Three years ago I was at arguably the most productive point of my career. I had a job as a high-level manager at a software development company, overseeing three different teams, and managing ten other humans. I OmniFocused every detail of my day. If it wasn’t on my calendar, it never happened, nor existed in the first place.
I saw a mental health counselor every other week. I was on antidepressants. I drank half a bottle of wine most nights of the week to “dissolve the day off me.” I developed kidney stones. I’m also a single mother, raising a young daughter. But I was productive af, as the kids are saying, and told myself it was good for my child to see a strong, productive, professional woman.
When I moved from Eastern Washington to Brooklyn things changed quickly. I lost the job. I lost the teams, the ten other humans, the OmniFocus, the calendar, the breakneck pace of busy-ness.
I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was built to do. I was built to go. If I wasn’t doing or going, then who was I? For a short funemployed period, I became a heavy daydrinker. But life in New York is not easily managed unemployed, and with another mouth to feed I found myself taking odd jobs which somehow turned into a flourishing freelance career.
I fully acknowledge that this turn of events is highly irregular, and that the success of my freelance career is due to a few things: the quality of the relationships I had built in my previous role, my position of privilege as a somewhat visible white cishet woman, and that unquantifiable quality rarely credited – luck.
Finding work was the somewhat easy part (I know, gross, I'm sorry), but finding purpose—truly the greatest and most acutely felt loss in my employment shakeup—it was that I had to claw through insecurities I thought I had long since put to bed, along with the stark realization of the many lies I had told myself about what productivity looked like for me personally.
So here I am, three years later, still a single mother, living and working in Brooklyn, and somehow making it all work. I oversee zero teams (except for my Jenn && Mila Awesome Forever Club), have no direct reports. I ditched OmniFocus well over a year ago, and have only recently got back into my calendar (RIP Sunrise).
A forced career change took the Etch-A-Sketch picture I had of my life and how I defined success and shook it all up. Strangely, I like the picture much better now.
I have spent most of my life in my head, thinking about me. In the past, productivity was often centered on what I could accomplish, often alone. When life happened and I accomplished little, I felt like absolute garbage. When I accomplished volumes, I felt on top of the world, but typically at the cost of time spent with the most important person in my life.
Productivity to me today looks more like this. What can I do today to make my daughter happy? To make her feel listened to, and valued, and cherished?
Part of that productivity absolutely involves hard work for my clients, and still at the cost of time spent with my daughter, but not often.
The other question I ask myself is what did I do to take care of myself today? Call it growing up or growing old, but realistically, if I don’t take care of myself, what sort of example am I setting as a successful person to my daughter? I want her to feel fulfilled every day over feeling exhausted at what she accomplished in multiple 10-hour days.
So these are the priorities now. Did I make sure my daughter feels cared for? Did I create quality work for my clients today? Did I eat lunch today and not just Cheeto puffs? Did I text my sister to find out about her day? Did I carefully consider the wording of that email? Did I drink enough water today? (Okay never, but it’s still a good question to ask)
Productivity for me now looks like healthy, happy, fulfilled people. A true act of resistance in a world that often seeks to chain you to a to-do list churning out no long term value. For the first time in what feels like a very long time, I feel happy and I look forward to the future, knowing that I will never regret putting the people in my life over productivity.