I’ve been thinking about this question for a while now and first it felt a bit counterintuitive to put the musings on the question on this blog as it is home to so many of my Doings. But as I get deeper into my thinking around labor issues in the arts and redefining success, the thinking around intentional doing and doing less for the sake of business seems like a natural progression on the thinking.
The question appeared a few months ago when I was listeningto Jocelyn K. Glei’s Podcast “Hurry Slowly” (a great podcast if you haven’t listened to it yet, do so). In the solo episode she talks about the concept of “Tender Discipline”, a fascinating approach to link these opposing ideas and by doing so showing how beneficial both are for one another. She talks about “the ability to balance what’s being asked of you with what you’re asking of yourself”. I’ve been thinking myself a lot about discipline. Planning, figuring out systems and doing is pretty natural to me. I’d actually say that if you’re characterizing me with one noun I’m a MAKER.
So the question Jocelyn K. Glei was reflecting on made me pause (ironically I was commuting to work while listening to the podcast, my activity of choice for the long train rides): WHO ARE YOU WITHOUT THE DOING?
Over the past years I learned that consistency in any endeavor is just sustainable with breaks in order to process, review and find new perspectives. It is easy to get lost in our quest to pursuit our goals, to get stuck in our methods and to value the busy version more than the “becoming” version (a term lovingly borrowed from Michelle Obama who chose the title becoming for her memoir in a kind gesture to state that nobody has figured it out yet and that there is “no magic number of what age you’ll be when you’ll feel like a grown-up”, we are all different stages of becoming, a work in process, as she shared in her interview with Oprah.)
“By seeing yourself with tenderness, you can see your situation clearly, which is the first step in breaking out of this cycle of over-commitment that so many of us fall prey to.” - Jocelyn K. Glei
We could all use more compassion and tenderness in our evaluation of our actions or non-actions. I wonder what would happen if we take our non-doing as serious as we take our doing. What if we speak of a good night sleep proudly instead of wearing sleep deprivation like a batch of honor? Would it change our notion of success if it is deeply rooted in wellbeing? What if we would reconsider that productivity doesn’t need to feel like we’re being drained of our energy? What if we commit to fun activities without looking for a possible productive outcome?
“You have to completely conquer the feeling that there is something fundamentally wrong with your human nature, and that therefore you need discipline to correct your behavior. As long as you feel the discipline comes from the outside, there is still a feeling that something is lacking in you.” - Jocelyn K. Glei
The concept of “tender discipline” feels appropriate to remind ourselves that it’s all about the balance between allowing and pushing in order to live a good life. And that we all need to have look into where we are giving into the false promise of productivity by doing something without actually getting anything done. Like our boundaries with technology by questioning if replying or posting on default is actually a procrastination of doing the real work.
Discipline, for me, is also linked to the definition of what kind of work matters to me, what I do want to do more of. Having my priorities straight helps me to kindly decline unwanted commitments that are not aligned with my focus. The aspect of kindness comes in when the workload is once again too high, deadlines are becoming “zombielines” and my priorities are blurred with the priorities of others. A question that has changed a lot of my approach to work has been the simple question of “How can I make this easier for now?” It creates an instant space for choices when I feel overwhelmed, and we all know the feeling to lack options when we’re stressed out.
To eventually fail to hold everything together all time doesn’t mean you’re a failure, and that might be the biggest act of kindness we can give ourselves in order to continue the balance our doing and non-doing. We can always readjust our methods and try every day to get our recipe for balance right.