Teachers, wellbeing and the ‘Laziness Lie’

‘If you do more, you are more’.

That’s right, isn’t it? 

This week I really enjoyed reading ‘Laziness Does Not Exist’ by Dr Devon Price, which explores this idea in depth. In the book Price dispels the myth of what they term the ‘Laziness Lie’; the idea that success requires nothing more than willpower, that pushing ourselves as hard as we can makes us superior to others, and that ‘productive’ people hold more value than those who aren’t productive.

According to Price, the ‘Laziness Lie’ has three main tenets:

  1. Your worth is your productivity
  2. You cannot trust your own feelings and limits
  3. There is always more that you could be doing

As Price explains, even if you don’t agree with these tenets, you’ve probably absorbed these messages on some level and they’ve very likely impacted on how you view yourself and others. 

Working hard is rewarded. Setting limits and saying ‘no’ is seen as a source of shame.

I’m not sure about you, but I really enjoy ‘EduTwitter’. There are often great articles and ideas being shared, passionate discussions about best practice, and some great resources to be found. That being said, I have found that I do have to limit the amount of time I spend there. I often get overwhelmed with how much it appears that other people are doing. 

It exacerbates my insecurities, and confirms my (misguided) belief that other people are doing more, and therefore they must BE more than me. 

It always feels like you can never measure up.

The problem is that I get completely swept up in this idea of productivity being tied to worth, and even being judgemental myself of anyone who I perceive to not be working as hard – even if on an intellectual level, I absolutely don’t believe it. 

Life is much more complicated and messy than that.

But on some level I still buy into it.

In the past I admit there have been times when I have been obsessed with the idea of achievement and success. If I get a PhD, people will see me as ‘more’. If I attend lots of CPD courses then I’ll have ‘more’ knowledge. If I start and run lots of new projects then I’ll be ‘more’ of an asset to my school. Being ‘more’ is what I should be aiming for, because if you don’t strive for more then surely you must be… less?

An interesting theory that was raised in the book was the idea that we constantly strive to achieve more and stay on the ‘grind’, ignoring when we’re exhausted, because deep down we feel economically vulnerable. If we don’t keep impressing people and doing a good job then we put ourselves at risk. Risk of not having our contract renewed, risk of being overlooked for promotion, risk of not being able to find a job at another school – especially when we’re up against people that seem to have overwhelming evidence that they have done ‘more’ with their time.

For me, working internationally, I feel this economic vulnerability quite acutely in a couple of ways. Firstly, I am very aware that I will need a good reference so it is important for me and my work ethic to be noticed. I want to be seen as a ‘doer’, and as someone that will add value to where I work. Secondly, I am constantly worried about the future and not being able to find another job if and when I move on – or at least a job that I feel will both appreciate what I can bring and will support and encourage me to grow – you need to grab on to these positions with both hands if you find one! Thirdly, I worry about the reality of the short-term nature of international school contracts and only being secure for one or two years at a time. Whilst I appreciate that on one level this gives me flexibility and freedom, on another level I worry about my job becoming obsolete or the inevitability that one day, when my wife and I move on from our current school, we will find ourselves having to ‘start-over’ all over again – and that thought terrifies me!

If you add into the mix that for many international schools the pandemic has brought with it a year of financial uncertainty, the looming threat of pay freezes, pay cuts or even jobs being cut is firmly at the back of your mind when looking ahead to the future.

When talking about wellbeing, the threat of burnout never feels far away, especially when the world seems as uncertain as it has done most recently. How can I take time off to look after myself when I could be spending my time fighting to stay afloat, or at least building myself up so I am ready when the next storm arrives, as it always inevitably does. Our productivity is both tied to our sense of worth, but also the one thing we can control in a completely uncontrollable world. So, we try to keep ourselves safe by doing everything we can to feel indisposable. 

Burnout is not just an isolated problem at a particular job, it’s tied to the messages we are all constantly absorbing – that how hard we work is a reflection of who we are.

Whilst I truly believe that a greater focus on wellbeing is undoubtedly a positive step, cynically I worry that the emphasis on us as individuals to undertake ‘self-care’ is sometimes less a result of genuine concern, and more as a strategy to avoid burnout, so that you can ultimately continue to be productive.

For me, the biggest act of wellbeing that I can do for myself is to stop buying into the language around productivity and success, that celebrates the ‘grind’ above all else. Instead, I am trying to make time to be ‘unproductive’ (at least in a work sense). To do a hobby that has no inherent purpose other than it’s fun. To enjoy holidays not because you’ve ‘earned it’ but just because. To listen to your body when it’s tired because you know that it’s telling you that you need to slow down, and not to ‘push through it’, because there are no prizes for doing so. And, probably most importantly for teachers, when it comes to weekends and holidays, to have them! You don’t need to use your down-time to catch up on PD and all those opportunities that you missed to further your career during term time – you need a break! 

Doing more doesn’t mean that you are more – only you determine that.

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