Must give a shout out to a poster on Medium for unlocking a post I have been sitting on for maybe a few months now. Didn’t like the flow so I put it aside for another day. Then today, this guy publishes a thoughtful post about sleep deprivation, and why is this such a badge of honor. We need sleep; we can’t function properly without it, yet employees walk around tired and irritable, while neither they nor companies take steps to address the loss in productivity or business relationships.

That post struck a chord, given what I had been working on….and in about ten minutes I pounded out a fairly concise reply. When I was done and published I thought ‘wow this is the guts of the first half of my post’. So, here we are.

That first half is about what’s really going on…and it’s not just about sleep deprivation. Here is my answer back to him, followed by some commentary on why I think things will get better, when society begins to shift:

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Hey!

I have been working on a post for the last few months that I haven’t been able to get quite right. I’ll short form it here (even though this reply will be lengthy!) as a post about two major human/societal issues that collide into a much bigger picture of what’s happening beyond sleep deprivation:

  1. It is human nature to not be proactive about health (or almost anything, really)
  2. The badge of honor is more about being busy to the point of being overwhelmed in the pursuit of appearing fulfilled and being needed

The two combine to make for sometimes horrible living conditions even for those of means…but I’m seeing some signs this may change.

On the first point, I worked for a major drug company ten years ago and we studied “prevention” as a behavioral platform to introduce new healthcare solutions of almost any profile. We studied the potential and just abandoned the whole thing because the market for people who will take preventative action was super small. People just don’t.

We don’t think about exercising or eating properly until we have a heart attack, we don’t save for retirement, we don’t maintain our cars until we break down someplace, we spend more time at work reacting to crises than anticipating them. It’s everything. You can read all the articles out there from people 60 years old and over talking about life regrets…and it’s consistently about too much investment in work and no investment in health, relationships and life experiences. The world is full of aging people with intense life regrets, and few seem to be listening.

As far as sleep goes, our body rebuilds itself overnight and needs 7–8 hours to do it. You are actually accelerating wear and tear on your body and taking minutes and hours off your life when you don’t sleep, never mind the irritability and lack of focus. People pay little attention…because they can make it though the day. Today, at least. Some even brag about their ability to work and function on little sleep. What they fail to understand is the seeds of major health breakdowns being sown even while they feel great.

What’s worse, people shame you when you DO look after yourself, I find. I’m not here for sympathy by any means (trust me, I don’t believe in crowdsourcing sympathy) but healthy people get shamed, too, not just, say, overweight people. I eat well and exercise, don’t drink much. My body thanks me for it every day in my middle age. I was at Starbucks not long ago and reached for lower fat milk for my coffee and overheard cutting remarks of “check him out…like he needs skim milk”. People think nothing of telling me how ‘skinny’ I am, and not as a compliment. PS I’m 6ft/175 lbs and a gym regular. Good shape, I gotta say. Shows you where society is right now, if someone of my profile is considered ‘skinny’.

Like politics and religion, I can only discuss healthy choices that I myself make among people of the same orientation. Otherwise, I’m called out as arrogant, judgmental or pontificating…even when I only mention my own choices and say nothing about those of others. And when I try to be discreet, I’m outed. In this post I somewhat rhetorically ask how to politely refuse office treats. A simple “no thank you” NEVER works. I get peer pressured to participate and then ultimately condemned when I don’t. Others have shared theories as to why this happens and I get it, but it still sucks. Feel free to live your life, just pleeeez let me live mine.

OK enough of that, on to the second one.

I think we judge our lives and the lives of others by how many instagram moments we have, to oversimplify. What’s worse, we seem quite conscious of how our lives are perceived externally more than internally. It’s kinda too bad.

If we take steps to slow down, we are anxious. We wonder how it looks, if we’re losing a step, not hardy enough to run life’s race. Not fulfilled. A host of things.

A few years ago I came into the office on a Monday. Someone asked me what I did the past weekend. I said I had dinner and caught up with a friend Saturday, but the rest of the weekend I just relaxed and recharged, not hearing the sound of my own voice as I spent time walking through a neighboring forest and going for a run. I was positive in my characterization of the weekend. What I got back was a dismissive “sounds boring”. After that incident, I caught myself adding imaginary activities to my weekend storytelling to give myself more to talk about Monday, but eventually stopped that. I learned finally to run my own race. Whew.

