I found this post hard to write. I thought I knew how to easily answer the question in the headline, but the more I tried to put my thoughts into words, the more it became clear I’ve got some deep-seated beliefs about my own personal value—and they’re working against me.
The answer, of course, is obvious.
It’s no. A thundering, resounding, definitive NO.
No, no, no.
What we produce does not define our value. Not in any way.
Except when it might?
Unless, actually, you’re talking about the commercial way. Because then, yes, there might be a nugget of truth there. If you’re a designer and you stop designing, you may no longer produce value as a designer. If you own a widget-making business and you stop making widgets, your business might lose its value. If I’m a writer and I stop writing, I’m no longer delivering value as a writer. At least for that period of time.
But do I stop having value? No. Absolutely not.
What does that mean, really?
As I wrestled to expand upon that truth, a memory kept coming to mind. At first, it seemed entirely unrelated. Until it didn’t.
On the night before I started first grade, I sat in my bed and worried. I begged summer not to end. I was terrified I wouldn’t survive this next level of my life.
I dreaded all the things I imagined first grade would be.
No more nap time, no more half days, no more games of “Duck Duck Goose.” All I could picture were long, grueling weeks of classwork and hours and hours of homework. Sure, I’d excelled at kindergarten, but who hadn’t?
Could I really do the same in first grade?
Twelve years later I would experience similar feelings as I headed off to college. My straight-A report card was of little comfort. I was certain my true lack of ability would finally be revealed during the rigors of college study.
There are several things to unpack there (including my ridiculous expectations?!), but these are the questions I keep coming back to: What if I actually hadn’t been able to cut it in first grade? What if college had turned out to be too much? Or—gasp—what if I just hadn’t tried so hard? What if I had stopped producing?
What would that have meant about me?
Would it mean I didn’t have value?
As it turns out, I never had to answer that because, with each new challenge in my life, I’ve followed a similar pattern: I sense the stakes rising, I worry I’m not enough, I step up my game, I perform, I produce, and, often, I excel. That’s how I’m wired. Figure out where the mark is, and do everything possible to meet it. Or exceed it.
But my newest season of life has left me a bit unmoored. First of all, I’m not sure where the mark is. Also, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be producing. And—more importantly—I’m no longer sure I care.
Where’s my instruction manual?
Since both my kids have now moved out, I’ve (apparently?) completed the Julie Raises Children chapter of my life. The problem is, I haven’t yet been able to figure out the name of my newest chapter.
Julie Produces a Bestselling Book?
Julie Launches Her Side Hustle?
Julie Finds a Way to Save the World?
Julie Tends Her Garden?
Julie Takes a Nap?
I recently joined a coaching group for professional women in transition to spend some intentional time discerning what’s next. Because, you guys, I’ve got ideas. Articles that want to be crafted. Projects that want to be completed. Hustles that want to be hustled. Books that want to be written. Books that are written. Query letters that need to be sent.
And now that my kids are grown, I will accomplish so much! I must! This is the moment I’ve been waiting for!
Turns out, here’s the thing. At the end of the workday, I’ve still worked all day. (At a job I love! But still!)
I’m not suddenly independently wealthy. I’m not working less. I haven’t suddenly gained a burst of energy that prompts me to work into all hours of the night on my side projects.
In fact, if anything, I might be more tired. My body is working through some chronic health issues. I’ve been in a new place of emotional and physical healing. I’m learning new ways of being in this world, by myself. Oh, and also I’m raising a puppy-toddler who requires quite some share of energy.
So I’ve been feeling stuck. How do I produce more with the same amount of energy or less?
Last month in my coaching group, I asked for an outside perspective. Where should I focus next? What side project should I produce first with my after-work hours?
After some silence, each of the women quietly spoke similar words to me, and it wasn’t what I expected. They said several variations of: What if this is your time to rest? What if it’s time to celebrate the hard work you’ve done on your own as a single mom for the past 16 years? What if it’s not time to produce anything extra right now?
Tears welled up.
It wasn’t what I expected. But I’ll admit: It felt…right. A sabbatical from constant producing? A time to recharge and rest? Some space to let the next wave of life come to me, instead of chasing it down? It felt like an impossibly beautiful gift. Those women’s words resonated with something deep inside, something I hadn’t really thought was an option.
It felt…right. A sabbatical from constant producing? A time to recharge and rest? Some space to let the next wave of life come to me, instead of chasing it down? It felt like an impossibly beautiful gift.
But this is where the real struggle begins.
Because now…That headline isn’t hypothetical. Now it’s the question I’m genuinely asking in my actual life.
Yes, I will keep working my job. That’s not an option. And I’m so grateful to have a job I enjoy, one that also pays the bills.
But what if I really do stop trying to produce all the other big ideas in my head?
What if I stop carrying around the pressure to excel that I’ve somehow been holding since before first grade?
What if I watch the rest of you produce your little hearts out while I take a break?
What if I just…be?
Will I still have value?
As a writer? As a professional? As a person??
I’ll be honest. Sitting with those questions has revealed some ugly beliefs that I wish I didn’t—and thought I didn’t—have. It’s turned a spotlight on what I apparently believe about humans and where we get our worth. (“It can be fascinating to discover what’s really in your heart,” one friend said when I admitted this struggle.)
The good news is, now I see an opportunity for some radical grace and transformation.
Because what if we could each believe in our worth, whether we’re producing or not?
What if stopping and resting isn’t just permissible? What if it’s required—just as every religious tradition, personal fitness trainer, meditation guru, and sleep expert down through history has been telling us?
What if not over-producing for a season can actually open up space for the kind of life and feelings and messiness and beauty and growth that might inspire greater creativity down the road?
And what if producing has never been what gives us value?
What if being human is absolutely enough?
Julie Rybarczyk is a freelance writer, fair-weather blogger, and empty-nester mama who’s living alone and liking it . She’s perpetually the chilliest person in Minneapolis—so most of the year you’ll find her under layers of wool, behind steaming cups of tea. Or at shortsandlongs.net