I’ve wanted to do a lot of things in my (at this moment) 25 years of existence on this giant space ship made of dirt. I wanted to be a radio DJ. I wanted to be a chef. I wanted to be an English professor, then a professional podcaster and voice actor. Now, I think I want to be a full time writer of some kind.
I’ve chased all of these dreams in some fashion, but I am not one to do anything half way. I had to do them faster, bigger, and more efficient than anyone else. I had to make sure I was “better.” I worked as many hours as I could in the dish pit in order to ingratiate myself to the back-of-house staff at a local fine dining restaurant. I drudged through four years of night shift management so that I could afford an English degree. While working 70+ hours a week at a metal shop I recorded, edited, produced, and helped market a podcast. Strangely, those times when I was the most focused, the most tenacious, the most productive were the times when I was most miserable “chasing my dreams.” I had traded my passion for productivity and the standards of people who weren’t even paying attention.
In retrospect, I don’t think I was chasing my dream. I think I was just working hard at something that I thought would be fulfilling until I burnt out and threw in the towel. I assumed that if I was earnest enough, the universe would pat me on the back and plop a three Michelin star restaurant in my lap or flood my inbox with offers for publication. I turned my dreams into machines that needed to be optimized and profitable. I was actively siphoning every ounce of joy from them in order to convince myself that productivity would mean some type of feeling of existential satisfaction.
We are all chasing joy, and I genuinely believe that most if not all of us are trying to do that to the best of our knowledge and ability. At the very least, no one is actively pursuing misery, yet when we look back at our pursuits, we so often see how it certainly may appear like we are. Why is that?
For me, I think it has a lot to do with pies.
I recently met a baker who started a fledgling business selling pies, right smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic. It boggles my mind to think of myself taking such a nuanced venture, because I am always so concerned with not wanting to look back on my past self and think about how dumb he was. It keeps me from doing a lot of things just for the hell of it, but here she is just pie-ing away at the exact moment when everyone else is collectively crumpled in the fetal position.
The two of us discussed what we wanted our futures to look like, and I had mentioned wanting to be a writer while she mentioned wanting to entertain. The conversation shifted in that moment to our mutual love for presentation, for food, for drink, for laying down a canvas for other people to have a good time while we zip about tending to the ebb and flow of our guests.
Whether it is actually catering for a party or yelling at my Dungeons and Dragons players in a faux Irish accent, laying down that substrate for other people to escape and enjoy their leisure is really where I feel satisfied. Yet, I don’t see it as productive. I elect to do all those things without pay and sometimes even without thanks. I pour hundreds of hours into writings stories or furiously toil day after day to get a recipe right for my guests, and I enjoy nearly every second of it. The only time when I find myself getting encumbered is when I ask myself if I could be doing something more worth my time.
My mind wanders to my millionaire friends or my family members that can afford to go on regular cruises to fantastic destinations. Then I worry about money and bills and the likelihood of me panhandling in a ditch because I didn’t spend literally every waking hour of my days penny pinching and maximizing my income. That’s what breeds misery.
In the strangest turn of events, I think I may have fooled myself into investing in the joint ventures of both the Bootstrap Myth and the Sunk Cost Fallacy. It’s a toxic pyramid scheme that boasts fulfillment at the cost of your present joy. I think I’m going to opt out of that finally, and instead start making some metaphorical pies.
I’m not saying anything too extraordinary here, I know, but I don’t even know what the point of being “productive” means anymore. COVID has sent so many people into a tail spin trying to find meaning in their lives, and after toilet paper and cleaning supplies, you know what the next shortages were? Crafting supplies. Yeast. Flower. Outdoor equipment.
When we were forced to stop being productive, we were all left to our own devices to decide what the fuck mattered in our lives. For most of us, it wasn’t money or prestige. It was a painted pie or a crocheted pie. It was a pie on roller blades, a pie in a hammock, a pie in a loaf of sourdough.
All those things that I wanted to be, I had. I cooked in fine dining. I hosted my own show. I wrote for audience of thousands. It was only when I started doing them on other people’s terms that they soured. It was only when I started asking myself if other people would think those activities were worth my time that I balked and fell off the wagon. Whatever the hell productivity is, it doesn’t seem like it is a pie anyone really wants to eat, yet we force it down because we think that the last bite will somehow make the rest of the slog worth it, only to discover it tastes like blood, sweat, and tears.