Saturday, August 30, 2008

do I have to increase?

As time marches on, the expectation is out there that our output needs to increase. We're expected to do more in our jobs for one thing, and often with fewer resources. Departments across the university here are expected to increase programs, offer new and inventive courses, expand offerings - even when funding has been cut and keeps getting cut year after year. It's not too bad for me specifically, because I have such a large student case load (1,000 English advisees) no one expects me to do much beyond advising.

I understand wanting to keep discovery alive, and especially at a Research One university that is important. But does new necessarily also mean more?

In the media we're assaulted by images pulling us to buy bigger, better and more (or smaller, better and more nowadays, if you're talking about vehicles). Obviously it's their job to convince us to buy something new, so that makes sense in a nonsensical way.

Don't get me wrong, I want things to change - get greener, more peaceful, more equitable. But the idea of evolution seems to get conflated with productivity and accomplishments. Evolving is good, I like it, I need to evolve. Well, I'm evolving whether I like it or not. But the pressure to become a better person according to someone else's standard, or to learn a new skill, to read 10 more books, or get better at photography, or get a poem published . . . I feel a constant push, from somewhere, where is that Somewhere? Is this a Western phenom? If so, no doubt it is wedging itself into the rest of the Westernizing world.

Every job I've ever applied for, I hear the resume gurus in my head chanting "List accomplishments, show how you increased productivity, how you improved your workplace, etc."

Is this just a natural outcome of survival of the fittest? Are we compelled to 'survive' - meaning not just eating, drinking, sleeping, and not getting hit by a bus, but getting better so we beat someone else out of the survival game? I mean, does my survival necessitate someone else's demise?

Does workplace fervor carry over into our everyday mentality? I remember reading recently that Thoreau spent half his days at Walden sitting in a chair in the doorway looking outside across his little porch. Do you, like me, see that from two sets of eyes? First eyes: it would be heaven! Second eyes: but I couldn't do that because I wouldn't be DOing anything!


VioletSky said...

I do most of my best thinking and imagining when sitting and watching the horizon. Creativity seems to flow more naturally when I don't think too hard. Daydreaming is DOing something useful, IMHO.

Drowsey Monkey said...

Enjoyed your post. :)

I'm very fortunate in my job now, it's all about the moment, the interactions, or as my boss always says, "It's all about the heart."

It's meant a lot of changes in my life tho, lots of downsizing, not increasing, but it's all been worth it.

Drowsey Monkey said...

Did you change your layout again?

Ginnie said...

I'm tired, Ruth, so I'm going to bed. I suddenly want to do nothing! BUT now I'll be thinking about your post. UGH!

Amy - "Twelve Acres" said...

At what point to we reach the superlative? How will we know?

Perhaps this "faster, better, smarter" trend in our culture will eventually cause folks like you and me so much stress that we will strive to simplify just to maintain our sanity.

Wait a minute, I'm already there! ;)

Sharon said...

I wonder if the need to perform isn't born from living in large populations ......a consequence of needing to define one's self as "other", as distinct and valuable from the masses? I'm sure if I was still living near my family I would feel driven toward accomplishment in order to affirm my worth. Just the comparisons between myself and my sisters would be enough to spur that need. Living here it is less of an issue as I'm not called upon to justify myself, but am free to just be. And I find "just living" to be really fulfilling. Nonetheless I could really understand how it might bore a person to death who is of a different temperament.

Picture yourself as someone else, someone you don't know; still young, healthy, intelligent, great photographer, writer, poet, mother, adviser, with a special husband/partner, etc., etc....... Now if you were looking at this imaginary woman would you be wondering why she wasn't more or would you see her as a whole and beautiful spirit just as she is? If you would want her to be more, what would you want from her?

Ruth said...

Hi Sanna, creativity and creation need empty space. When I first realized that, I remember putting it into practice and just sitting in my Adirondack chair, looking at nature, for a long time. When I was then flooded with inspiration for a hand made gift for a friend, I knew the realization was true.

Ruth said...

Hi Drowsey, wow, to have a job and boss like that. I like changes like that, and that's also a drive I feel, the downsizing. I'm so glad for you. In some ways, here on the farm, we have more work, but it's different - connected with nature and nature's cycles.

Ruth said...

Oh, yes, I changed templates. Last time I changed color background (some time ago) and then the header photos. I needed something new.

Ruth said...

