You're a human being, not a human doing


Imagine that someone asks an all too familiar question: “How are you?” What’s your go to response? 

If you said, “Busy,” you’re not alone.

Hard work can lead to amazing payoffs: material success, a greater purpose, major innovations. But there’s a difference between working hard and living to work.

Hustle culture is dominating society right now, a phenomenon that glorifies ambition not as a means to an end, but as a lifestyle centered on “performative workaholism.” Because of this, we tend to view being busy as a measure of moral superiority and success -- and we assume that being exhausted means we’re doing something right.

But the research only shows otherwise. Constant hustle — distinct from good ol’ hard work! — leads directly to burnout, one of the biggest health crises of our generation. When Stanford researchers looked into how workplace stress affects health costs and mortality in the US, they found that it led to spending of nearly $190 billion and nearly 120,000 deaths each year. And it’s been proven that rest and play actually makes us more productive, creative and fulfilled

So how do we begin to reclaim rest and redefine productivity on our own terms? 

Here are five steps to detach your productivity from your worth:

Step one:
Remember you’re a human being, not a human doing. Society (ahem, capitalism!) tells us our value as a person is our ability to work. Based on this definition, how would we value the elderly? What about children? Or the disabled? Do you value these humans any less because of their inability to “productively” contribute to society? Next time you start questioning your worth because you didn’t accomplish everything you wanted to, remember that your value is inherent: you don’t have to earn it.

Step two:
Focus on who you are, not what you do. Basing your entire self-worth on your achievements is like building a house on an unsteady foundation. Instead of relying on unpredictable, unreliable external factors to determine your worth, try focusing on who you are at your core. To help you cultivate this, try a weekly practice of reflecting on your full identity, including roles in individual and collective circles, personal qualities, interests and dreams. These aspects of yourself remain unchanged, no matter what you accomplish.

Step three:
Reframe rest as productive. We can’t afford to slow down only when we’re tired or as a reward for accomplishing something (see above stats on burnout). You are not lazy for taking the time you need to recharge and restore yourself — you’re proactively building up the strength to show up as your best self. In fact, neuroscience is finding that when we are idle, in leisure, our brains are most active. Overwork, in other words, kills your creativity.

Step four:
Give yourself some grace. If you’ve been struggling to focus or be as productive as normal during the pandemic, know this is NORMAL. When facing a stressful situation, the brain kicks into fight/flight mode to ward off potential threats. Unfortunately, under prolonged, chronic stress or uncertainty, this biological response lingers because the “threat” remains — making us much less effective at activities that require focus and concentration. If you have guilt about not performing or producing at your best, give yourself permission to let that go.

Step five:
Focus on moments, not just milestones. Have you ever experienced that burst of accomplishment after meeting a goal...only to be followed by a dragging sense of emptiness when you realize now it’s just onto the next thing? When you measure your life by milestones, you might feel like life happiness is just always out of reach and that you are always falling just short of “getting there.” This mindset can make you lose sight of the practices, people and rituals that can actually imbue life with meaning. A mindfulness practice can help you reclaim joy in the journey, help you slow down and stave off that feeling like you’re just another cog in the machine.

Bonus: a poem for when you’re starting to spiral out. 

"And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling,

'This is important! And this is important! And this is important!

You need to worry about this! And this! And this!'

And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back,

put it on your heart and say,

'No. This is what’s important.'"

—Iain Thomas

For the week ahead, I challenge you to let go of productivity as a means of measuring your self-worth. No matter what gets checked off your to-do list, reaffirm to yourself that you’re  valuable and valid exactly as you are.

If you’re looking for more inspiration and information about reclaiming your mental and physical health in a world that often works against our wellness, follow me at @chronically_cheerful on IG and sign up for my newsletter here!

About Carolyn:

Carolyn is the voice behind @chronically_cheerful, an online community for anyone seeking support, solace, and a safe space while navigating wellness challenges — especially those with a chronic illness or invisible disability. She helps wellness brands connect to their audiences through clear messaging and an online presence that shines.

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