Many Moons ago, when I first entered employment I noticed that many of my colleagues, whether from the same marketing space or other industries – from coffee baristas to CEOs – were always busy. Always!
I found myself in the company of people who exchanged their busy statuses with one another on regular basis, noticing note of satisfaction in that.
As a splash of fresh blood in the machine of employment, it stood out to me… because I didn’t feel as busy but certainly felt pressured to be.
Today I am proud to admit that in most of my numerous jobs in my life, I was never busy. Certainly there were peaks and troves of more and less on my to-do list. But like any ebbs and flows, they interchanged one another, and life had busy moments and… well, pretending to be busy moments. I hated that.
I eventually left employment and ventured into self-employment, initially co-existing in both worlds (making my days really busy for a while!). Self-employment seemed like a paradise: work whenever you want, go on holidays a lot, sleep in, charge as much as you want, etc. From the outside, entrepreneurs seemed like some of the happiest folks with a lot of freedom and money. Social media had a lot to do with spreading such image.
Upon becoming self-employed (armed with no business knowledge and some marketing experience!), I found myself with a lot of freedom indeed but very little money and a tonne of worry about the future.
On top of that, as I started joining various business groups on and offline, where I found the same old story – everyone was uber busy! Always!
And I wasn’t.
I felt inadequate and figured that if I get myself busy I’d be a successful business person, like all those other people over there.
I filled my days with projects, took up bad fit clients (just so I had more work to do!), said ‘yes’ to misaligned speaking ‘opportunities’ and interviews, re-designed my website multiple times, plugged myself into all social media channels and attended a bunch of business events. I felt like a true business person… not! I felt exhausted.
I suspected that I was doing something wrong. So, I started reading self-help books of successful white cis-male CEOs trying to decode their success, reverse engineer their stories and hack their rather general business advice. Many of the people I followed and whose content I consumed had many similar variables in common – wealthy family, long working hours and luck.
Since I had little of either I eventually decided that those were not suitable for me advice.
However, I didn’t decide that those were not suitable for me advice in the moment. At first, I of course assumed that something was wrong with me.
I genuinely didn’t want to be busy. However I was feeling increasingly inadequate, because everyone was busy. Or so it looked: people at the coffee shops told me how busy they were, strangers told me ‘I am sorry to hear’ when I said I wasn’t busy and my clients ran around like headless chooks messaging me after hours and even on the weekends.
I was determined to get busy. As you already know, I did; and my mental health deteriorated quickly. I figured I was not made for all this business stuff and I was a bad worker – a rather grim perspective. Everyone around me seemed to enjoy their busy lives. What was wrong with me?
There is a LOT to unpack.
I want to explore three (3) ideas with you. Maybe those ideas make sense to you as well. Maybe not. However, I sense this is going to be an interesting journey.
Interestingly – and rather invisibly* – being busy has become a mark of success.
Long hours of work and lack of leisure time are mediated by the perceptions that busy individuals possess desired human capital characteristics (competence, ambition), leading them to be viewed as scarce and in demand (Conspicuous Consumption of Time: When Busyness and Lack of Leisure Time Become a Status Symbol by Silvia Bellezza, Neeru Paharia & Anat Keinan, 2016).
Suddenly*, having a lot on and very little time to relax or do nothing has become the symbol of being successful, capable, respected – sort of that person who made it in life.
To explain this phenomenon, Silvia Bellezza (and others) uncovered the shift of the focus from the preciousness and scarcity of goods to the preciousness and scarcity of individuals, where a busy and overworked individual is perceived to have status in the eyes of others.
*I use the words invisibly and suddenly to indicate our blindness to the shift, as it takes shape over years without a view in the public eye. This is partially due to the time it took for our mark of success to change.
To give you an idea of time, Thorstein Veblen wrote in his essay “The Theory of the Leisure Class” in 1899:
Abstention from labour is the conventional evidence of wealth and is therefore the conventional mark of social standing.
Abstention from labour today is considered as lazy, unproductive, poor, unsuccessful and simply wrong.
And this is what I felt.
Even after years of conscious practice of taking time off I often had felt some sense of guilt and shame.
I have been sleeping in, taking 2 days off every couple of weeks and going for impromptu walks in the middle of the working day for a number of years now. And it continues to be a conscious choice every time. So far!
I think free time, leisure, “nothing to do” have bad marketing today, that is we continue repeating a message that free time is bad and busy is good.
