The Sacred Inefficiencies of a Very Human Life

Thursday, January 1, 2015 - 6:49 am

The Sacred Inefficiencies of a Very Human Life

I was ambling past an airport bookstore, my sweaty babe squirming in the ergo, the flight delayed, the holiday anxiety palpable, the smell of McDonalds potent, when I spotted the cover of Fast Company magazine. The dominant headline read: “Secrets of the Most Productive People.”
I wanted it. I wanted it so bad. I wanted to know what magical things I could do better so that my life would instantly transform from the totally amazing, completely messy affair that it was in 2014 into this streamlined, sports car of a well-oiled machine in 2015.
I imagined logging onto Mint.com where I would have finally uploaded all kinds of minutiae and have a crystal clear picture of my family’s financial life. I’d catch all those hidden fees before we got taken and would instead funnel that money into my daughter’s college account, which I’d obviously opened, along with creating all the other super official documents that responsible parents do. I imagined my iPhone, synching with my wireless speaker and my laptop and whatever else this so-called “internet of things” lets us do. If my iPhone wants to floss my teeth while playing the new D’Angelo album, sweet. Let’s do this.
In 2014, I got more than my fair share of those pop-up windows about a lack of storage; in 2015, my pop-up windows would say things like, “Congrats on having your shit together.” I imagined exercising regularly like those super productive people in the magazine. I imagined having fresh produce in the house at all times and not eating chocolate every single night. I imagined wearing clothes without weird baby food splotches on them. I imagined meditating every morning for 30 minutes and getting up from my computer intermittently throughout the day to do yoga positions and recite my centering mantras.
And then I came to.
The sober truth is, when I look back at 2014, the things I am most proud of have nothing to do with my productivity and everything to do with my presence.
I sprawled on floors with other Moms and babes and talked about the hard days and the frequent miracles. I tried to cook grilled cheese and tomato soup for 30 people in my co-housing community; it was an awesome failure. I spent hours on the phone with mentees who are making lives of such beautiful meaning even though the 20s are strange and fierce. I navigated the first year of co-parenting with courage and serenity and so much gratitude; I walked around the block when I was going to say mean things because I was so tired. I went swimming in the neighborhood pool in the sunshine a few times. I learned how to marinate salmon so it tastes really delicious. I mourned a friendship with genuine sadness, but also a critical amount of self-protection. I flew across the country to surprise another friend at his blow out party, pumping milk in the upstairs bathroom to the sounds of 90s hip-hop.
I said no far more often, far earlier, with more grace; I began to see more and more beauty in my own limitations, to honor as Carrie Newcomer says, “The curious promise of limited time.”
And this last point is the one that feels so critical to me. I have to put that knowing “in conversation” with the part of me that craves the kind of productivity that Fast Company promises. It’s not that I shouldn’t, or won’t, open that college savings account for Maya this year. It’s not that setting the intention of meditating is an unwise thing to do. It’s just that the version of myself that does all of these things — that is better and healthier and more efficient, that is surrounded by systems that work perfectly and stuff that never breaks — that woman isn’t as invested in the sacred inefficiencies of the very human life.
She doesn’t stay at the party longer than she thought she would because she gets engrossed in a great conversation. She doesn’t have as much empathy for her dysfunctional friends or badly behaving strangers. She doesn’t lose track of time listening to her daughter speak a special language to the rubber dinosaurs in the bathtub. She doesn’t banter with Brian, who owns Golden Gate Donuts on the corner, or notice the way that little garden of succulents is going gangbusters on Rich Street. She simply doesn’t witness as much or love as deeply.
So, I guess I’ll spend another year chipping away at various monstrous inefficiencies in my life and knowing that I’ll never be on par with Fast Company’s productive juggernauts. I’d rather be a messy, awed human than a well-oiled machine anyway.

Share Post

Contributor

is a columnist for On Being. Her column appears every Friday.

Her newest book, The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream, explores how people are redefining the American dream (think more fulfillment, community, and fun, less debt, status, and stuff). Courtney is the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network and a strategist for the TED Prize. She is also co-founder and partner at Valenti Martin Media and FRESH Speakers Bureau, and editor emeritus at Feministing.com.

Courtney has authored/edited five books, including Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists, and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women. Her work appears frequently in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Courtney has appeared on the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and The O’Reilly Factor, and speaks widely at conferences and colleges. She is the recipient of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics and a residency from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Centre. She lives with her partner in life and work, John Cary, in Oakland, and their daughters Maya and Stella. Read more about her work at www.courtneyemartin.com.

Share Your Reflection