It’s okay. You don’t really have to make that dalgona coffee.
Personally, the past couple of weeks have me feeling like I’m starring in some final destination film. Remember that gym scene? The lockdown is starting to feel a lot like I’m that gymnast trapezing on that flimsy gym bar, about to collapse any second.
“The country is going on a 21-day lockdown.” There goes the fatal electrocuted water I barely managed to swerve away from.
“We will be working from until further notice.” Oh snap! Just missed that nail from gnawing its deathly claws into my skin.
“You need to step out of your homes and bang on thalis.”
“Here’s some Diwali for you to celebrate.”
“Oh and while you’re pseudo-celebrating Ram’s return from his vanvas here’s an added 14 days (or years, I mean who knows at this point) for your own self!”
And there, comes the dust into my eyes and I’ve finally tripped, broken all my bones and am lying in a pool of my own blood. Fine, tears.
(Pro tip: Final destination can be a real fun watch in this moment if you’re looking for suggestions)
Point is, we’re going through a culturally traumatic experience. Anxiety is skyrocketing. Mental health is plummeting and life as we know it is basically a mess. So as we navigate these massive emotional hurdles with a sense of unceasing uncertainty, how does one cope with what life ceaselessly demands from us?
Why it’s okay to bid adieu to productivity
Abraham Maslow came up with this now-incredibly-famous pyramid back in 1943. It’s an academic and important looking triangle, the kind that college kids would chronically highlight and memorise. Maslow basically organises and categorises human needs in the order of their priority.
At the base of the pyramid is the most important need of physical safety – the need to satiate basic body needs like food, shelter, hunger, etc. Above this is the need to feel psychologically and emotionally safe – in the society, your environment and your surroundings. Next up is the need to feel loved and feel like you belong, followed by self-esteem needs and the last is the need for self-actualisation. The theory says needs and motivations operate in the ascending order and the top tiers cannot be achieved until the bottom ones’ are satiated.
If you’re wondering how you’ve ended up in a psychology lecture, hang on; it’s just a little something to put things into perspective.
At this moment in history, there are people who aren’t as privileged as those of us reading (or writing) this right now. There are people who don’t have an adequate shelter above their heads or food in their stomachs. Their basic physical safety is threatened. But even those with a roof above their heads are in fear. People’s needs for social belonging aren’t being particularly fulfilled right now, either.
Circling back to that famed triangle again; productivity, or the need to stay creative, innovate and work lies in the top two tiers of needs. If the bottom basic ones’ are not met, how does one progress to the others?
How do I care about my boss droning on over unmet deadlines when I’m struggling with the fact that the death toll across the nation seems to be on an incessant rise? How do I bother giving my hand a major sprain whisking coffee for an insta-worthy dalgona shot when there is no probable cure for all those aforementioned deaths?
And how do I get myself to get out of bed every morning and get on with the hustle that is expected of me when the lockdown has disrupted all my life plans?
From doing ‘too much’ to doing 'just enough’
When life itself is on the path of a major paradigm shift, shouldn’t everything that it constitutes undergo some degree of alteration too? And the concept that I personally think needs the most alteration right now is the idea of work.
As Indians, raised by competitive and excellence-inducing desi parents, we’re conditioned to judge our self-worth by our productivity. The yardstick of feeling fulfilled is how much you’re getting done on a daily basis.
Being productive can be therapeutic, but also addictive. It gives you societal validation, and makes you feel successful. But, it can also be the deadliest of coping mechanisms. It leaves you intoxicated with your accomplishments. And then, when the high recedes, you wake up with a hangover of unprocessed emotions.
Giving space to ourselves, our emotions, our health and our holistic well-being is so much more important than we realise, especially in these times. So how does one incorporate this added value to the existing definition of work and productivity?
By broadening its definition to include…
A global shift in what even constitutes work anymore
While we speculate the implications of the lockdown, and how much of an impact it really has on our being, the reality is that this crisis will permanently change how we work.
As stringent as the work culture in this country has always been, the pandemic has shown that more and more people can in fact, easily work from home. With the accelerated use of technology - relying on emails, chats and videoconferencing is replacing face-to-face communication.
The harsh reality is that many employees will not return to other workforce. Some by choice. And some because they’ve been asked not to.
There will be an overall plummet in the need for physical workspaces. This new work-from-home reality that we’re living in, is here to offer creative ways to build work communities, not just workspaces.
