6.0 Editor's Pick
April 22, 2021

Laziness can be a Source of Shame—or an Invitation to Joy.


View this post on Instagram

“You haven’t moved all day,” my daughter teased.

Her words said: “You haven’t moved.” My ears heard: “You’re lazy.” My body felt: “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

My stomach clenched, and I could feel the tightness grip my midsection, as though someone was grabbing me from the front of my torso and yanking my innards. The invisible chain of shame tugged at me, forcing my mind into a fierce protest.

My face now flushed, I felt panic rising. With my heart speeding and my breath shallow, my instinct was to defend myself, to rally against what felt like a hurtful allegation. My body shifted into protest mode.

“It’s not true,” I internally shouted, silently listing my accomplishments. “I ran errands! I took the dog for a walk! I worked out! And dammit, just because I’m sitting in the same chair as I was this morning doesn’t mean I haven’t moved.”

I wanted to say it all out loud, but instead I tried to laugh it off.

“Nope,” I said. “Not an inch.” I tried for a genuine smile and a care-free tone, but couldn’t find it.

I don’t want it to get to me, but it f*cking gets to me. Hard work was what I was raised on. Anything but the fullest effort was branded as “lazy,” and laziness was chastised, punished, and completely unacceptable.

Shame is a feeling of being held in a straightjacket of someone—or something—else’s belief system.

As a child, my father called us “lazy.” My mom said it would just “slip out” and that he “didn’t mean it.” We would hear endless stories of how being lazy would threaten our future employment, impact our earning potential, and frustrate others. Nobody would ever want to marry someone who was lazy, let alone hire one.

Laziness in my childhood meant anything less than 100 percent productivity. Sleeping in was for lazy people, no matter the reason. Staying up late for a wedding or a social occasion was “no excuse.” Hobbies were not for rest or pleasure, but instead to sharpen our discipline. Maximum effort was to be applied, lest we set ourselves up for a lifetime of failure.

And it wasn’t just our parents. Culture shouted at us, screaming:

“There are only so many hours in a day.”

“Idle hands are the devil’s playground.”

“Procrastination is the thief of time.”

The bookstores groan with overstuffed shelves on how to optimize our time, so that each hour of our collective lives might be filled with productivity and meaning. We give children daytimers in kindergarten to begin building “the habits” needed to keep us on track, lest a minute goes to waste. Every second of every day is micromanaged, prioritized, scheduled, and accounted for.

We often can’t even take the time to rest when we’re sick. Children are publicly recognized for “perfect attendance” by way of certificates, so it’s no wonder that as adults we turn working through illness, maternity leave, and labor into badges of honor.

And what do we really know of vacation when we get to our destination and keep checking our phones, “just in case”?

We are willing to burn ourselves out to avoid the shame of being called lazy by others or ourselves.

By the time I was in my 30s, I was willing to do anything to prove I wasn’t lazy. Now no longer to show my parents, but instead to show myself and the world. Even the mere implication of “lazy” triggered my defenses, leaving me to feel like I’d done something wrong or broken a cultural code.

I mastered productivity, dutifully following the instructions of my youth and pushing away my body’s signals for rest. Forget “sleep when the baby sleeps,” I would use that time to clean the house.

I attended the weddings and celebrations of my peers and skipped sleep, never making it up. I rose at the “right” time to get started on my to-do list and was so productive that other people would marvel: “I don’t know how you get it all done!”

I was exhausted, but at least I wasn’t lazy.

I would text clients while eating and take my phone to bed to promote my business. Time traversing staircases could be used for emails and exercising was for phone calls. I would wash dishes with continuing education coursework blaring in the background.

Are we propelling our life forward? Or are we just outrunning lazy?

Eventually, my body rebelled and I had a breakdown. My mind no longer being given a choice, I fell into sickness and burnout.

Productivity at all costs is no way to live.

When everything falls apart, we get to question how we got there. We discover the beliefs tucked behind our behavior.

When we ask ourselves, “Who does this belief belong to?” we open the possibility to remake our lives in alignment with beliefs that better serve us and our bodies.

It was time to set aside the teaching I’d embodied and to break the cultural code for good.

It was time to commit to the practice of laziness. Of doing nothing. Of resting, imagining, creating, and dreaming.

These “lazy” times are when we hear the voice of our soul, instead of the voice of our culture or our parents. We hear the sound of dreams instead of the alarms of productivity. We sense possibility. We remember what it is to wonder.

It was time to discover what I valued and why.

Constant busyness is a ploy of the ego to keep us from living our dreams, and from exercising our creativity, our passions, and longings. It is in times of so-called laziness that we can question, change course, and reflect. It is here that we can mature, grow, and evolve.

It was time to put myself first.

Cultural beliefs around laziness do not benefit us as individual human beings. They benefit the hierarchies of power and commerce ahead of body and soul. I had to learn to listen to my body.

It was time to recognize that I found joy and excitement living my life as I wished to live it, not in what my childhood or the bookstore demanded of me.

It was time to peel away the layers of shame that had built up over the years.

We can continue to pay homage to cultural codes at the expense of our bodies and souls. Or, we can remind ourselves that we did not come here to uphold the goddamn codes—we came here to break them.

We can set down the gauntlets of shame within ourselves.

And counter, “You haven’t moved all day,” with, “And you’ve never stopped!”


For more from Janis.

For more from Keri

Read 52 Comments and Reply

Read 52 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Janis Isaman & Keri Mangis

author: Janis Isaman & Keri Mangis

Image: julika.illustration/Instagram

Editor: Nicole Cameron

Relephant Reads:

See relevant Elephant Video