Originally published on elephant journal.
For most of my life I lived with the shame of believing I was a lazy person.
I hid my so-called laziness, pretending I was doing more work than I actually was. I created obstacles to doing as much as I was capable of so that I could get away with doing less. I made excuses for the time I spent fiddling around on Facebook while I was supposed to be working. I got by in life putting in about 25 percent and doing alright.
I’m sure some of my readers out there can relate.
And it’s a tragedy that I spent so many of my best years living this way because here’s the thing: I love work.
I’m not exaggerating. Working lights me up and leaves me fulfilled like nothing else. I live to create and build. When I’m not doing that, everything else loses its luster. When I’m in the flow on a project I’m passionate about, I’m at my best and 12-hour workdays fly by, leaving me blissed-out.
So after many years of personal research into what ignites me and what actually dims my flame, I’ve concluded that whenever I am tempted to use laziness to explain my lack of ignition, I always need to look deeper.
And here’s the thing I want to say to everyone reading: this isn’t just me. No one is lazy. No one.
We live in a society governed by a tyranny of shoulds, which means that every one of us has some internalized conditioning about what we should be doing, how we should respond, and how we should feel if we are good people.
Casting anyone as lazy when they don’t conform to society’s expectations is damaging to our ability to live fulfilled lives. It’s a judgement designed to force someone into action by inducing shame, and it stops us from getting curious and finding out what the real hold up is.
But if it’s never really laziness, what is it? Here are a few possibilities:
1 . Maybe we’re doing the wrong thing.
I work with people to help them get unstuck in all areas of their lives. For many of my clients, life has always been all about doing things they don’t want to do. Now, to a certain degree, difficult challenges and mundane routines are a part of healthy adult life. However, when it becomes our default to accept that we should do things we don’t want to, then we can find ourselves pushing and forcing our way through life rather than regularly taking a step back to reevaluate the best way forward. We may notice our resistance but instead of asking why we’re feeling it, go straight into criticizing and blaming ourselves for not overcoming it like we’re supposed to.
When clients come to me in this spot, I start out with something like, “Is it possible that it’s totally okay that you don’t want to be doing this thing? Is it possible you feel this resistance because you’re not meant to be doing this thing, or at least not in this way?”
I live by the assumption that our turn-on knows best and that when we’re not turned on by something, it doesn’t mean we’re wrong (or lazy). It means we need to make an adjustment to the course we’re on. Sometimes the reason we can’t get into the flow is that we’re pushing against the tide.
I see a lot of brilliant people languishing in work that doesn’t turn them on, and, as a result, feeling ineffective and worthless. I want to grab them by the shoulders and shake this declaration into them: “You’re allowed to fail at things that don’t turn you on!”
Failing isn’t a damnation of our character. It’s a sign that we’re meant to find another way forward that resonates with our passion, inspires our conviction, and brings us delight. It’s why successful entrepreneurs all agree that failure is an absolutely integral part of success. It helps us, through a process of elimination, narrow down the huge variety of options to a laser-precise, perfect path.
Imagine plugging away for the rest of your life at something that doesn’t turn you on, foregoing the opportunity to find the right path for you, simply to prove that you can do this thing you don’t want to do; to prove that you’re not lazy.
Chose the path that really turns you on, time after time, and you’ll absolutely kill it at life.
2. We’re afraid of success (or failure).
I’ll start with the fear of failure because it’s the most obvious of the two—it’s the reason we don’t allow ourselves to fail enough times to find the right path forward. It paralyzes us.
But let’s talk about fear of success.
Yes, sometimes we’re simply afraid of success and the change in us that it will demand. Or we’re afraid that if we are successful, it will be at someone else’s expense, making our success a selfish act. Or maybe we fear that when we gain success, we’ll lose sight of other priorities like our spirituality or our relationships.
When we’re not accustomed to it, success can actually feel quite confronting to a sense of self that we’re familiar with. Even if we desperately want it, sometimes it feels like having success could extinguish the person we were before.
We might find we abandon our projects just as we begin to see their promise, and then blame it on our lack of follow-through, never considering that perhaps we’d have excellent follow-through if we weren’t paralyzed by our fear of the unknown realm of success.
A thorough excavation of our beliefs surrounding success is a crucial part of freeing ourselves up to have it. Until we’re able to see how we actively hold ourselves back, and why, success will remain out of our reach.
3. We have a narrow view of what success looks like.
When I tell people they should do what feels right, sometimes they tell me, “Yeah that’s easy for you to say. You’re an adventure traveler and a life coach. You’ve set your life up so you can be doing the exact things that you want to be doing.” And, to that I reply, “Yes. That’s true. But not everyone truly, deeply wants to do this, glamorous as it may seem.”
We tend to idealize some paths while looking down upon others, and this can create pressure for us to reach for dreams that aren’t really our own.
I’m a natural born leader. I have been ever since I acquired enough language skills to direct the creation of sheet and pillow forts or facilitate games of tag and hide-and-seek with the kids in my neighborhood. I know my role now but I have spent years trying out other roles and quite frankly, I was fired from them because I failed so miserably at those jobs. Meanwhile some of the people I admire the most are those who are fulfilled doing the things I was not meant to do.
For every trailblazer, for ever leader I know, I know someone else whose purpose in life it is to support and serve. They shine and feel most fulfilled in that role.
What breaks my heart is when society tells any of us that we haven’t been successful because we don’t have a particular type of title or aren’t the most visible person on the team, when in fact, we are exactly where we’re the most effective and fulfilled and our contribution is exactly what’s needed.