POSSIBLE isn’t your #1 priority.

Like I’ve said before, taking care of yourself is the first priority. Not the only priority.

If you feel taken care of, and/or you need to work in order to take care of yourself, then work.

I never said NOT to work.

But if a LITERAL global pandemic isn’t the time to bump health up to priority #1 and work to priority #2, when is?

That might mean not working in order to care for your physical or mental health, but that might also mean taking the right precautions when you do work, like working remotely if you can or staying as protected and clean as possible if you can’t.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with working (as long as you do so safely).

The problem is in the expectation, not just of normal levels of productivity (which are already sky high), but increased levels of it right now.

Whether you’re placing that expectation on yourself or on others, it’s not realistic. Now is the time to be real forgiving and empathetic of everyone, yourself included, around not being able to be productive or business as usual.

If you can be super productive right now, awesome!

Know that you’re doing better than a LOT of us, and just try and be understanding of that, mmkay? Thank youuu!

And finally, the service component…

Especially in the entrepreneurship space, that pressure to be productive often has a psuedo-selfless spin, like “your community needs you now more than ever! It’s irresponsible not to show up and serve!”

In most cases, this is bull.

You can’t pour from an empty cup, put on your own oxygen mask (not N95 mask…donate that ish to a healthcare worker pls) first, and all those other self-care cliches?

They actually mean something.

Even the people for whom it is really necessary to show up right now, like doctors and nurses and delivery workers for essential services, need to protect themselves first.

Yes, we need them to show up and serve, but only while they’re safe themselves.

And part of working brighter is that taking care of your mental health, self-care, and body don’t distract from your productivity, they further enable it.

So it’s still not irresponsible to care about them.

Self-awareness is key

Phew (takes breath). That was a lot, but I needed to get it out.

The Hustle Culture on display right now has been overwhelming for someone who’s done so much work to divest for it.

But even now, as I am working more than usual myself—I’ve written about 10,000 words across three blog posts, am adjusting plans for my content marketing workshop that was supposed to be this week, and am working on how to reopen the Clubhouse sooner than planned—I’m doing it with awareness.

Awareness that this is not normal. Awareness that it’s not possible for everyone.

And awareness that Hustle Culture (of which a key feature is taking capitalism and individualism to their most extremes) is the reason I have to work through a pandemic instead of having protection through it.

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