Leisure — the opportunity afforded by free time to do something.
For those born in the latter part of the 20th century, many of us don’t even recognize how much industrialization and mass production has affected our thinking. Terms such as productivity have become ways to organize lives. Planning, goals, and hours put in all have been identified as strong markers to personal and professional success.
One of the biggest victims of industrialization so far has been Leisure. This is especially true for the marginalized, the minorities, and the economically downtrodden. From the moment we are born to the day we die, our lives are based on how productive we are. Productivity is directly tied to our well-being. Be productive, monetize it and use it to be happy, we are told.
Why do many of us feel like we have to earn our leisure? Why does leisure come at the end of a productive session and not before it?
Growing up, I was supposed to convert every moment of my school life into better grades. The time I don’t spend directly on my grades was a waste. Grades were the metrics by which my productivity was measured. We used to have examinations every quarter and for a whole quarter, my grades were my productivity score. If I scored low grades, I don’t qualify for any sports or other leisure activity. I have to sit and study. In a way, my grades were my way of “earning” — contributing to my family.
When I moved to college, I had a crisis of trust about the “grades metric” (and anything that was shared as absolute truth by my parents). I started gaming the system. I figured out a way to achieve minimum grades that will give me decent leisure time. When I started working in the IT services industry, the metrics became one of time. And as I moved on to startups and entrepreneurship, I found that this entire relationship with leisure didn’t change much for me. I work for so many hours, then I get so many hours of leisure. And most of the time, I spent my leisure trying to make sense of “what the hell am I doing with my life”. In reality, I was suffering from my work and my leisure time was a vent for that suffering.
People who are born economically privileged — have a different relationship with leisure. Some of my European friends took a break year during their college and went around traveling. Personally, this is both astonishing to me as to how one can do this and depressing that I never had such a relationship with life.
This measure of productivity continued to chase me even when I started my own business. I don’t have a boss, technically. But psychologically there is a boss in my head and I have to be accountable to this person. I need to prove my productivity if I have to “treat” myself to a period of “not doing anything”.
Leisure, for some, is the license to travel. For some, it's about reading a book. For others, it could be doing nothing. For a few, it's about identity and self-expansion.
In the 21st century, Leisure has become something we naturally seek as human beings but are not allowed in the code of our everyday life. Outside of leisure, we need to justify our existence by converting our time into productive moments for society. And that’s the essence of productivity — we need to be productive in a way that society acknowledges. If you wrote an article that gave you goosebumps but not many likes or shares, supposedly, you are not productive. If you spent your year building something that you are so proud of but it does not earn enough revenue, you are not productive.
Leisure, on the other hand, has become an anti-thesis to productivity. That’s why many on vacation go on excessive binge drinking and do nothing — to gratify themselves for all the “hard work” they did during work time. But many of us are not recovering from hard work during our vacation. We are just recovering from resisting to being our true selves.
If we keep flitting between these extremes of productivity and nonproductivity, when do we explore things that bring true happiness to ourselves?
I broke this code of productivity, after a year of starting up Konvos. It's interesting how long I stuck to the ideas of productivity, despite having no reason to. That’s how deep it has been driven into my thinking. A year into starting up, I started questioning — mainly due to my co-founder, the value of this “productivity” system. I started slowly by not separating work and life. I will go to market in the middle of the day, middle of the week, and my biggest barrier was not feeling guilty about it. Small steps like this and slowly, the boundary between productivity and leisure started to blur. And with that, I started to “work leisurely” starting in 2022. I stopped tagging activities with productivity metrics. I could write a blog without worrying about how many people will read it. I could see a movie first thing in the morning without worrying about productivity repercussions. I could completely stop doing things the impulsivity and compulsion of it. I reduced my “productive” actions to only those that felt meaningful. In many cases, I just went with my intuition, doing things that naturally made sense to me.
How has it changed my life? I am breathing easily. I am smiling more often. I do get frustrated as much but I don’t inflict negative self-talk on myself. I have time and space for my own emotions and others. I have space to observe others and think for others. I feel harmony and oneness after such a long time.
It was not easy to do this — not at all. To be honest, I had the privilege to do this. If I was in an economically difficult situation or had to earn every day — this would have never been possible. I did work for having this choice all my life but I still understand it's a great privilege. In the first couple of months, a lot of my energy went into resisting the temptation to go back to the earlier way of living. My mind has been accustomed to a way of life for 38 years. It's not going to give up that easily. I still struggle sometimes. I panic at times about the lack of productivity in my everyday life. I then ground myself and get back to the “leisure” way of life. I didn’t realize that I had to work hard for “leisure”. Such is my conditioning. But I am slowly getting there.
Sustenance is an issue with a leisurely lifestyle. A lot of jobs will pay you as long you look busy all the time, even if what you do is not very useful. You have to find ways to make money out of skills where you are paid for the work and not time. You have to figure out ways to work lesser and earn as much. It’s not easy. And when it does not work out, you have all that leisure time to relax and attack the problem stronger if you want to!
Disclaimer — When you start a leisurely way of living, you might expand into a space where you are not doing anything useful. It’s okay. For some, we go to one extreme before finding the balance. But it's important to be patient and stay through and not panic and give up in the middle. From my own experience, the earlier in life you do this switch, the lesser time it takes to achieve such a balance. So if you are past your 30-s, give yourself adequate time for the switch to happen.