We have divided people into two category: 1) busy successful workers and 2) hippie lazy dole bludgers (which is very problematic in itself and requires its own discussion), trying to fit a widely diverse humanity into rigid and limiting ideas.
Thorstein’s 1899 essay shows us that the idea that busy means successful is just that – an idea. It isn’t true or the only option.
If you find joy in being busy and working long hours, power to you. But if you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed and less is actually getting done because you had a melt down at the last staff meeting it’s possible that the idea of being busy is not suitable for you.
Great news: it’s only an idea! Means we can change it.
Now, that change isn’t always very easy – change doesn’t come over night (and requires conscious effort of repetition!).
When you are the only one saying that you want to work 3 days a week and make twice the money (and everyone else is probably thinking it but don’t dare to utter) you may encounter a few giggles or eye rolls. But you may also say out loud the very thing someone is thinking. You may even start gathering like-minded people around you, and together you create the change you want to see in the world.
This happened many time in the past.
There is another reason why change doesn’t come easy to us. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others, which is what I evidentially did at the beginning of my story. As a newbie in both employment and business I felt eager to belong. Everyone seemed to be busy, so I did my best to be busy.
Interestingly, deep inside, I knew this wasn’t for me. But I continued comparing and finding myself on the losing end.
I have been talking about the evils of comparing for a number of years now. I have also encountered a fair sum of push back and criticism.
Comparing our lives with others feels like a natural exercise – we do it all the time – especially on social media.
Many claim that comparing their lives with less fortunate helps acquire more gratitude for what they have and thus be kinder to those around them.
Some claim that comparing is important to them as it helps place their achievements and success on a map with the rest of the colleagues, thus motivating to improve or celebrate their work.
And finally, I am also assured that one cannot know if they are doing well if they aren’t placed side by side with the comparable individuals.
Maybe my Google search is biased, but if comparing self with others was so beneficial why most of the articles I come across say “When Comparing Yourself To Others Turns Self-Destructive”, “The Danger of Comparing Yourself to Others”, “If You Want To Be Happy, Stop Comparing Yourself To Others”? My very scientific method of Googling articles about comparison may not be very persuasive. However, those titles are on to something.
I see that there is a huge difference in energy and outcome between seeing other people’s success and using that vision to inspire versus beating yourself up mercilessly because you’re not where they are. This may or may not be true for you. However, this is why I don’t consider other people’s success inspirational. I don’t mean that I am not happy for them. I truly am. In fact, more successful people create more opportunities for all of us.
But there is a problem: what do we mean by success?
You see, I said that having more successful people (in our community) creates more opportunities for all of us. I am assuming that successful people create more jobs, care about environment, serve an example of more rest and better mental health, drive electric cars, donate to charities, don’t care about diets or social media trends, support competitors, grow vegetables. You get the idea!
My idea of a successful person may not be the same as yours.
This is seemingly a simple idea but it is often overlooked.
This is important, because each of us lives in a community with a set of ideas we are used to and therefore rarely question.
I grew up in Russia and in a certain community within my cultural inheritance, where success turned out to be different from what I learnt it to be in Australia. I didn’t know there was a difference before I migrated. When I travelled back to Russia after a number of years of living in Australia I was astounded how much my perception of success had changed. By then I had entirely forgotten that my idea of success was different. My family who remain in Russia would occasionally give me their advice of success, which isn’t only not applicable in Australia but illegal, because my family is operating within the parameters of what’s acceptable in their community while I am, their daughter, now used to the ways things are in my community, 14,487 km (9,003 miles) away. It isn’t the distance that makes the difference but different cultures and set of ideas within.
Besides our varying definitions of success (health, good and bad, valuable, normal, appropriate, etc), the lack of information at the time of comparison adds another layer of complexity.
This is a very common conversation in my business, where people share social media accounts they like with me and ask if we can create something similar. And sometimes this is even possible. However, most of the time, someone else’s work that inspires us has nothing to do with the work we are doing, whether they are in the same field or not.
This has come to be as a bitter relation for me after a decade of trying to live by the opposite belief: trying other people’s ways of doing things, copying seemingly successful (here, I am making a mistake already!) tactics and feeling rather underwhelmed (and stressed, really!). It took me years of repeating the same mistakes over and over again before I stopped listening to the common marketing advice of creating templates and million dollar success formulas to replicate and conquer.
