Rejecting the Fool's Bargain
This week marks the second anniversary of the “start” of the pandemic here in the US. That was also the week that I launched Ambedo Audio, my ambitious creative audio agency project.
It was through that project that I first wrote a piece titled “Rethinking Productivity.” The piece focused on critiquing the capitalistic tendency to herald “doers” and “innovators” and “entrepreneurs” for “hustling” 80 hours a week, and outlining the different ways that I had reframed productivity in my own life and work.
I tracked my time in Toggl, all of my time—working on the agency, client work, reading, exercising, meditating, listening to podcasts, checking the news, being active on social media, everything. And that, I thought, changed the equation by putting everything I do on the same level in the daily pursuit of “hitting my number” of hours clocked “being productive.”
Well, a lot’s happened since I published that first piece, obviously.
I’ve shattered that goal of optimization, of productivity that I thought was so enlightened because it wasn’t so explicitly hustle culture-informed. But it still was. I felt like I had to maximize, to be efficient, to always be working harder.
Part of that shattering was motivated by spite and disgust—I’ve seen what that type of mentality can do, and it just corrodes like acid.
Another motivator was just capacity.
Don’t let anyone tell you that healing trauma or navigating tough relationships or battling mental illness isn’t work, because it’s some of the hardest work I’ve ever had to do. It just doesn’t look like spreadsheets and emails and business development calls, so we don’t call it “productive.”
This personal growth journey, for all that it’s given to my life, has taken a lot from me, most of all my capacity to just mindlessly bear down and crank out “work”, as traditionally defined.
Here’s the domino effect I’ve traced over these past two years: healing trauma in my life has led to me tearing down the barriers that have held me back from my power and authentic self (as I’ve written about here in other Substack letters); with that newfound power and sense of self and purpose, I’ve moved into a creative solitude to channel it into my writing; and the creative process fundamentally requires one to blow up those overly capitalistic mind-hacks like “optimization” and “tracking time” because it happens in its own time and space, like a river current that you have no power over other than to just flow along with it.
The two are explicitly incompatible, at least in my mind and my creative practice.
All I want to do is write and work on my projects. And, looking over my Trello boards and notes on my phone and the running scroll of sketches on Google Docs, I think I have enough work on my plate to fully occupy me “full-time.”
Yet, there’s that pesky, nagging question of survival in this capitalist wasteland, where I need to “be productive” in inauthentic ways to bring in enough money to eat and pay my bills, while distracting me from that full plate of writing work, which allows me to feel free and aligned and myself.
Capitalism doesn’t value authenticity or creativity or healing or solitude—all things critically essential to the work of creating art.
As a society, we love the art creatives make when it’s completed and able to be commodified, packaged, sold. But the messages we tell creatives are that the work and time and process and credentials necessary to produce that art isn’t valuable in and of itself.
As humans, we rely on art. It reminds us of our humanity, our interconnectedness, our relationships with ourselves and with others.
Creating that art shouldn’t have to come at the risk of the creator’s survival, where they have to choose between pursuing their creative vision and unleashing their work on the world, and compromising that vision and choking that power in order to align with some arbitrary and exploitative con definition of what productivity is and what work looks like.
So, I’ve rethought productivity. But, for all the flak “hustle culture” has caught over the past few years, I don’t think we’ve collectively rethought it, beyond what I did two years ago: just retooling the same old machine, rather than scrapping the old broken-down jalopy and building something new and better and human.
The revolution will not go better with Coke/
The revolution will not fight germs that may cause bad breath/
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat/
The revolution will not be televised/