Are we only successful and hardworking if we’re exhausted?

I got two of my wisdom teeth removed on Saturday.  With no trace of exaggeration, I was ecstatic about having the procedure done.  One of my wisdom teeth had started coming up on one side and every day was a battle with a headache and alternating doses of Advil and Tylenol.  My stomach lining was turning on me.  It was time.

I really underestimated the procedure.  After having the headaches for months on end, I thought getting rid of the instigator was both completely worth it and wouldn’t be that big of a deal.  Not to be the bearer of bad news to any soon-to-be-wisdom-tooth-less, but it was definitely worse than I thought it would be.  I thought it was only bad for people who had to have them taken out proactively.  I assumed I was going to be in yoga class the next night.

Wrong.

On Monday, I stayed home from work.  I did this for a myriad of reasons including: horrible pain, chipmunk face.  I spent the morning working, but those pain pills can make you a bit woozy!  So, when the wooziness set in, I put my computer and papers away.  My friend visited me, brought me some apple sauce, and we sat in the backyard and caught up.

I hadn’t seen this friend in at least six weeks.  It was, by all accounts, the first proper day of spring.  I had been advised by my doctor to not go to work, and I even had a note for my employer!  But suddenly: panic set in.

As we chatted, I disclosed that I was feeling completely stressed out and anxious because I was not working.  There I was, finally visiting with my friend (and likely only because I was in chipmunk-mode), the sun beaming down on us, and my anxiety levels shooting through the perfect, cloudless sky.  My friend said it seems that unless we feel completely exhausted, we feel we are not working hard.

How accurate.  How absurdly, profoundly, perfectly accurate.  On that day, when I should have accepted the strange gift of – after four months of headaches, days of pain and an all-liquid diet – being able to sit in the sun with my girlfriend for an hour.  I was genuinely doing everything I was supposed to: taking the pain killers, taking the antibiotics, not practicing law when I was so woozy my memo writing would have limited to “I love law”.

On point.

On point.

It was clear to me that up until the wisdom teeth removal I had been working quite hard indeed: every weekend, evenings.  I had to miss various yoga classes that I was actually really looking forward to.  I hadn’t seen this girlfriend – or other friends, for that matter – in ages.  Up until this moment, I had been working hard.  Somehow it wasn’t good enough.  Somehow, I still did not deserve to sit in the sun, in peace, woozy from pain killers and unable to work in any event, and feel peace.  I didn’t deserve it.  I wasn’t exhausted enough to deserve it.

Her good point begets the question: why?  Why can’t we feel good and valid as professionals unless we are exhausted at the end of the day?  Are we driven by ourselves and some inherent, masochistic sense of duty?  Are we encouraged by money?  Or rather, by the threat of no money?  Are we culturally cultivated to believe in the wheel and the notion that we only deserve to relax after being run ragged?

The deep coldness of answering these questions in the affirmative is apparent.  To be so distracted that we miss all of the moments of a day that are full of peace, beauty, happiness is a dark thought.  To be so self-absorbed and have so much attention placed within you that you don’t notice and can’t get carried away in the peace that’s around you is sad.  It’s not a message I would care to share with my niece and my nephew.  At the same time, there is another, different sadness in how little we are capable of valuing ourselves when we feel we haven’t worked hard enough.  How can so much value be tangled up in the traditional format of success?  How can we balance both the feelings of low self-esteem and low self-worth with the contradictory feeling of narcissism?  No wonder we feel so low and miserable.  These combatting emotions are not friends to us, nor are they friends to one another.

I don’t know what the answer is.  I don’t know why we encourage and cultivate this feeling of non-worth when we make it through a day and we are not exhausted.  I don’t know why we convince ourselves that some portions of life deserve greater worth than others, especially where those portions don’t necessarily correlate to bettering our lives.  I don’t know why we can be so inward and sad when there is so much beauty to be seen by just looking out and around.

In my favourite song by Shad, Remember to Remember, he says “we only feel better when we feel like we’re better than clever men”.  Perhaps that’s it.  Perhaps, where we believe someone else has grinded through the machine all day, goes home weak, tired, wiping sweat from brow, that they are the better men.  Shad also says “it ain’t a race to win it’s a run to finish”.  So I suppose it must be time to remember that more often: my exhaustion may be feel like my worth, but there will be another day to run tomorrow.