The truth is you don’t know what went into someone’s success. Oh, and your definition of success may not even align with theirs. But you know that already.
What I am trying to say is that you don’t usually have all the data from those who you are comparing yourself with.
Many six-figure entrepreneurs have six-figure debts, many social media accounts with high following acquire fake following, social media content production is a huge drain on effort and time, many highly engaged social media Pages spent years nurturing their community, etc. You get the idea – you simply don’t know the entire truth!
And this is convenient.
Many marketers package and sell their solutions promising the same idea, whether you actually want/need it or not. They work with high volume clients, share success stories of few, bulldoze over those who didn’t benefit from their advice, and back their reputation with a couple of celebrities. And this makes money. It’s exhausting and not everyone’s cup of tea (see, again!). But this happens a lot. I was on both sides of this picture: working with people who operate fast and furious and receiving a harmful advice I was wise enough by then not to follow, while many people around me continued losing money and betting their livelihoods on the next best thing.
I am not saying that all marketers are evil. I think marketing has already gained that reputation without my help.
However, there is enough bad advice based on comparison that the story continues to perpetrate today. Therefore, I opted out from the marketing community.
I believe that comparison has enough aggressive marketing behind it to make many of us believe that we must compare our work with others to know where we are.
The truth is comparing makes us miserable.
A friend of mine told me that she follows a large number of cis-female fitness celebrities to help her stop eating and start working on her bikini body. There is a LOT to unpack. But this is a common occurrence in our lives: we follow successful (what does it mean?) business people to try modeling their success, we scroll through perfect (-ly photoshoped?) fitness bodies to “help” us stop eating ice cream (what? Why?), we ask our friends for a relationship advice (are they qualified?) comparing our agreements at home with their idyllic romantic getaways… and this way we practice comparing, creating stronger bonds within us, finding all the confirmation around that comparing is the right thing to do.
Meanwhile, we are feeling bad about ourselves.
Because… “Comparison is the thief of joy” (thanks Theodore Roosevelt), not a reliable benchmark for your success and happiness.
Here is one of my favourites quotes:
“Comparing yourself to others is an act of violence against your authentic self” (Love this, Iyanla Vanzant).
This nicely brings me to the authentic self idea. This idea requires its own conversation. However, today, I am want to investigate with you if comparing yourself with others isn’t a reliable benchmark, what is then?
And that is your authentic self. No surprises here!
In my work, that comes in the form of my clients’ data and my honesty. I don’t promise any unrealistic heights, I help my clients realise their expectations and I base my work on their data. This may sound tricky for those who are seeking social media marketing help right now, because I don’t have their data yet. Therefore, when we have our first conversation together I take them through a set of questions which help me determine whether my work can help them get where they want to be. I don’t sell my solution or a successful tactic. I try to determine whether I can help, based on who they are, where they are on their journey, what worked in the past, what didn’t, what they expect to achieve, when by, what matters to them, what is their vision, etc.
Although this isn’t an exact set of questions, the first conversation I have with my clients is around identifying their authentic self, or learning about who they are (and not the names of celebrities who endorse me!).
In my life, that comes in the form of working with my therapist, who also asks many questions. It also comes in the form of time off and time alone: walks in the forest, journaling, silent coffee sipping on the balcony, sleeping in, etc – all the things that help me hear myself. Those things may different for you.
Hearing myself helps me improve my immunity to comparison.
As I practice more of listening to self (as oppose to others!) I find the benchmark to my success and happiness, and I move forward from there.
This isn’t always easy, because I am submerged into the culture of busy and comparison.
Free time, leisure and doing nothing are becoming a little more popular now; however leisure and lazy are still very much intertwined.
It takes conscious effort to not compare myself with others. Some days I am good it and some days I am not.
What matters is that I know what I need and I do that.
Knowing what we really need and want isn’t always easy either. While we are busy, we are not listening to ourselves. How can we? There is no time!
By the time your work day is over or the weekend is here, you now have a lot on your other to-do list: house to clean, kids to take to sports, friends’ barbeque to attend, binge on the next Farmer Wants a Wife (or whatever rocks your boat), etc. There is no way one weekend can provide for all those social duties and give us enough rest. Enough means how much YOU need. But how much do you need? You may not know because you are busy doing things.
So, it’s a little bit of a vicious circle.