Separately, a married friend of mine was letting loose on Facebook about how she couldn’t get a moment’s peace and was always tired. Her boys were active in sports, she had volunteer stuff, busy job etc. I offered, “How about this: pick one day or evening a month where nothing goes into the schedule. Schedule it in advance that way. No one gets a ride to soccer (can find a neighbor to take them), no scheduled activities, just a day to relax and do what you please which could include absolutely nothing”. I won’t detail the static I got, framing my idea as impossible and how it wouldn’t be doing right by the children, etc etc. Ah, sorry — didn’t realize the GOAL was to post about how busy you are, not to effect life change. My bad.

Now I can go deeper into the psychology behind the response I got but I’ll be political and not hold that mirror up to people…because we don’t want to hear it. The hints of it have already been shared in this piece. What I did say at the end was this: “no one controls your schedule but you. If you are tired it’s because you choose to be”. Couldn’t help myself. I now don’t even comment on this kind of ranting. I mean, that IS the lesson learned. We are the architect of our own lives, so the condition we’re in is mostly our choice.

We just can’t press pause in our life, can we? Heck, even ‘relaxing’ has to be framed as an activity in order for people to value it. We don’t take 15 mins to clear our heads…we ‘meditate’. An action word vs a wide open space. Scary.

That’s why offices are full of people running around with smartphones and looking stressed and busy. If you don’t, then you’re just not working hard enough. It’s one of the reasons why companies don’t take many steps to streamline processes or improve infrastructures. It’s why we have full calendars and back to back meetings. We need to be living on the edge, at all times. It’s how we think we’re getting the most out of people.

If we add our work and personal lives together, we end up with this vicious circle of soul crushing activity. We keep trying to get to ‘better’ by adding more. We know it’s somehow bad for us because we’re less happy…yet we can’t seem to break the cycle.

So against this disheartening societal backdrop, I see hope. Incoming: the Millennials …and behind them, Generation Z. These cohorts of the future value different things, like experiences instead of stuff and external-facing things. They (try to) value all forms of health and understand that investment in time must come with an ROI that we’ll start to measure in breakthrough ways.

Behavioral choices will become less about personal branding; authenticity is taking over, foreshadowing healthier workplaces that place a premium on value-added tasks. We’ll innovate our infrastructure of systems and processes to make faster decisions and avoid dwelling on the menial tasks. We’ll spend less time in the office and be proud of ourselves for it. We’ll still work a lot but we’ll have the freedom to embrace and integrate our personal lives with renewed spirit.

We’ll know we’re getting traction when we see the social media posts that rave about taking time out, recharging, nurturing the self, saying ‘no’ and otherwise shedding our busy brand. And the comments will smack of envy over the control we’re gaining in our life and the resulting potential for improved health in all forms. That’s what I’m watching for in both live and digital settings.

That’s all for my other posts (see link below) but I have faith in the new generations. They will be more independent thinkers who won’t live for their jobs; they will instead live for their passions and will honor themselves in exciting new ways that I myself will appreciate. It’s coming…and when these new generations take the reigns in the workplace, we’re going to realize entirely new paradigms in how we live, work and relate to each other. And I can’t wait.

ADDITIONAL READING

Visit the culture section of my blog for articles with a forward looking perspective on what future cultures and workplaces will actually start to look like

This OpEd piece from the New York Times called The Busy Trap is awesome. Shows us just how obsessed we are with being ‘busy’ while pointing out how absurd it is. From 2012 but one of my faves
A more comedic take on one angle of the situation from Vice in June 2016. What grabs me is the negative connotation connected to the idea of electing to not socially engage.

Research on how silence positively affects your brain

Canadian article on how Generation Z takes vacations from social media after considering the value of being on it regularly.

Another Canadian article on how 20-somethings are drinking less alcohol and embracing a more healthy and fulfilling life.

I reference ‘feed fatigue’ fairly often. Too much info whizzing by us than what we can possibly consume. Microsoft has invested in an AI tool/company called Agolo that synthesizes and summarizes mass volumes of data. It used Twitter feeds for proof of concept.

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