AKA fear of missing out on productivity

There’s a certain pressure to always be doing, exploring, working and creating in college, and it probably comes to life even earlier, now—permeating high schools deeper and earlier than it did when I graduated four years ago.

This fear of missing out on productivity that’s gradually ingrained in us is both a blessing and a curse. We’re pushed to do our homework, but if we have no homework we should devote more time to our extracurricular involvements, but if we still have some forsaken empty time we need to apply for jobs, but if we’ve already applied to 20 jobs and still don’t have a job we should apply to 20 more, but if we can’t bear to stare at our laptop screens any longer we should really go workout, but if it’s Friday night and a weird time to do any of these things we should go to that party we don’t quite feel like going to but we’re going to go to anyway because we have no good excuse not to go because we failed to devise some other plans that may have made a decent enough excuse to not go to that party.

This fear of missing out on ‘do’ is not always bad— it’s often beneficial and motivating. But when do we take a step back, breathe, find peace within ourselves and with our surroundings, and simply be?

My professor had us attempt a stream-of-consciousness writing exercise a few weeks ago. The idea is to continuously write whatever thoughts are flying around your mind, following any and all trains of thoughts and random tangents and ignoring the interruptive impulses to proofread, spellcheck, edit or copyedit. By the time you run out of words, your continuous writing will hopefully reveal some insights or thought processes you would not have considered had you planned your writing out so carefully.

The assignment was to spend five minutes continuously writing about what we would do if we found out we only had one month left to live. Slightly depressing, but definitely a good, meaty topic.

If my professor had assigned this as a paper due in a week, I’m sure I would have planned and outlined and drafted and reflected and turned in something detailing my plans to devote all of my time to friends and family, jet set to every exotic Tumblr-esque corner of the world, and try new things I never found the courage or the opportunity to actually try.

Of course those are things I’d like to do if I only had a month left on this earth. My stream-of-consciousness response included none of these things, though. Instead, I wrote about grass.

‘Grass’ is literally the first word I inked onto my paper a millisecond after my professor told us to write. For five minutes, I wrote about grass, detailing how I’d yearn for rampant sunshine every day, how I’d lie in the grass every sunny afternoon, how I’d be sure to focus on breathing deeply and feeling the heat toast my skin, how my mind sets itself on inconsequential pressures too often and how I should instead coax it to gently settle on things of more substance like the grass, or the sun, or the feeling of heat flushing your flesh.

I have no idea where any of these words came from or why I became stuck on this particular image with no inclusion of the many other things I’d hope to do with one month to live. But if stream-of-conciousness writing truly reveals our dormant thoughts, apparently mine revolve around grass. And by grass I mean a fear of missing out on productivity.

I hate how I feel guilty when I’m not being productive. I hate how I feel like if I’m not continuously doing, or exploring, or working, or creating, then I’m wasting time and somehow letting myself down and letting some mysterious, unidentified ‘them’ down, as well. It’s silly and it makes little sense, but those are the feelings that creep over me whenever I choose the sun and grass over the ‘do.’ Yet I still wish I chose the sun and grass a little more often.

The last line I wrote for the exercise reads, “There’s too much ‘do, do, do,’ and not enough ‘hey, I’m doing enough in this moment by not doing and simply being.”

I’m glad I’ve been blessed with the health and personal safety to be able to assume I have longer than one month to live. I’m glad I didn’t have to write a paper on this topic because that final line probably wouldn’t have been included. I’m glad I’m learning how to ‘be,’ and not only how to ‘do, do, do,’ for however many sun-and-grass days or months or years I have left in this body.