The Self-Sustaining Cycle of Productivity and Self-Worth

I don’t understand how my sister– or any parent, for that matter– finds the time and motivation to produce anything creative. She has a family, work, and hobbies; I have a part-time job, a husband in grad school, one in-town friend, who I see maybe once a week, and therefore zero excuses for my lack of productivity. What is wrong with me? Today, I got up, made Adam and myself some breakfast, drove him to school, went to the gym for an hour (smug sniff), and came home. Ever since then, I’ve been avoiding actually doing anything, like a baby avoids a food it doesn’t like. For your enjoyment:

I find myself using baby analogies a lot these days. I think I must just be a big baby. Makes sense. 🙄 If you don’t learn things as a child, or if you learn incorrect things, don’t worry!– life will always present you with the correct/necessary lessons– the question is, how do you learn them as an adult, who is– for the sake of the analogy– feeding itself?

Specifically, I’m talking about the lesson of how to motivate yourself to be productive. I’m really struggling to eat my greens right now! HOW to I get myself to open wide and let the airplane in?

It’s infuriating to admit, but I will, because I’m an honest person and I need to get it out: Adam signed up to do a creative project in association with the Iowa City Press Co-op (with whom I have tentatively parted ways). He didn’t realize it would be such a time-suckage, and as his school and workload piled up, he was really getting stressed out about it. So, with ZERO hesitation, in mind, body, or soul, I offered to relieve him of his burden, and take over the creative project myself. And I did! Immediately! I did it all (except for the initial concept)! Why? Because I saw how it was affecting my husband, whom I love! I don’t want him to suffer, so my automatic impulse is to take his suffering away from him, if I can. (And I did suffer, by the way, but that’s beside the point.)

The point is, that I didn’t hesitate to engage in productivity when it was for someone else. And that is SO TRUE OF MY ENTIRE LIFE. I will do practically anything for a thing that feeds me self-worth. Which is why, I think, I won’t eat my greens if it’s ME that’s feeding me. Because I certainly don’t feed myself self-worth– au contraire, my preferred method of motivation is self-flagellation. AKA, the stick (as opposed to the carrot). Unfortunately, the stick approach only works in the short term, because you can’t live on shame alone. Or maybe you can, but why would you want to?

I’ve spent so many years of my life trying to figure out how to dangle a carrot in front of my own face, without me knowing that A) I put it there, and therefore B) I know how to get it. If I had a dime for every time I said to myself, “If I _______, I’ll let myself _______.” It’s so stupid, and I know it. Also, I’m kind of regretting the bdsm meme because now you’re just going to be thinking dirty thoughts throughout the rest of the blog post. Maybe this dumb dude will help:

So dumb. Doesn’t he look dumb? As if he couldn’t just reach out and grab the fucking carrot. Ugh. That’s the frustrating thing about being an adult though! You can do whatever you want! And the only repercussions that will come of it (aside from objective, scientific “A + B = C” results) are bad feelings! And bad feelings are so easy to self-flagellate away. At least in the moment. I think most alcoholics are just self-flagellators, by the way. And pretty much any addict. It’s the catch-22 of life. Beat yourself up for beating yourself up! Sighhhh.. Impregnable silence.

Lol but anyway, that still leaves the question– how does a body get themselves to do anything? Especially if you’re a chronic self-flagellator, stuck in a cycle of shame! Well. If you’re ready, I have the answer for you:

You take all of your self-loathing and write it down on six pieces of paper, cut the paper into strips, put the strips into a bowl of wheat paste, wrap the strips carefully around a small balloon; when it dries, pop the balloon, put your fist inside that paper mâché ball..

That’s right. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. I don’t even think there’s a one-size-fits-one-person answer. What worked for me in childhood, adolescence, and my twenties– for one reason or another– doesn’t work for me anymore. And anyway, I would assume that anything resembling an applicable solution would require continual adjustment and upkeep to stay relevant– since we never stop growing, ourselves (metaphysically, anyway).


Regardless, I feel like the crux, somehow, is Self-Worth. If I can find a way to produce my own self-worth, then– perhaps– the catch-22 will operate in the reverse:

“I am producing.”
“Why are you producing?”
“So that I may remember.”
“Remember what?”
“Remember that I am proud.”
“Proud of what?”
“Proud of producing!”

Man, I got chills! But now we’re back at the beginning. If “production” is the initiator of its own self-sustaining loop, how do you jump in? That might be the best metaphor I could’ve used, because ultimately– at least at the end of this blog post– the only thing I can think of to answer that question is “faith,” which absolutely requires one to take a leap.

Okay, that’s about as much thinking as I feel like doing right now.

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