How Much Do You Do?

I’m not quite sure when we became so obsessed with how much we do…and how much we do compared to others.

Maybe it started in high school, when we somehow adopted the belief that it was good to aspire to be the person who was in every club photo in the yearbook, smiling out from the page in the shot of the soccer team, the newspaper staff, the French club, the National Honor Society, the Peer Advisors group, the dance team.

Even now, I’ve been in conversations with a group of people and after one person has introduced himself with the long list of things he does (I founded a tech company, I’m virtuoso violinist, and I help build schools in Africa), another person in the group, who doesn’t have such a long list, inevitably introduces himself by saying “I’m just a writer.” Or a teacher. Or an office manager.

I’m just…

Since when does only doing one thing require us to add a self-deprecating modifier?

Doing as much as we can has turned into a competitive sport.

We have been primed to believe that “more” is more interesting. That a jack of all trades is more interesting than a master of one. Why? I think in part because we perceive it to be more difficult to both be an entrepreneur and a violinist, for example, then to be only one or the other. That perception of heightened difficulty turns being a master of “more” into something we covet and therefore something we celebrate.

But it’s the classic “more is better” trick. And we’ve been falling for it all our lives.

In the end though, I don’t think it’s a matter of whether more is bad or good – it can be both.  It’s a matter of why we’re choosing more. If we’re choosing it to impress others, to fulfill a societal quota that we think will make us seem more desirable and successful, then we’re doing it wrong.

6 thoughts on “How Much Do You Do?

  1. Miss Tuggy

    My first couple years of college were chiefly marked by competition among the students over who had the most impossible workload.

    “Yeah, well I have FIVE twelve page papers, ten response journals, and three exams.”

    We prided ourselves on it. This was the most extreme example I have, but my life has been a competition of who can do the most. And I could never narrow down my options to just one or even just three careers that I wanted. There was way too much. So I’ve spent the past three years very methodically choosing to do fewer things, and do them as well as I can. I’ve taken eight classes at a time, but sometimes one class feels like too many. I’ve had four jobs at a time, and I always feel happiest and most accomplished when I only have one.

    Short answer: I agree.

    • jessicahlawrence

      Congrats on whittling things down! I think people often avoid that process because they are scared that in saying “no” to something they will make the wrong choice.

  2. Jess Witkins

    Oh man, doing exactly that, comparing myself to others who seemingly accomplished more, is what got me going on the path to meltdown. I ended up crying in a grocery store I got so overwhelmed. I had to get a grip and make a plan that was right for me. One of my dear blogging friends offered me supportive advice that I constantly remind myself of now. He told me to remember I am making progress, it’s just not always at the pace I’d like it to be, but to never forget that moving forward is still forward. Remembering that has been a big part of my learning process this year and I try to share it with others when I sense themselves being too harsh on themselves.

    • jessicahlawrence

      Absolutely – we are usually our harshest critics and judge our lowest points against people’s edited, self-selected highest points. It’s great to remind ourselves that we share in the common humanity of not being perfect.

  3. That’s right…this is the plight of the entire world today…seeing others succeed/accomplish things, people are not able to digest that they are behind others, and hence it has resulted into a mad race. Anyhow, we want to be better than others, accomplish more than others…there are no standards set on our own-it’s people who set standards for us and that is why it’s never ending and all-stressing-out!!!

    • jessicahlawrence

      Yes – exactly. Because we have been pushed down a path of building our self-esteem, but weren’t taught how to do that through self-compassion and compassion for others. We were taught to do that through constantly striving to be better than others.

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