If you ask most people what they want in life, outside of the material things and jobs and accomplishments, a lot of us have the same basic desire: to be happy, to live to our fullest potential, to find and learn to love who we are. I know for sure that I have that goal. However living a fulfilling happy life is a bumpy road. It’s not a smooth journey from your starting line straight to happiness. In fact, there’s no finish line at all. This journey is like a roller coaster that you never can get off of, you just keep taking lap after lap, trying to keep up. This roller coaster is full of ups and downs, full of unexpected twists and turns. We endure many obstacles throughout our life.
The thing is that, though many of us wish for the same overarching goal, to grow and reach our full potential, we all approach it differently. Some people are workaholics, they find purpose in working hard and having a full schedule. Some people feel that, if they’re not being productive, then they are wasting their time. Honestly, I used to be like that too. Academics was where I used to find purpose in my life. Not trying to gloat, but I felt my intelligence was a big defining factor in who I was as a person. My photography was another big part of who I was as a person. People knew me for my smarts, my art, and generally being a people pleaser, a kind person, and an overachiever.
These characteristics that defined me in the past weren’t bad things. It’s not bad to be proud of your intelligence or art or athletics or work. The problem is that it’s an unstable foundation on which to build the framework that houses who we are. With getting sick, I lost the things that once defined me. My illness was a tornado that came through, destroying everything in its path, knocking over everything I had built on my foundation, leaving me to start over from the bottom. This led me to have to dig deeper to find who I am and what makes me me. Every label I identified with before had been taken away so quickly. And that’s the issue with building your life up on external validation, on needing to feel productive to feel worthy. Someday any of these things may be taken away from you leaving you to rebuild, to start all over again.
This global pandemic is a good example of one of these scenarios that can cause your house to be blown over. People are losing their jobs or are being furloughed, many people can’t do their hobbies or sports, socialize with their friends, go to school, or even really leave the house for anything but the essentials. All these coping mechanisms that we used to get through life aren’t available to us anymore. We can’t distract ourselves by being busy and productive since those avenues are no longer there for a lot of people. Most of our lives have come to a complete halt, the city quiet while everyone is holed up in their homes while essential workers keep things going. Our lives have been flipped upside down, going from our normal daily life to this new normal. Now we need to figure out how to move forward through this.
Many years ago, there was a famous psychologist ago named Abraham Maslow. You probably have heard of one of his most famous concepts: the hierarchy of needs. Though this concept was published many years ago in 1943, it is just as relevant in our society now as it was when it was created. The hierarchy consists of 5 different levels which, once we satisfy that need, we can move onto the next level with the ultimate goal to reach self-actualisation, a state of being able to find fulfillment and realize their greatest potential. However, to get to this point, we need to start with the basics first.
The first need in this hierarchy is physiological needs. This means that we have all the biological things our body needs to survive. Without them, our body can’t work properly. For example, we need to have air, water, food, shelter, and sleep. The second is safety needs which can be met by family and society. Humans need to feel some sense of control in their lives, we need some predictability. Examples of these needs are emotional & financial security, law and order, and health. The third is our need for love & belonging. Our relationships with others are the cornerstone of our behaviour. We need friendship, acceptance, trust, affection, and feeling like part of a group, belonging. The fourth consist of our esteem needs. We need self-esteem like dignity, achievement, and independence, as well as respect from others. Lastly, we have our self-actualization needs which is when we reach our full potential, we feel fulfilled and seek to grow as a person. We want to become the best person we can possibly be.
Now this is why seeing all these posts about being productive during the quarantine have been making me sad. People feel so much pressure to be on the go all the time, to keep busy, to be productive, and many feel guilty for resting. I’ve seen so many quotes and memes going around saying things like “if you can’t accomplish your dream during this isolation period, it was never because of a lack of time, it is because of effort”. A lot of people are referring to chapter as a wonderful time to take advantage to do more work since we have more time on our hands but this is a really toxic thought process.
The reason I have a problem with this comes back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Many people are not having all their needs met. For some, they are getting the bare minimum physiological needs. People are struggling with money, making things tight when it comes to buying groceries or keeping a roof over their head. Even those who have their physiological needs met, we’re not getting past the second step, safety needs. Because of this global pandemic being a threat to our health and livelihood, we don’t have that security we usually feel. People are lacking resources, jobs, health, personal safety, and so on. Because that needs not being met, it’s hard for us to progress to the next levels of the hierarchy at this point. It’s hard to reach the point of self actualisation where we are living to our fullest potential when we are not having our basic needs met.
With that being said, if you’re feeling anxious or stressed, that is okay, that is so normal. If you’re struggling with eating too much or too little, that is okay. If you’re having a hard time being motivated and feel tired, that is okay. If you can’t get yourself to exercise or eat healthy right now, that’s okay. If you feel like just lazing around, that is okay! When we don’t have what we need, when we lose our sense of routine or safety, it’s normal for it to have an effect on our mental health, it’s normal to not feel on top of our game. It’s all normal.
In the end, we all cope differently with the stressors that we are thrown in life. I’m sure some people are feeling productive, but that’s not for everyone. I know a lot of people are feeling the opposite so don’t let that get you down. Don’t compare yourself and how you’re coping to other people. Whatever you’re managing to do right now is enough. No matter what you’re doing during this quarantine, whether you’re super productive or catching up on some rest and relaxation, you are still just as worthy, you are still just as important, you still deserve love as much as everyone else.
So the long and short of it is: don’t beat yourself up for not being at your best. It’s really quite hard to be our best when we don’t have our basic needs met. Do what you need to get through this and come out on the other side. People are constantly so busy and burnt out, this is a great opportunity to take a pause, to take a breath. We live in a world that never stops but it did and now we need to figure out how to cope with it. Don’t let these messages pushing you to do more or be more get to you. Keep doing you and reach out for help if you need it. Together, we will get through this and come out on the other side. We may not come out unscathed, but we will make it through.
If you’re not feeling in the best spot mentally or physically, that’s to be expected. And whatever you need to do make it though is good enough. You have enough stress going on without having to push yourself to meet societies unrealistic productivity standards so give your self some grace. It’s okay to pause. When your needs are all met once again, it’ll be easier to reach your full potential, it’ll be easier to get back on a path towards growth. However you are feeling right now is okay, everyone’s feelings are valid. All we can do for now is hold tight and be there for other to lean on and let yourself lean on others too. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it. Don’t judge each other for what we are or aren’t doing at home. Whether you’re taking the bull by the horns during isolation or you’re spending all day in your pyjamas, you are worthy. You are valid. How you feel is valid. Giving yourself and each other some grace and empathy is what we need right now; some kindness and support goes a long way during this challenging period of our lives. It’s okay to not be okay.