Foreword

The author of this prompt clearly states his belief in a Creator and so I am replying assuming foundational beliefs that may not hold for those who do not align with such notions. While the article is written in that tone, I believe cases can be made for the legitimacy of these foundations, regardless of the origin of the moral claims. I am open to (and welcome) logical thought contradictions as a goal of mine is to pose a perspective that spans any religious segmentation and ultimately makes logical sense even to those who might not outwardly believe or agree with a Creator or align with religious doctrine. I suggest the reader ponder the possibility of how individuals might assess their path and if humanity might be best served allowing for the following to be true.

Response

When being asked about the intersection of productivity and purpose, I find that the two naturally and necessarily connect. Take the parable of the talents: we are meant to strive, to create, to multiply our gifts; to not do so would be a direct affront to God who created and endowed us with the tools to do His will. And yet it is in the sea of everlasting love of the Creator that we find surrender, peace, and solace for our shortcomings. As with most things spiritual, it is the the seeming paradox or the dichotomy that we may find answers.

If living a lavish life of laziness and squalor is to be viewed as a waste of this human journey (as some might posit, certainly there are biblical verses that affirm this supposition - and biblical directives aside, we know that motivation and accomplishment are somehow intertwined with clinical depression in a biological sense), then it follows that a life of passion, purpose, and usefulness would be an ideal (as is also communicated in the scripture and evidenced in our ability to find joy in life as a result of some effectiveness in a personal or communal sense). It is the idea of 'productivity' that poses an issue, especially in relation to the motivation behind the directive, as well as the way in which it is defined.

Productivity could take on many meanings; a prerequisite might be to do many things however I could be working every minute of my day but productivity must imbue within it effectiveness. If we lose sight of the latter part of the meaning of the word, we fail to meet the standard of usefulness, and therefore we remove ourselves from the ideal outcome. So, how do we set out to be 'effective'? It seems to me that the motivations of our work are generally comgin from one of two places: a requirement, coersion or directive OR a passion, desire, or curiosity. It is that motivation I am more interested in dissecting. Are your efforts coming from and relating to the talents you've been gifted with? And if so, do they align with your interests? If not, we might find that we are productive, and yet unfulfilled. I will provide an example to explain why the personal motivation or starting point to the work is somehow relevant. My husband works for a company where he is unanimously regarded as a key player. He is effective, competent, and regularly solves problems that save the company sometimes even hundreds of thousands of dollars. He is well liked by his colleagues, as he has a strong virtue of teamwork and believes firmly in protecting others and never highlighting failures or placing blame, rather addressing the problem and tackling it, over a person. And yet, accolades and compensation acknowledged, he doesn't enjoy his work. He has no passion for the industry and is quite bored in the role. He often comes home after a long day of solving problems, initially excited for what he has accomplished, how he has come through for a client, for winning a mental battle with an unsolvable problem, only moments later to almost whisper in a dejected manner, 'But what am I doing here? I have more to give and I'm not being challenged.' My heart and my mind search for the right words to comfort him without distinguishing his inner fire that is speaking its wisdom. So productivity then is not so much about what we accomplish but about the meaning we assign to what we accomplish, and that seems to be inextricably tied to our unique soul's journey - God's expectation of our lives, if you will.

I believe that if our efforts are not coming from a place of passion and calling, we should (and I am cautious to use this word, as I would not want to cast judgement or force on another, thus reducing their agency) but it would make sense that since we each have unique talents and capabilities, and we've found ourselves in a world where we individually create in such a way the collective can be and is enhanced (or diminished by) by our contributions, and we are in fact a collective, would there not be some moral maxim to search for a place in the world where our passions lie, and then fervently pursue them? It seems to me both logical, and also imperative.

The feeling of loss of purpose - or worse, never having found it in the first place - is like an endless pit of despair and a sentiment that the current generation seems to be grappling with heavily. I sympathisize as I just spent a year struggling with this personally. After having experienced a great deal of success in the corporate world, I set out to find myself spiritually. Find myself I did, only to be left with the question of where I now fit in. My beliefs about the world had changed, as did my opinions about how I wanted to contribute to a system that I so clearly see as oppressive and damaging - and yet, it was within this system that I had learned my most marketable skills. Skills that could (and do) make me quite a bit of money. But money is no longer the goal (well, I would not be honest to say it is not a goal of some sort, but it is not the ultimate goal, and it is seen more so as a result of my work these days, rather than the pursuit of my work).

In 2023, I moved to another country to join my partner as we had been long distance until I became pregnant. I was in a new country where I do not speak the language, living in a tiny village of 1,200 people, and had no car. I had chosen to leave my community, my social life, my autonomy, and I felt unable to connect with my future as becoming a mom posed a new level of unknown - what type of schedule can I maintain with a newborn? What will having a baby be like? Will I be able to sleep? Everything everyone tells you is essentially conjecture, as it can only ever be based on experiences they have had or seen. Surely, there are general themes and input that likely hold true to some extent for most, but I've found that parenting for my partner and I is nothing like what we were told to expect. Sleep has not been an issue, our child has never been sick, he is joyful and happy and almost never cries, and we've traveled to 11 countries with him (and he is currently still under seven months old). But there was no way of knowing that this was going to be our reality before we were graced with his presence. So for that preceding seven months of his birth, I sat: growing more depressed as the days dragged on, lonely and missing my community back home, unsure of the what future would bring, wastefully waiting for the birth and the unknown new reality.

Looking back, I see that I could have made much better use of my time - especially as I reflect on the easy child we've been blessed with, and also as I see how productive I am quite naturally finding myself these days, a evidenced in the sheer number of tasks I readily complete in the few moments I have alone when he sleeps and I can take my eyes off him. And yet, I do not sit with judgment or condemnation of my past self for not 'producing' more one year ago. I was where I was, and doing what I could at the time, based on the beliefs (and fears) I was holding. The mind is what propels us, or holds us back. And it is precisely in that perspective and knowledge that we have the opportunity to dissect these thoughts in order to forge forward.

Many thought leaders have understood and created programs and teachings around the importance of motivation, purpose, and productivity. Whether it be Andrew Huberman speaking of the neurological underpinnings of dopamine or Simon Sinek speaking of the more nuanced internal probing of our 'Why?', it is clear that the internal motivator is both an important and dare I say essential question if we are to truly find a healthy and ideal version of productivity.

I suppose it is some type of VIN diagram where we ask:

  • What it is we are passionate or curious about?
    • What it is we are naturally talented in (or motivated enough to pursue until we posses talent)?
      • What is something that the world or the community needs that can be provided or created by me?

        I have found for myself, that when I begin with what the world needs, I drag my feet. No person is compelled to solve something that does not first burn within them as a virtuous or innate desire to see fulfilled. When we begin with a problem or a work that is not tied to our interest, passion, or curiosity, we are essentially allowing ourselves to become a cog in a system, bypassing the spark of our unique talents. We are saying that the collective needs are more important than the individual, and also assuming that our Heavenly Creator was not so efficient and omnipotent in His creation of each of us. We were all created to have a purpose of unlimited fulfilment, and when we act in accordance with that gifting, we naturally provide for the community at large. Any career or empowerment coach worth their time, will begin your sessions here. It is in the natural and almost maniacal pursuit of a task or genre that we will always find our purpose, and productivity then becomes a secondary result.

        So, without elaborating to a college thesis paper, I provide my argument that in terms of productivity, it is indeed a responsibility (or at the very least a characteristic of a life well lived) and that if we have not found the balance, it is likely because we have not found our calling just yet. If you are struggling there, my prayers are for divine guidance to come upon you, and for your body to be still to feel it and your ears to be open to receive it.