Oh dear! Boots! Did the post add to your tiredness?? I hope not. But I think I know what you mean, when you stop and think about the forces that push us, it can be tiring and annoying. But I like thinking about it so I'm more conscious about the voices and why I'm listening to them.

And why are you so tired? Poor thing.

Ruth said...

Oh Amy, what a great question. How do we know when we reach the superlative? I'd like to just sit with that in my doorway for the morning.

I know this post may not sound like it, but I'm pretty much there too. My questions, thankfully, are coming from a good side of this, mostly looking back at myself and how I used to be driven.

Don't you think (I know you do) the chickens help? Just watching them go through their lives in the moment - no right or wrong, just being, and when I watch them, I stop thinking.

Ruth said...

Ah Sharon, I think you nailed something there. I do think family can be part of the drive to perform. I adore my sisters and brothers, but my sisters especially have a much different pace than I do - and they have a harder time just sitting. Yes, our temperaments are very different. I have one sister (she will go unnamed) to whom I've said my whole life that she has more energy in her little finger than I do in my whole body. I accept that.

I appreciate your questions very much. Thankfully, this post is reflective and deals with old tapes in my head that I don't give much weight any more. But the voices are still there, the drive is still there, especially at work, and it gives me pause. But finally, finally I am able to look at myself and not expect more. Maybe this post is just a little cry against it, an update, a defrag.

Oh dear, when I think what it was like 20 years ago: I was in a constant state of thinking I should be doing something other than what I was doing. BTW, have you read Tolle's "Power of Now"? I remember when Anet was talking about it recently (or was she reading A New Earth?)

Amy - "Twelve Acres" said...

Yes, I do agree with what you said about watching the chickens. I forget everything and just watch them "be". I'd like to do what they do...just focus on what's in front of me and not worry about tomorrow.

Loring Wirbel said...

This entire essay is the subject of Richard Powers' book Gain, and Charalambides' album IN CR EA SE. Our old friend Adbusters has a bumper sticker saying "When will economists learn to subtract?" The notion of always increasing output is only native to cancer.

Rauf said...

i can't say much Ruth, being self employed and lazy all my life. Never felt the need to increase. This can be taken as lack of ambition.
i sit and scratch my head like a monkey

why don't you buy a car ?

car ? what do i need a car for ? i can walk.

i had no desire to work and earn more to buy a car Ruth.
i make portfolios for others but i had none for myself.
last night at a concert of my friend's daughter, met some friends after a long time, they introduced me to some singers, please give me your card said some of them
i said i have no card
i design name card business cards for others but none for myself.
i don't like giving my phone number. After much persuation from the family i got myself a mobile, i still consider it a nuisance.
i had a bicycle once Ruth.

Ruth said...

Amy, exactly.

You should have seen one of the White Polish the other day, hiding under greenery in a corner of the chicken yard. We think she was hiding from Khan, who has been nailing every hen within reach and maturity, poor things. She sat there head down, just as if she was hiding. Talk about BE-ing!

Ruth said...

Loring, oh I love that bumper sticker, I want it! Brilliant.

Ruth said...

Yes, rauf, you are an anomaly. In fact, you are a living prayer against nonsense. If I could figure out how you became this way, I'd like to teach it to my advisees.

I think it must drive you crazy seeing Western ways such as this boring into India's fabric. Well, I guess it doesn't do any good to resist it, just keep being real. Being real is a kind of resistance I suppose.

shicat said...

I feel the same as you. Every fall we are inundated with new technology,content and of course new mehods.I just take it all in and remind myself that I have a life outside of work,and while my work provides great rewards and satisfaction,I need time for my thoughts,art,family,and friends.I need this richness in my life. Time and energy are always the issue.Beautiful post and very thought provoking.

Don said...

"Doing the Ruthie" Method of survival.

Ruth, I think you need to post on that style of getting around to things when things need getting around to.

Ruth said...

Shicat, in your field, I'm sure there are researchers publishing new data all the time, and that's helpful, no doubt. It takes constant monitoring to adjust to new information. That alone takes discipline. And as you say, it's up to us to prioritize our energies so that what is really important doesn't take a back seat. I agree. I get home at the end of a work day and I have little energy for what I care about beyond work (before work).

Ruth said...

Thanks Don, maybe I will, now that you suggest it.

Bob Johnson said...

Excellent post Ruth.