When, often for the first time, we find ourselves with more free time, we freak out.
The 2020 lockdown may be not the best example, because many were worried about their future (which is a conversation in itself); however many found themselves with more time and space on their shoulders. Social media was flooded with lockdown ideas of things to do. Some of my peers shared their boredom states over the group messaging. We entered a weird place of having more time and not knowing what to do with it.
I found it fascinating to watch.
I wasn’t fascinated by the hardships and challenges, but I felt curious about all the things many were filling their lives up with. I was amongst them, feeling the urge to create something so that I didn’t feel like the world was falling apart.
The world didn’t fall apart, of course. But none of us knew that at the time. We never do (although I was reading history of plague and famine trying to extrapolate my future – not the most helpful read for my mental health during pandemic!).
Slowing down to listen to our inner desires, wants and needs is uncomfortable; because many of us feel fear, uncertainty and anxiety we don’t like feeling. And during the global pandemic, those fears and anxiety are ever rising. And we already know that busy is the right ways of existence.
Despite all those feelings, many people actually took the opportunity to listen to what they truly desire, such as shorter work week, working from home, less business attire, more walks, etc. Many new ways of working became possible: CEOs with their pets on Zoom was probably considered unprofessional in 2019. But this picture has changed. Literally.
So, what does that has to do with your desires and this paradox of fearing free time?
Big external events can sometimes create environment where we are forced to reevaluate our lives. Global pandemic is one such event.
Now, when many of us are back to being busy (even in the face of #lockdown2021), I caught myself feeling somewhat inadequate again, predominately for having free time. I have always had free time (as you read earlier) and have also been working hard on creating my business in such a way that I don’t have to work hard.
When the switch from working hard to not working hard happened (I don’t know when!), I found myself with all the to-do things ticked off and a whole day at my feet… so, I panicked, found myself something to do and over worked.
In times when our financial futures are uncertain (which they are all the time by the way but that’s a story for another day!) working hard may feel like safety. If I work hard I certainly won’t lose my job, my clients, my projects, etc. Your working hard of course doesn’t guarantee anything. But it worked pre-pandemic and we all practiced well doing a lot of doing. So, of course, in the moment of feeling unsafe (like a global pandemic), our brain jumped to the most familiar conclusion – work more, work hard and certainly don’t relax!
Those experiences may or may not be familiar to you.
However, our communal unfamiliarity or dislike of “authentic self” idea tells me that we don’t really know our authentic selves very well, or we don’t let it out. The authentic self idea is reserved to hippies and lazys. But during the pandemic, many enjoyed the flexibility of working different hours and from different locations. Many remembered what they actually had wanted. Walks became popular! Who could have thought?
Those of us who sneaked out for a walk during work hours, feeling inadequate (I am looking at myself, really), could now let my authentic self be.
Half way through the pandemic in 2020 I felt that this new way of living was going to change our future relationship with work, status and self. I was wrong. Change didn’t really take off. Not on a global scale, that is. However, it changed a lot in my life and my business. I made changes that seemed impossible before the pandemic. And my changes were based on my desires: authentic or true self, desires: more free time, more impactful work, less meaningless work, more sleep, more adventure, more connections, less overwhelm, amongst others.
Free time, self care and leisure still have bad marketing, comparison continues to rule our lives and we push our true desires deep inside waiting for the retirement.
But something has shifted.
Change takes time and its progress is often invisible. It’s her Majesty hindsight that allows us to notice and appreciate change.
Maybe, in 2031 we will be reading articles titled “Ten-Hour Week is Outrageous: Office Workers Demand Work-Life Balance” or “More Twenty-something Australians Quit Jobs to Live” or maybe not.
But today I want to try reminding us that ‘this is how things are’ isn’t the description of truth, social media trends aren’t the trends of life (tree circles are!), other people’s lives don’t reflect your worth and connecting with your authentic self is a true meaning of life (all the answers you need are there!).
I design simple and effective social media and Facebook ads strategies helping gifted not for profits and businesses for purpose leverage their social media technology and loyal community to really power their mission, building more donations and creating impact. My work is custom solution aiming at the specific needs of your work.
There are many ways you can reach out to see if I am a good fit for your goals.
Check out the Facebook Messanger bubble on the bottom right, contact page on the top and/or a form and a calendar, if this type of communication suits you better.
I look forward to supporting your vision of the future!