It isn’t what you do, but how you do it.
- John Wooden
I was taught at a young age that it’s wrong to judge people by how much they have. It’s a good moral lesson to learn early, and I suppose it’s first taught to children in order to curb jealousy. But while my generation was prepared to avoid this mode of thinking – I know almost none of my peers of a similar age to be overly concerned with their material possessions – we weren’t prepared for what’s become one of society’s wider ills these days. What happens when you measure a human being, whether that’s your own or another’s, by their accomplishments?
It isn’t news that our society values productivity. I place a lot of importance on my own achievements. If I’m not writing something, cleaning something, planning something, finishing something, I feel like I’m wasting my time. I know intellectually that it’s not true, but my feelings and self-image don’t always communicate with my brain.
For instance, my professors have encouraged me to pursue freelance journalism even while I’m still college-aged. While I’m honored they have that confidence in my abilities, I can tell that others don’t, “others” being the people who employ freelancers. It’s soul-crushing. A website proudly proclaims “We want your article queries so much, we’re willing to give you email addresses and phone numbers to contact us with!” Then, when contacted, emails go ignored and phone calls get deferred – “It’s an interesting idea, so we’ll get back to you soon.” I don’t want this to become a rant on a different topic, but I wonder why people have become so afraid to tell somebody a straight “no.” That being said, their cold shoulders and their equivocating feel a hundred times worse to me than a “no” would. I wait and re-try and wait some more, and months go by and it’s not worth it anymore.
When we discuss productivity as a demon, we most widely consider quantity, but in terms of quality, I struggle just as much. This means “Am I doing good enough work?” gets as much play as “Am I doing enough work?” Is it worth my time to write for this lesser-known website because I know Slate will look better on my resume? But then, if Slate doesn’t answer my emails, does that really make me a lesser journalist, a lesser person – at age 21?
I’m going to sound far older than 21 when you read this, but I also believe today’s speed-of-sound technology makes its own contribution to the problem. Usually, it’s only a problem when it’s operating a bit more slowly than the speed of sound. I’ve dealt with an incredibly sluggish computer at my summer internship, and it frustrates me to no end when it freezes in response to a few quick clicks. I don’t think I used to be this impatient, but I’m sure I don’t take it in stride very well. I silently fume at my slow machine, grieving the loss of time and production. What should only be a minor inconvenience to me warps my entire mood.
This post wasn’t meant to give solutions or suggestions to those of you who feel the way I often feel, I guess. I’m still working on it myself, and venting it like this was, ironically, productive. But I do know one thing: We all need to remind ourselves the true value of a human life doesn’t come from how much he or she can contribute to society, or even to that being’s own self-preservation. Our value comes from God, and our true fulfillment from a life well lived.