EP 66: DO LESS
July 18. 2023
Have you noticed this shift that’s been happening in the last few years? It’s this movement AWAY from the need to incessantly DO.. and toward this idea of DOING LESS. I’ll admit, I’m a big fan of this change, but it’s not something that’s native to me. It’s something I’ve learned the hard way.. That unless I did less.. I’d continue causing irreparable damage to my body.
If your pop-culture memories come anytime after 1990, you might think this constant need to grind is just-what-we-do. But intuitively, you GOTTA know that can’t possibly be the case. Yes, we work hard in this country, but it got out of control in the last 40-ish years. So, we’re gonna do a history lesson around early America, talk about the digital age, and how a popular SHOE SLOGAN has shifted our society. Then we’ll get into what I mean when I say “DO LESS” and how you can apply it for yourself.
So, teacher Lauren is gonna take ya back.
Anthropologists will tell you – our American obsession with work goes waaay back to our nation’s founding. When the Pilgrims made it to Plymouth Rock in 1620 .. they brought with them this belief that hard work was a sign of eternal salvation. You’re gonna go to heaven ONLY IF you work hard. AND, IN FACT.. being a hard worker was a sign of your value.
Lazy people died on the Mayflower. Lazy people died in Massachusetts winters in the 1600’s. So – they developed this survivor bias around “hard work = heaven.”
NOW REMEMBER – the Puritans left England to start a new life in America, partly for religious freedom. But FOR OTHERS, they came because there was no social hierarchy here. There wasn’t a caste system or a monarchy. So, if a person did something special for their family.. If they worked to the bone and provided.. they stood out. AND THEY WERE PRAISED FOR IT.
In absence of a hierarchy, Americans found that money created class and exclusivity.That’s how you got status symbols: wealth, titles, possessions. Etc. It was the beginning of what would become “THE ALMIGHTY DOLLAR.”
So, fast-forward 350 years and this religious ideal that “hard work = heaven,” morphs into a societal expectation that hard work makes you MONEY.. Which makes you a valuable person. So now the equation is “hard work = good & valuable person.”
There’s a lot of research around Americans using WORK as a measure of self-worth.. Meaning “I WORK HARD, THEREFORE I AM A GOOD PERSON.”
And it all comes down to our ideas as “INDIVIDUALISTS.” This means that -in this country- we tend to think that ITS ON US to take care of ourselves. Research shows, we are one of the most –IF NOT THE MOST– individualistic countries in the world. We think it’s all or nothing… it’s JUST US. It’s the pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps mentality.
So, if I stay unemployed for a while.. I would likely say “what’s wrong with me? I must be flawed! Because clearly, I can’t pull myself out of this quagmire.”
THE OPPOSITE OF THAT is true in other countries with a COLLECTIVIST mentality. It’s opposite of individualistic. Remember, individualistic says “i’m on my own.” Collectivists say “we take care of each other.” When people in those countries go without a job, they say “something is messed up with the system.”
So, fast-forward to the Great Depression in the 1930s.. Or the Great Recession that started in 2008.. Or the next big era of job-loss in the pandemic – and people in this country are struggling with how to gauge their self-worth. In every case, it’s come back around to this equation of “HARD WORK = good and valuable person… which is how we’re gonna survive.”
Okay… so we’ve got this built-in need for hard work in this country. But think about how computers have shifted this whole notion of hard work. After World War II, the stock market started to boom. Trade volume more than doubled from the late 1940s to the late 1960s – to the point, traders couldn’t handle the mountain of physical paper. It would take them 5 days to execute trades. So, by 1968, the Federal Trade Commission was like “we can’t use paper anymore. We gotta find a new system. WE HAVE TO DO THIS WITH COMPUTERS.”
By 1973, brokerage firms were required to implement a data system.. and they went from BARELY handling a trade volume of 12 million shares a day to now pushing between 2 and 6 BILLION SHARES a day. All because of computers.