Just over a year, at our mall the Mechanical guy quit, this left me to do his job as well as mine, had to take new courses, take on his work load, so everyone is downsizing, it sucks when you are the person taking on the workload, but I guess it's better then being downsized yourself, I mean I still have a job.

One thing I have noticed now is I appreciate my free time a whole lot more.

Sandy said...

I've seen it in myself, my husband, my sons, that need to perform better and better until you have all but handed your soul over to "the company" and unbalance reigns in every other area of one's life.

My greatest accomplishments have been sitting and doing nothing, because I will find if I take the time with no expectations but just Being, those Ah Ha moments come and I've shifted a little higher in my thoughts.

I understand the pressure society has placed on us to be more, consume more, and basically become robotic in our approach to the world.

They can have it, they can shove it!!! hahaha. I am a retiree and I love that I can sit around and do nothing at times.

There are drawbacks though because you have to deal with the should-ster inside yourself.

That is a beautiful photo by the way...

Ruth said...

Bob, so the Mechanical guy won't be replaced? Just by you? Sometimes I say I shouldn't do my job well, because maybe if I let things fall between the cracks they would hire someone additional. But I can't do that purposely. Still, I don't work after hours, and I always protect my lunch hour.

Ruth said...

Auntie Sandy, it does seem that the purest ideas and discoveries come out of 'nothing.'

It really seems that we don't give ourselves enough time and space to let things sink in. Just with information alone swirling around, if we don't take time to reflect and process, I think it IS easy to become robotic.

Moving to this farm 5 years ago has contributed to our relaxing and being, although we also have more work to do. But it's good work that feels like part of a natural cycle, not society driven.

Gwen Buchanan said...

I wish we could all just be happy being what is right for us... maybe that is selfish but I do think about it a lot...
I do notice what you are saying even in my work.. we are always getting suggestions?? for how to make more money, get bigger sales.. work longer... hire people.. when all i want to do is just slow down and do what is satisfying to me at the present... whatever it is... hard to find time just to answer that little call... I think we all get pressure from all angles.. very often I find it too much... we aren't machines.. just homo sapiens..

Ruth said...

Gwen, it's easy for other people to want you to 'succeed' and come up with all kinds of ideas for that 'success.' Bigger and better = Success. But slowing down and finding what is satisfying at present - that is really success.

I was voted 'most likely to succeed' in my graduating class, along with a boy who became a state politician and died of a heart attack in his 40s. I was never successful in the terms of that award, I think, but I have found contentment, so I think they were right. I think the only reason my fellow students voted me that award was that I didn't party hearty; I sure didn't get good grades.

John Ackerson said...

Hmm...What is that mysterious balance one must attain to achieve as much happiness and inner contentment as possible out of life?

Is this the second biggest question next to the meaning of life, or is this the true meaning of life?!

In the modern, business-oriented world we are bombarded with advertising and messages that we as individuals are seen to be valueless if we do not possess things of fashionable value.

In fact, in many politically correct circles, to be a good American means you are a good supporter of the economy.

Of course, this is an artificially constructed reality, but we unfortunately buy into this en masse. Much of the GDP of the economy has its scales tipped to favor unreasonable profits for the wealthy class. Everyday people must give up much of youth, and eventually most of their lives to be workers for this establishment.

If most of us were smart, we'd figure out a way to quit much of our contemporary lives, and opt for something extra simple - a la´ Thoreau's Walden Pond.

At least time would then be on our side...time to think, time to reflect, time to read, or write, or time to draw and paint, time to play the guitar,...time to be good to others, time to pursue your locked away passions, ...time to smile.

Then we'd be on the right path to contentment, and maybe even a small amount of enlightenment before it's all over.

Some have done it.

I'm not there yet either, but I dream of it.

Ruth said...

John, I think the answer to your question in the second paragraph is somewhere in those first two paragraphs, and in Thoreau's take. Do you know of Wendell Berry, writer? He doesn't own a computer, he tries to let his own voice be what he hears as he observes the world. There is an excellent interview with him in July's issue of The Sun:

Ruth said...

John, I meant the answer is in your own first two paragraphs. Maybe there isn't an answer. It is something we find for ourselves, or maybe keep looking for. It certainly doesn't end, does it.

Bob said...

Your photography is beautiful. Very beautiful. And I love Bishop, The Barn Cat!

Ruth said...

Hi Bob, thank you!

Bishop is as sweet in person as she is in that photo.

So glad you and Ginnie had a good time yesterday.

Anonymous said...