I Should Work, I Shouldn't Work

I should work is a familiar thought. A mental habit formed as a result of living focused on work and achievement for all my life. It is so familiar and engrained that it's hard to separate myself from it, and at the same time it is so easy to notice how it keeps recurring. I see, name, welcome this thought tens of times during the day.

Recovering from a burn out as I was the past few years, I have also been telling myself tens of times during the day that that it is okay not to work. I have been making a conscious effort to recognize my need to rest, and sometimes even force myself to rest if I was so unwilling to.

Gradually, this I should work thought became married to the I shouldn't work thought. I was in a constant dance between I should work and I should rest, giving myself orders left and right. I was always coming from a place of what was good for me, what was the right thing to do. I was coming from a very intellectual, mentally heavy place.

This dance was rather pleasant while I was fully resting. I would think I should work, then remember my burn out, and give myself full permission to do nothing. The dance got more complicated when I started working again earlier this year. I now had ideas about what I wanted to do and I started giving myself to work bit by bit. It wasn't black (only working) or white (only resting) anymore. My days had started including work and rest; my days were in the gray zone.

Today during my meditation, I saw this dance very very clearly for the first time. It felt almost like a tug of war. And I realized I wanted neither of these thoughts to drive me.

I wanted to be driven by what I want to do and what I don’t want to do, or at least make them the primary motivations while also considering what is good for me and what is right.

The job was to find what I wanted and what I didn't want.

I have observed that I sometimes have a very clear willingness or desire to work. It’s so clear that it is very easy to follow - sit down and write, sit down and solve that problem, and really enjoy writing or the problem solving. Sometimes the desire to work is so strong that it almost feels like if I don’t work fast enough, the idea will escape me. All I want in that moment is to catch that idea, to really look at it from different angles, and to make something of it.

I have also observed that I sometimes have a very clear unwillingness to work. It can feel like work is the last thing I want to do, like no cell in my body could take another millisecond of work related thinking. Or I sometimes have a very clear desire to rest, like when the only thing I want to do is to nap, or a very clear desire to play, like when the only thing I want to do is to chat with that friend aimlessly for another hour with another cup of coffee.

Both of these states are accompanied with strong emotions and pulls, and are full of clarity. I can notice and follow them without a problem.

The more difficult state, and the situation I often find myself in is, not clearly knowing what I want to do. Maybe I find that I want to work and rest at the same time. Maybe I find that I don’t want to work but I have an important deadline I promised to meet. Or I find that I don't want to work but I also want to reach my goals and I get anxious thinking "How can I meet my goals without working toward them?"

Ultimately, the confusion comes from cross winds, conflicting needs and desires. And this might be when my mind takes over – a voice that tells me what I should do, what is good for me, what is the right thing to do. This parent-like voice seems to be carrying valuable information but it also often annoys me.

I usually follow the voice, or start arguing with it, out of frustration. What I don't do in those moments, and what I want to start doing is to listen more deeply. To pause, to become still, to investigate a bit deeper into my body, to my heart, to my belly, and to see if after a few minutes of quiet stillness, one of the desires becomes clearer or stronger.

A clearer desire might appear; it might not. If it does, I follow it. If it doesn't, maybe I would allow myself to have a calmer conversation with my mind on what I should do. In any case, I sense I will benefit from the investigation. I will allow my belly and heart a moment to catch up and to talk to me, I will stay longer with how things settle or how they get more confusing, and I will try to come from my heart to everything I do.

Continue reading this series: Work vs. Play

Go back to the start: Containing Work When Working For Yourself