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  • Writer's pictureMaruta Ignatoviča

Who are you when you are not working?

Last night, as I was talking to my partner, he casually said "Your inability to sit still is still acting up."

That got me thinking. It would not be the first time he's pointed out my restlessness. Once I was working on a project at 11 pm, and only when he called me productive, did I stop and ask myself - Why do I have to be productive at 11 pm?!

It wasn't even anything important. It was self-imposed. A certain belief that god forbid I "chill" and "do nothing". It's a cultural thing, definitely - in Latvia, it's normal to have a dialogue like this:

"So, what did you do this weekend?"

-"Ah, chilled around the house, read some books, watched a movie.."

"I see, so you didn't do anything?"

Of course, not everyone and not always, but we often associate these things with "doing nothing". And you should always be doing something. I have a very dear German friend and she once told me that they have a saying that, loosely translated, means "If you're not doing anything productive, go to the slaughterhouse". Basically - unless you're working, you're worthless and might as well be ☠️. We laughed because our cultures are so similar.

And the cultural influence, not to mention my own need to constantly prove my worth by being "productive", shines bright here. It's my fourth week jobless, I tell myself. I should have three money-bringing projects by now. I should be super fit. Doesn't matter, that the first week I was ill, the second I was moving to a different country, the third I was settling in, and really, I've only started looking at my laptop this week, as before I was getting nauseous just thinking about any kind of work.

And now it's my fourth week and I'm pestering myself again. And my partner insightfully and kindly points out that, wasn't I intending to rest? Ah yes, I was. Right. Forgot about that.

That's the problem for us, burnt-out workaholics. And that's why I am sharing this - one, to find friends who feel the same, and two, to let you know you're not alone if you're also on the path to recovery. It's not all fun and games, even if you are not working on purpose - it's a lot of anxiety to sort through, to challenge old assumptions about yourself, and ask yourself: Who am I when I am not working? Am I still worthy? What defines my worth then? And why have I spent my entire life thinking that I am defined by my job?

The trick, at least for me, is a couple of things.

  1. I need to acknowledge these demons and say their names out loud. So I am writing this. It helps me see this from a new point of view.

  2. A routine, even a simple one. Not skipping meals. A daily movement outside, biking or walking.

  3. Setting goals. My brain needs goals and a to-do list. So I made one! It has things like: "Do 2 puzzles." My new obsession - I'm currently almost done with a 1500-piece puzzle. I devote to it an hour or two every day - calms my mind. Or another goal on the list: "See at least 15 sunsets". I figured if I go to the beach every other day (sometimes every day, but let's be realistic), I can see 15 sunsets in a month. Might be my favorite goal I've ever set for myself.

One day I will move away from these cheap tricks and be content with just being. But until then, I will treat my well-being and recovery like a project with targets to meet.


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