This new definition of work must then incorporate this sense of flexibility, and more importantly, respect for employees and other workers. If there is one thing this pandemic has taught us, it is to value frontline workers. Those that we took for granted may never return, now that they have seen just how much thought the State and the system gives to them. This relationship will have to be reconfigured, and reimagined.
Adding to this list of new constitutions of work, is the implications of accelerated digital transformation. Increasing use of digital medium has fostered the facilitation of temporary and part-time workers.
Traditional 9-to-5 work boundaries are being called into scrutiny. It is time to create newer and more flexible ones. The kind that makes space for personal growth. The kind that allow freedom from the overwhelming demands of a single employer. And those that make space for creativity and self-innovation.
With all this, there is a renewed focus on outcome instead of physical time spent. Traditional workplaces place ample emphasis on the idea of physical hours spent.
Conventionally, the larger the difference between your clocking in, and clocking out time, the more your assumed output. Now, we might be able to look beyond our attendance sheets.
All this, and a lot more will have the pressing need to be incorporated into our traditional definition of work. Once, we’re able to get out of our homes, obviously.
A space for your feelings
Let’s move on from the collective to the personal.
The first and foremost aspect that needs to be added to our conventional definition of work, is the space to evaluate how we feel while we work.
That doesn’t mean you need to wallow in your emotions, but labelling your feelings –recognising whether you’re sad or overwhelmed in certain moments will allow you to function better. If you give yourself that space to allow your evaluation of those feelings, you can basically plan and strategise your day –and your routine better.
Knowing what is upsetting you, or identifying that which is making you feel overwhelmed, will help you cope with your work –and your life, better.
As subjective as self-care can be, at its core lies the idea of defining your relationship with yourself. Tell you how I have begun defining self-care for myself? Steering clear of the parade of breakdown-worthy news that the media constantly hurls at us.
But this is the time we need to indulge ourselves with self-care and organically tie it in with our work.
Taking up projects that you feel passionate about, acting on ideas that help you feel grounded, and basically engaging with your routine work in the manner that it has some room for your new sense of self.
This is the time to think about what self-care means for you.
It is difficult to appreciate something when you’re constantly quantifying its shortcomings. If the pandemic has to teach us something, let it be kindness – to ourselves and to others.
The clutter on social media would have you believe that you’ve been given the gift of time. No more hour-long commutes, no socialising, no shopping. And how you’re supposed to sweeten this time with an extra dose of creativity. If Shakespeare could finish King Lear during his lockdown, you can surely finish that short story you’ve been working on your whole adult life.
But guess what, you don’t have to.
Affirm that doing just what is expected of you – is enough.
If you’re barely keeping up with your existing deadlines and feel a sense of failure in not being able to take up new ideas or projects – be kind to yourself and affirm that it’s okay.
Similarly, extend that kindness to your coworkers too. More so because it has suddenly become incredibly difficult to understand how they are doing emotionally, since you’re no longer in their physical proximity.
We all have our own ways of dealing with crises. You may choose to immerse yourself in work while a coworker may choose to take a step back.
It’s time we stop judging someone else’s pain by our model of measurement. Pain as they say, is relative. So let’s make some room for subjectivity.
This is the time to jog. Not sprint. This lockdown has me thinking about how fast-paced and agile our world had grown on to become.
We were all running together. Chasing targets, deadlines, public transport and likes on social media. Chasing goals without stepping back to evaluate where we’ve managed to reach.
But here’s the opportunity to truly slow down. Let’s not waste this collective pause. Running in the rat race teaches us to be self-critical rather than self-compassionate.
Ease up on the expectation we impose on our work and ourselves. It’s time to include compassion in the goals we set out for ourselves. In the battle of doing too much versus doing not enough, let’s just do enough and call a truce.
And finally, hope. Let’s include the promise of hope in our work that we won’t be working from home for long.
Let’s vow to never take social plans for granted. To never take eating out or ordering in for granted. Let’s all dream of the life that awaits us on the other side of the pandemic.
A time when people will enjoy the hour-long commutes. (or maybe not) Traffic wouldn’t be as frustrating anymore. (it will) Coworkers won’t be annoying anymore. (who are you kidding?) We won’t cancel plans anymore (we will) and life will be back to monotony from the excitement of a final destination film.