We often look at our productivity journey as a solo effort. We tell ourselves that we have to bring the energy and motivation alone. And it’s true—a lot of an intentional and focused life is spent “alone.” No one else is there when our alarm goes off in the morning, after all.
Even at work, where technically we’re a part of a team, we may hide in our little corners to work on our individual contributions, contributing individual energy.
I know this life well. I go to the gym, and on runs, with my headphones on and my head down. I do my best work when I’m unbothered by others. Then I like my peace and quiet while I’m winding down before the recommended eight-to-nine hours of sleep. (I never get that much.)
Rise and grind, gamers. Every morning. All year long.
Now, as the year begins to come to a close, I’ve started to reflect on the way I walk through my day to day. I’m questioning the assumptions that I’ve carried with me for what feels like forever. Including that “head down, nose to grindstone, headphones on” mentality that has become such a part of me that I almost don’t remember what it was like before.
But why do we go it alone? How did that become The Way Things Have To Be? I posit that it’s an exercise in self-sabotage. It might be the single hardest version of the path we can choose for ourselves, on top of the hard work we already have to do.
When do you feel the most energy from the world around you? Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, you can’t deny that people—people you like and love, anyway—bring light to our lives.
Being around people. Feeling the energy of others, observing them, laughing with them. Did you ever feel a pep in your step after you leave a party or a concert and you don’t know why? Maybe it’s because you’re filled up for once. I say we go towards that feeling and see what it can do for us.
We don’t have to go it alone. It may feel like the right way to do it because it’s harder. But it’s not the more noble choice. It’s just kind of boneheaded. You don’t need to make things harder for yourself.
So this holiday season, if you’re struggling for motivation, or need something to pull you back to Earth and put your work back into context, look around. There are people, and animals, and communities that can make this journey a bit easier.
You don’t have to do it alone
First of all, to clarify—all that solo grinding stuff is great. Like they always say: if you want something done right do it yourself or whatever. But sometimes, I need someone to proofread my essays. I need to bounce ideas off of someone. I need to tell someone I’m sad and hear what they have to say about that.
These are not moments of weakness. They’re actually moments of self-understanding. Our lives have more complex moments when “head down, push harder” isn’t a valid or clever solution.
We’re advanced creatures. We’re able to do incredible things, but sometimes there are limitations to our individual capacity. And all of our greatest achievements throughout history have happened when we pooled resources and worked together.
Let them fill your cup
One of the big journeys of my year has been trying to build up my own confidence from its baseline starting point.
But for an insecure person trying to prop up their self-confidence, no matter how many inspirational “you go girl” Instagram captions we read, it will always feel a little bit like building a house on sand. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but like everything else we’re facing, it’s easier with help.
You might not even believe that you have people in your life that can provide this for you. But you would be shocked at how many people there are—people you forgot about from your past, people that have been watching you from the sidelines silently cheering you on.
You have people that love you. You have people that believe in you, and are impressed by you.
Think about the messages you get on your birthday. Or when you post something on social media. Or when you send someone a text message. That love is always percolating around us—we just need to work a little harder sometimes to access and feel it. But its power to make us feel whole and safe and worthy is nearly second to none.
Those figures in your life have confidence in you, and they love you. Let the unconditional love they have for you build your confidence in yourself.
Share your passions
I’m usually a bit shy or reticent to talk about myself or my career. Thanksgiving and holidays like it are always a bit of a test of that dynamic—what version of myself am I going to prop up and paint for them?
I always find there are multiple versions of the story I could tell.
There’s the humble one: “yeah I help out at a couple companies, just freelance, nothing special—I’m the bottom of the ladder but they’re nice people, they gave me a chance.”
The factual one: “I work for a few different companies. It’s pretty fun, and it keeps me busy, and I feel lucky.”
And the version that’s the most kind to yourself: “It’s really stimulating and fulfilling work, and it puts me in a position to really grow into the kind of person I want to be. I’m really quite proud.”
See how different those feel, even to read?
Our first instinct, or mine anyway, may be the humble one that doesn’t make any claims. But don’t you enjoy hearing about the successes and dreams of the people around you?
One thing I hear from others (and see often on dating app profiles) is “I love when someone talks about what they’re passionate about.”
These people describe loving watching someone’s eyes light up as they describe their passions—not caring when they use specific words and terms they don’t understand as long as they can see and feel the excitement emanating from that person.
That energy exchange is reciprocal. It makes them happy too. People can see it in you, and they love to participate in it.
And if you hate your job, if you work at a processing plant or whatever, I still encourage you talk about your passions outside of work
Post Malone once gave advice to an aspiring young musician who claimed he had nothing interesting to write about: “sing about your kill-death ratio in Call of Duty.”
We all have things that make us happy, stupid or silly as they might be. If they make your face light up, they’re worth sharing.
Feel the difference
When we’re burned out, it can feel like there’s nothing in the world that can make us feel normal again. And being alone, physically or metaphorically, only exacerbates that feeling. Walls can feel like they’re closing in.
But then you might get invited to a party or a concert. Or a friend may call you on a random Sunday just to check in. Or the barista at the coffee shop says they like your shirt. And in those little moments, there are glimmers of light. And those glimmers can lead to full rays of sunlight, and inspiration, and calm.
Spend time giving your energy to people and your community. See what it does for you. Then, when you go back to your desk to work, see how you feel. There may be a new latent confidence you have access to. You just had fun hanging out with all those people who chose to hang out with you, after all. They laughed at your jokes! They reminded you of the real you. And the real you can do anything.