How do you answer the question, “What are you working on right now?”
It’s inevitable. You get together with a colleague or another blogger and the question comes up.
“What are you working on right now?”
I’ve been guilty of asking this in the past. It’s like the slightly up-leveled version of asking someone what they do for a living at a cocktail party.
And a couple of years ago, back when I first started blogging, I used to love this question. I’d chirp happily about the new blog I was starting, or the courses, or the book. Nowadays this question paralyzes me. I don’t know how to answer, and then I always struggle with the inevitable guilt that comes afterward. I’m working a full-time job, but in terms of my own “stuff” I'm not working on anything. Still, in my entrepreneurial brain this makes me feel unworthy.
I saw an instagram post from Kate Northrup where she mentions “phases of production,” and it hit me like a lightning bolt. I'm definitely not in a phase of production, and I suppose I was starting to panic because I've been here for about two years now. I've had these productive bursts before, but a few months ago I found I was searching in vain for the muses of motivation and inspiration to strike.
I suppose it was naïve of me to believe that I’d always be in a never-ending cycle of production. That I'd be able to work 40 hours, 30 on the blog and still maintain a great “balance” like I did at 26. Sure, I’ve battled burnout off and on throughout my twenties, but I never just completely stopped producing.
But really, looking back on the way I was going about it, what else did I expect?
But in 2016 something snapped and I couldn’t handle working on everything but my own spirit anymore.
And this is what I've really been working on since going back to work full time. At a dinner with a girlfriend a few weeks ago we were talking about this.
“When people ask this I feel like I want to say, “Myself. I’m working on being the healthiest, happiest version of myself. And it doesn’t have anything to do with work. Or creation. Or writing.”
“Just say that.” She replied, “It’s the most important work of all.”
And I decided that she's right. I shouldn't feel ashamed to be honest about where I've been and back or how little I've been creating. And even if I know I'm working harder on other things, I shouldn't have anxiety about what I do or “don't” have to show for it.
So a few months ago I decided to just have faith. To trust that when I feel ready to “work,” my mind and my body will tell me so. I leaned into it.
Instead of feeling anxious about what I wasn't doing I embraced this “phase of non-production.” I watched television, said no to assignments I didn't feel like doing, and slept. And slept. And slept. I realized people need breaks. They need to take time to breathe, to contemplate what’s next, to make other non-work-related goals happen, and time to heal.
And amazingly, after a few more months I have started to feel motivated, creative, and engaged. The way I used to when I first started the blog back in 2012.
It's like waking up from a very long sleep. This is how this feels, I remembered. I'm trying to pace myself so as not to burn out again; to cherish the small flame now instead of burning it at both ends. Especially now that I know how fleeting (and fickle) this flame can be.
Working on yourself is tough. Working to let go of a work ethos you’ve lived your life by is even tougher (and don’t even get me started on how difficult it is as a woman to eradicate guilt over what you’re not doing.)
Sometimes you need a week-long break or vacation. Other times your non-producing phases can last years.
So, next time someone asks you what you’re working on and you don’t have anything relevant to say, why not try, “I’m not really working on anything.” See what they say.