So, now we combine this equation ‘HARD WORK = GOOD AND VALUABLE PERSON.’ And we put it on steroids because computers can make us a good AND VALUABLE person even faster. So now we’re hooked on showing the world how good and valuable we are because we’re doing so much and working so hard!
Consider this… in 1980, there were only about 4,000 millionaires in this country. By 1990, that number was more than 63,000 millionaires. That was a 15x explosion of millionaires!
Then you add in the DOT-COM boom that came after it – which led to an explosion of entrepreneurship from the 90s and beyond.. And now there are more than 5.3 million millionaires in this country. That’s an 84x explosion in 3 more decades. Oh -and by the way- we have 770 billionaires in this country, too.
Just think about how these people are venerated in our culture. They’re on the news.. They’re celebrated as special or good or news-worthy, just because they -QUOTE UNQUOTE- “WORKED HARD” and became a good and valuable person.
This is all part of a hustle-culture narrative. It’s a #GRINDset. It promotes the idea that there's always more to strive for: more money to make, a bigger title or promotion to secure and a higher ceiling to smash. The message has been simple.. If we totally immerse ourselves in work, we’ll be a good and valuable person.
The digital age has changed everything – even in my own industry. Used-to-be… all you had to do in a day was your one, single story. You shot it, wrote it and got it edited. You made slot - which means you got it on the air, then you were done.
Now the requirements are so much more!
You’re doing the visual story, the written web story (which is formatted totally differently), you turn at least two social posts about your story, you write and shoot potentially two other on-camera versions of that same story to run on our streaming platforms or other shows… AND you still do it all in one day. It’s a major source of frustration in every newsroom I’ve ever been in. Managers say “it’s the way of the world. YOU GOTTA DO MORE TO SURVIVE.” And its why burnout is so rampant in broadcast. It’s why you see so much turnover on your local news.
BECAUSE It’s exhausting.
It doesn’t help that pop-culture is backing up this whole idea of HUSTLE. In 1988, a marketer by the name of Dan Wieden came up with a slogan for a smaller sportswear company out of Oregon. They weren’t really that well-known, but they needed a bigger profile to match their new fame from a certain shoe. This shoe – was considered a punt when they took a chance on a rookie out of North Carolina who was drafted to the Chicago Bulls.
That rookie was Michael Jordan. The company was Nike. The shoe was Air Jordans. And this new slogan Dan Wieden created was “JUST DO IT.” That slogan was the foundation for Nike to absolutely explode in the 1990s.
It caught on because of our obsession with DOING.
It was now immortalized on sportswear and seared into our culture’s consciousness. It reminded us there’s always more to strive for: more money, more THINGS, more AIR JORDAN’S.. An all around bigger life. BECAUSE REMEMBER, HARD WORK = GOOD AND VALUABLE PERSON.
So, I’m well aware of how OUT OF TOUCH it might seem for me to tell you… with all your responsibilities and aaaallll the societal influences to DO LESS. HOWEVER… that’s exactly what you’re gonna do.
I spend a lot of time thinking. I’m someone who lives in my head – so, before meditation, that was a somewhat tumultuous place to be. These days, it’s pretty peaceful. But it took focused and concentrated effort. It took work to commit to DOING LESS. To go against decades of conditioning by my family, my teachers, my industry, my Instagram feed and the society at large.
Because I totally bought into the EQUATION “HARD WORK = GOOD AND VALUABLE PERSON”. It landed me in a hospital - as listeners of this podcast KNOW.
But we’re taught to do more, live more, want more, grind more. We’re taught that if you work hard, you’re a good person. That everything will work out because we’ll be rewarded.
But sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it ends badly. Sometimes, our bodies get so overwhelmed by these preconceived ideas we have for our lives that we get weighed down. We get steamrolled by our unconscious beliefs.
In my experience, life has a way of delivering the same lessons over and over. When you don’t get it the first time, it comes back around again. And again. And again until you finally learn. The lessons can get so intense that you feel chewed up and spit out – and you finally go “OOOOOHHHH… I GET IT NOW.” (That was the subject of all of Season 3 of my interviews ‘what’s the lesson here.’ Those go from Ep. 31 to Ep. 58.)
