The World Needs More Lazy People

By, Michele Zehr

Lazy Young Teenage Woman Relaxing

Picture it—you walk into work Monday morning and your co-worker greets you, “How was your weekend?” A typical response might be, “It was crazy busy, but good.” Or maybe you say, “Really good, but not quite long enough. I spent the whole weekend doing work around the house, so I still feel like I could use a few more days to relax.” Then your co-worker sighs and gives you that affirming nod and says, “Oh, I know what you mean. I spent the whole weekend running my kids around to their soccer games and I feel like I could use about three more days to just sleep.” It’s like you and your co-worker just gave each other the “secret handshake of peer approval,” confirming that neither of you is a lazy slacker. Your shared exhaustion proves it.

Let’s use our imaginations for a moment. What do you think would happen if you responded with, “My weekend was amazing! I got plenty of sleep, spent some time being creative, and I feel ready to go this week.”

[Insert the wah-wah “fail” sound.]

Can I be blatantly honest here? In all of my years working with people in a vast array of career fields, I’ve never heard anyone respond that way. When I imagine that interaction I see a totally blank stare of discomfort on the other person’s face, because who is really expecting to hear such an empowered and positive response? I figure you could expect a reaction similar to if you had mindlessly shared something inappropriate like, “My weekend could have been better. I caught my partner in bed with someone else so I moved into the Motel 6 with my three cats and ate a gallon of ice cream for dinner every night while crying myself to sleep.” Seriously, how does one respond to that? It’s awkward, right? It would likely shut down the entire conversation.

My question then, is why do we feel awkward about honestly sharing that we have taken good care of ourselves? Is it not a sacred act—to really care for yourself? Why do most of us feel a little twinge of fear if we admit that, in fact, we were not super busy, but instead slowed down and paid attention to all of the little things we normally miss when we are super busy?

The first place this goes for most of us is that we’re afraid of being perceived as lazy by other people. We live in a culture where it is acceptable to shame other people for their lack of productivity or busyness. How bad is this problem and how does it show its ugly face? Forbes reported that in 2013, Americans collectively failed to take 577,212,000 available days of vacation and that the United States is the only nation out of the twenty-one most advanced economies in the world that does not legally require its employers to provide paid leave or holidays. If you struggle with taking time off, it’s not because you’re a loser. It’s because busyness is one of our most ingrained cultural addictions. Have you ever wondered what it might feel like to live in a culture where everyone talks about how they plan to spend their 40 days of leave each year, like in Austria? Sounds like a radical notion, doesn’t it?   

Now throw into the equation that the way we feel about ourselves is pretty much dependent upon one thing—our self-perception. Self-perception = how we perceive ourselves + how we think others perceive us. Unfortunately, most of us put way too much stock in how we think others perceive us, because unless we directly ask someone what they think (which, is still no guarantee they’ll tell the truth), we’re just making up stories in our minds when we tell ourselves, “everyone will think I’m a slacker if I call in sick today.” Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Clearly none of us has any control over what others are going to think of us, so why are we putting so much energy into worrying about it in the first place? How about honoring your own needs?

I started looking into my own relationship to self-care several years ago when I was working as an advocate for survivors of sexual violence, which was very intense work that I loved. It was about that time I discovered Brené Brown, who has studied vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame for the past thirteen years as a research professor at the University of Houston. I love her work because she is not afraid to talk about those shadowy issues that we all deal with but are usually too ashamed to talk about—like our fear of being perceived as lazy by other people.

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she shared her “10 Guideposts to Whole-Hearted Living,” and I think Guidepost #7—Cultivate play and rest, let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth—is yet another evidence-based cry for help from our overstimulated brains. (Go to www.unitevamag.com to see the "10 Guideposts to Whole-Hearted Living.")

It’s not a coincidence that the first thing we ask someone upon meeting them is, “What do you do?” We’re obsessed with doing-doing-doing and have lost our balance between doing and simply being (or resting without the need to be productive).

My challenge to anyone reading this is to dare to flirt with the idea that perhaps your quality of life (and level of productivity) will actually improve once you begin to really take time just for you. If you are fearful of what others might think, then run an experiment. Try it a few times, be honest about how you have taken care of yourself, and see if you are shunned by “everyone.” I think you’ll find that you will become a role model and an inspiration to others. Someone has to have the courage to go first. Why not you? Together, we can all become those feared “lazy people” in the world.

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Michele Zehr, M.A., M.Ed., is the founder of We2 LLC: Women’s Experiential Empowerment. She custom-designs and facilitates empowerment workshops for a wide-range of professionals, offers one-on-one Soul Weaving coaching, teaches R.A.D. Self-Defense for Women, and gives Transformational Talks by invitation. To learn more about Michele’s other services, please visit her website at: www.we2empower.com or contact her via email at: info@we2empower.com or by phone at 434-218-2462.