Work Productivity and the Great Work

Online communities have these fun little unintentional trends, like for a while, you just had this concentrated uptick of people posting about shadow work, and then it was the depth year, and although this post is coming at the tail end, the concept of work productivity and personal validation through productivity has been a recurring topic of discussion.

If you’re not subscribed to Thorn Mooney on YouTube, then check out this video she posted on Productivity, Work, and Divine Will. Headology and the Witch also posted on the subject, Funks, Reward & The Cult of Productivity. And then not too long ago, I posted a walk-through of a weekday in my life, which was also an implied commentary on productivity.

A remark I receive on repeat– and this has been recurring throughout my life, since my adolescent years among high school peers– is how productive I appear to be. What’s my secret? Do I have more hours in the day than everybody else? Should I be patenting a business method for my secret sauce to productivity? No, really, what is it that keeps my engines going?

We can break it down to focus, discipline, the number of hours I sleep, how I schedule my days and nights, eating healthy so I have more energy, meditating so I have more energy, how I don’t have kids, which basically implies I’ve got a wealth of time and disposable income– all the nitty gritty, but what’s the real reason for the productivity?

Mental imbalance.

I mean, if you really want to break it down, every form of greatness and high achievement is the product of mental or emotional imbalance.

You don’t get to be great without suffering from some significant level of mental imbalance. It’s as simple as the old trope that high school losers will all end up running the multi-billion dollar corporations of the world, because they’ve got some chip on their shoulders so they overcompensate and shoot for the stars. Nobel Prize winners wreck their personal lives and surrender to the impulses of obsession. That’s how they win the Nobel Prize.

High-octane productivity isn’t normal. Your spirit isn’t built for that. As a society, we’re so enamored with achievement and genius that we forget to check the price tag.

As a collective, we want to encourage work productivity. The propaganda of how productive people are better people is ultimately good for society, benefits the movement of progress, but it is not necessarily good for the individual.

Productivity is a form of self-sacrifice and we’re even programmed to believe that it’s just a form of delayed gratification that in the end will serve ourselves, but I question if that’s true. It serves those around you who reap the fruits of your productivity, but does it actually serve you?

On the other hand, it just may be necessary–this mode of self-sacrifice through strenuous personal productivity–to achieve one’s Great Work, to transcend physical and material limitations. Giving and giving and sacrificing of yourself eradicates the Self, the pesky ego, and merges you closer with the collective, which united, is Divinity, and so self-sacrifice takes you closer to Divinity. It’s integral to the Great Work, maybe?

That leads me to ask: is it in one’s self-interest to achieve the Great Work?

8 thoughts on “Work Productivity and the Great Work

  1. Sophia

    This whole productivity thing was always hard for me because I have autism and several mental and physical disorders to go along with it. I beat myself up so often for “being lazy” and “needing to try harder” but really both sides of the coin are unhealthy I think and, like everything in life it comes down to balance.
    But eh, do as I say not as I do I guess, I’m terrible at following my own advice….

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  2. I discovered I have a suffocating drive within me.

    I have been suffering from chronic migraines plus extensive idiopathic pain for years. No known cause. No known treatment. Somatization disorder (aka psychosomatic) has been thrown around. But it’s only been a diagnosis of exclusion. No way to find evidence of it. No treatment for it, even though I have specifically sought out treatment for it for 4 years!

    Until now. Now there is a set of symptoms to diagnose it, called tension myonueral syndrome (TMS). Plus, there’s a treatment plan. I eagerly ate up the treatment plan, and it worked!

    And then it stopped working. The migraine came back and didn’t abate for a week. And then I realized it was my drive, my overwhelming drive to *do* things. And I realized the drive was so intense, it’s suffocating.

    I stopped engaging the drive, fully rested, and voila! The migraine went away. Now I’m back to trying to be productive, but I am keeping a close eye on my drive so that it doesn’t suffocate me again.

    In this model of how our mind, body, and spirit interact together, an imbalance in one part of the body can cause another part to rebel. I have always been an intense workaholic, always overachieving, doing more and sleeping less. It appears, though, my mind, the commander of my entire being, was whipping the rest of me to work more strenuously than it could withstand. So 7 years ago it finally reached its limit, put the breaks on, and made me stop completely. I struggled against the breaks and it just held on stronger, until it made me stop completely.

    I don’t know how this concept intersects with the concept of doing one’s Great Work. I have been spending almost all my time these past years attempting to discover the different parts of me and develop lines of communication and trust with them. I, as my conscious mind, do not have a team composed of the different parts of me that can just fall in line and follow my commands. Instead I appear to be composed of entities that each have their own needs and desires. I must choose my path, my goals, by working out a plan amongst all of the parts of me and choosing one we all can get on board doing. This can require sacrifices from one part that is in exchange for doing something later else to satisfy that part. And that’s where the trust becomes so critical: I have to follow through with my promises when I make a deal with a part of myself.

    Anywho. Food for thought. I thought it was interesting that you discussed your drive and recently I discovered my drive is suffocating.

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  3. I’ve been pondering lately on the nature of the spiritual quest, the Great Work, and what it ultimately means. Those of us who are, by nature, driven to seek the greater answer–self-improvement, spiritual growth, divine union–are driven thusly due to the innate recognition of lack within ourselves. We see the empty spots and seek to fill them in a way that others, who are not inclined toward the same sorts of self-questioning, don’t seem to. The dilemma for ourselves then has to become, “how far am I willing to go?” Are we willing to truly divorce ourselves from the wideness of human experience in a desire to lessen our attachments? Is a certain amount of suffering necessary in order to truly be human? Is the Great Work ultimately about losing ourselves in the Divine, or about learning to Be in the fullest sense of Being? It’s a question I’ve really been sitting with recently, and I’m not sure I’ve reached an answer quite yet…but I feel like it’s the right question for the moment. I think your feelings on productivity as a benchmark of success are right in line with that thought of the act of the quest. At what point do we jump the proverbial shark? In our desire to reach the answer, do we miss the question? Excellent stuff. 🙂

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  4. My personal approach towards any form of work is simply.. completing the task the best to your ability. I have no ego hang ups when I work, just as long as it’s completed. If it’s a personal creative project, then that form of productivity becomes internalized and more centric to the creator.

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  5. This is the great question of the moment, isn’t it? Not feeling like you’re getting enough done or accomplished has got to be a top cause of anxiety today and this is a mental imbalance as well.
    It’s extremely frustrating to not accomplish the things you wish to. It can make you feel depressed, overwhelmed and pretty jealous of the people who do accomplish much, even if they do so at a price.

    We all pay a price.

    It might help to have a long hard look at our motivations, to understand better what is driving us. Is it money, and fame? Is it curiosity, a search for truth? Is it a sense of responsibility or obligation? Not that any are necessarily more worthy than others, but an honest appraisal could help us deal better. It may require some pretty intense self-examination and it may, in turn, bring about some balance to your drive or make you okay with an “imbalance.”

    Everything you put your energy into is worthwhile if you understand your own drive. You don’t have to put words on it necessarily, just be in touch with it, be friends with it, accept it. If you can do that, questions of balance or imbalance become less important.

    You don’t have to justify your actions, but you do need to understand them.

    This is such a great topic, so many ways to consider it.

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