Fear Not Your Idleness

I’m pretty sure I’m the best darn dishwasher loader in the world. That’s a bold statement, I know, but since the pandemic started, I’ve had even more opportunity to prove my expertise. The trick to being a Grand Master of Dishwasher Loading is what I call, “working the puzzle.” You’ve got to get as many pieces in the machine as possible without letting them overlap in order to ensure each dish gets truly clean. And you have to time the running of the dishwasher so it falls in the off-peak hours to decrease your electricity bill, but also so the dishes you need will be ready by the next mealtime.

Pre-COVID-19, I prided myself on being a self-publishing expert, an award-winning writer, a highly regarded speaker, a well-respected coach, etc. I liked to think of myself as a cutting-edge creative entrepreneur and a community catalyst. I believed my busy schedule and long list of tasks were how I added value. I was a warrior, ready to fight the world to prove things could be done better. I’m frankly baffled how in my pre-COVID life I ever had time to even empty the dishwasher.

Things are much quieter now. I still have lists of tasks to complete, but none of them seem urgent. I can take my time and get to things when I feel like it, or not do them at all. In many ways, that feels good, but I also feel guilty that the old fire in my blood has cooled and ashamed that I’m not contributing as much I once did. I was brought up to have a strong work ethic and raised in a nation that rewards and expects productivity. But did all that rushing around really make me happier? Was that constant quest for achievement really my true nature?

I think back to when I was a kid and, to be honest, I was pretty lazy, when I was allowed to be. I was perfectly happy lying on the couch all day reading and watching old movies or playing a board game with my brother. I did my chores because my mother made me. I exerted myself only in games with the neighborhood kids, and even then, I was always the first child to need a break. I was perfectly happy lying in the grass watching the clouds float by and making up stories in my head. I was not a terribly ambitious child. Most the time I didn’t care if I came in first or last. There were a few times when I wanted to be best, but not bad enough to actually become the best.

What if my true nature is that of an idle person? What a terrifying thought! I grew up hearing the old proverb that idleness is the root of all evil. One of my childhood heroes, Ben Franklin, said, “Trouble springs from idleness, and grievous toil from needless ease.”  He also said, “Idleness and pride tax with an even heavier hand than kings and governments.”  Even Buddha once said, “To be idle is a short road to death and to be diligent is a way of life; foolish people are idle, wise people are diligent.”

So, if I’m not constantly producing, working, and striving, then I’m doomed. A life of poverty, self-loathing, and shame are sure to follow.

Unless none of that is true. Unless I choose to focus less on defining idleness as sloth and inertia and more as rest and repose. Because needing to believe you are so darn big and important and productive and accomplished is really just ego. Even if you do manage to do something that changes the world, the world will change again. That’s just how it goes.

This pandemic is uprooting everything we’ve known. There are businesses and industries that will not bounce back, and new ones that will form. There will be enormous transformations to our most cherished institutions. There will be unfathomable suffering but also unpredictable growth.

I don’t know yet where I fit into this new reality. I can feel myself shifting, but I’m not entirely sure how. I sense there is still a part I have to play in this unfolding drama, and I’m waiting patiently for that to be revealed.

Sometimes, though, I still need to believe I have something to offer right now. I still need reassurance I haven’t become lethargic. I still crave a sense of accomplishment. So, when it comes time to load the dishwasher, I say, “Stand back. Let me at it. I’m going to work the puzzle.” And I do. And it’s nothing, but it’s also beautiful. And in that moment, I know I’m going to be okay.

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