My lesson was that I believed that unhealthy equation of “HARD WORK MAKES YOU A GOOD AND VALUABLE PERSON.” My self-worth was based on what I could produce until my body couldn’t do it any more. And that’s when I learned the lesson… to DO LESS.
I realized doing more didn’t determine if I was worthy. It didn’t determine if I was talented or special. BECAUSE MY PRODUCTIVITY DIDN’T DETERMINE MY VALUE. By choosing to change what I believed, I gave myself permission to choose another way – a way that resulted in better sleep. Lower stress. Higher productivity. Happier kids. Happier ME.
We’re seeing it everywhere now… IN SOCIAL MEDIA TRENDS LIKE “MINIMAL MONDAYS” and “QUIET QUITTING.” People are starting to wake up and say “WAIT A MINUTE. IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY.”
Gallup is seeing this in its research. It puts out annual research around employee engagement. It’s been steadily dropping since 2020. We’re down to 32% of full- and part-time employees that are actively engaged. 18% of workers are actively disengaged.
You know what that tells me? That alot of people aren’t buying the B.S. anymore.
Hustle culture says “hard work is how you get what you want,” but it never tells you there’s another way. I would submit that the other way –THE DO-LESS WAY- also has its challenges, but only at first because it’S SO AGAINST THE GRAIN. Once your body gets used to giving your nervous system a break and valuing your health and your time more than what you DO or the titles below your name, then you realize you’ve never felt better.
Let’s be real.
There’s nothing wrong with working hard. THere’s nothing wrong with striving to achieve status. Some people really thrive in that - with competition and motivation. PUSH PUSH PUSH mentality. I’m just asking you to decide if you’re ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE. Because if you’re still listening to this episode. You’re probably not.
There’s research that shows if we would just change our viewpoints around work, we’d be alot happier. In the 2020 World Happiness Report, the Nordic countries swept the top 5 (Newsflash: they always do). They have strong social safety nets, well functioning governments, high quality of life, and an emphasis on work-life balance. It’s opposite of the US because we just value WORK. All we have is a work-life IMBALANCE.
In this international report, we actually come in 18th for happiness. We’re below Canada and the UK. The research AROUND HAPPINESS is pretty clear: people in countries that value “leisure” over “work” show “greater life satisfaction.”
So just think about that. We’re doing all this hustling. All this grinding. All this stressing. FOR WHAT?!?! JUST TO REALIZE WE’RE NOT SATISFIED?!? To realize we have no balance? Or that we hate what we do? Or we never get to be with the people who make us happy?
So let’s take a moment to process all this. Let me ask you a few questions…
As you listened to this episode, did you identify with this problem of doing too much? And where is it coming up for you?
What would it look like to do less?
When you do less.. You create more opportunity to find things you actually love. When you fill your days with more of those high-vibes, you start to get real clear on the things you DON’T wanna do.. And start pulling closer all the things you DO WANT.
What makes you TRULY FEEL JOY AND FULFILLMENT. How can you do more of THAT.. and DO less of the stuff that feels heavy?
So in the spirit of DOING LESS, I’m about to take my end-of-summer break from the podcast. I’ve found it really important for me to take ritualistic creative breaks where I don’t have the weekly deadline of creating new podcast episodes. I did this same thing in December of last year. I took my “creative winter” and came back in February.
But this end-of-summer break is more meaningful. I’m marking the one-year anniversary of my extended hospitalizations. I’ve taken days off from work to honor the beginning of it all because it was such a devastating experience. But it brought a lot of transformation. I’ll probably never forget the dates.
I already have exciting things planned for the next few months…
I’m preparing to give a TEDx TALK, I’m also planning the next iteration of AMPstigator.. We’ll start doing regular community events in the fall as I get you guys - my listeners - together for meetups around Nashville.. And we’ll build up to a big event in spring 2024. There’s a lot to look forward to in this break as I build for what’s next. So as you go through the week, I encourage you to shine your light, lead with your heart and live life purposefully. I’m lauren lowrey and this is ampstigator.