Not a week goes by when I don’t find myself at my wit’s end, annoyed by a colleague or friend or neighbor’s bellyaching over being overwhelmed. It’s not just that these complainers grumble. It’s that, in my mind, they have far more luxurious lives than I do — and therefore scant reason to gripe.
Cases in point: A friend spent our entire lunch date whining that she was tired because she had to rise at 6:30 am (a full hour after my alarm is set). I mumble under my breath when the neighborhood mom says it’s too hard to work because her kids are under age 5 (just like mine). And my blood pressure spikes and I fire up the silent treatment when my childless boyfriend suggested we rendezvous at my place (yet again) because he didn’t have time to clean his (say what?).
I am not alone in my disgust-by-comparison. I hear women complain all the time about others’ inability to be as prolific in their daily and monthly tasks, large and small. If you’re a successful, professional woman, there is a very good chance that you are more productive than other people you know. Also a mom? Then you’re definitely packing more into each day.
Me? I’m a professional single mom, so I win.
That is what I tell myself in our rat race culture that values — it seems — productivity above all else.
Which is all well and good if you are an apparent winner in a competition that has no apparent spectators, but it can also be maddening when others around you are less productive — or worse: complain endlessly about their self-perceived hardships.
But I have it all wrong and you likely do, too. Here is why, and what to do about it:
You Never Know What Other People Have Going On
Irritated when the stay-at-home mom with the rich husband says she doesn’t have time to volunteer at the school? Maybe she has a chronic illness — or cares for parents who do. Maybe she funnels her volunteer efforts into another cause — for far more hours than you do at the school.
The Cure: Identify three things — write them down now! — that hinder your daily life that not everyone around you knows about. Do you have a contentious relationship with your brother? Suffer from depression, anxiety or insomnia? Have more debt than you care to admit?
As for me, if I’m not in a romantic relationship I can feel crippled with loneliness. And even though I write about personal finance, sometimes I am really worried about my own. This is all to say that that other woman you’re hating on likely has her own hangups. We all do. You’re human. Forgive yourself and you automatically gain empathy for others.
Busy Doesn’t Equal Productive
Again, our culture tells us more is more. Everywhere people complain about exhaustion and being busy. Busy does not mean productive. Are you filling your days compulsively checking your email and over-cleaning your house? That doesn’t equal productive. You’re just busy.
The Cure: Dig into your daily, weekly and monthly routines. How can you be more efficient? Can you carve out blocks of unscheduled time — time to think creatively about your business, or lounge in bed with your spouse or spend a couple hours catching up on the phone with that old friend you love but rarely speak to?
While you’re at it, ask yourself: “Am I afraid of quiet? Would I even know what to do with a few free hours that I was not allowed to fill with being productive? What am I avoiding?”
Constant Productivity Isn’t Enjoyable for Everyone
Sure, days when I feel like I lived to the fullest and collapse in bed, utterly exhausted, are some of my best. But that energy level is not for everyone, and it’s important to intersperse those go-go-go days with the ones where you and your family chill at the beach until the sun sets and you never check your phone. Some people who appear to do a whole lot less than you do figured out this really important life lesson.
The Cure: Ask yourself: “Why am I so intent on producing so much?” Does professional work and making paper snowmen cutout crafts with the kids and growing your own heirloom tomatoes make for a meaningful life? Do these activities fill your heart and stimulate your mind? Or is that LinkedIn entry, Pinterest craft board and Facebook update about your garden just tangible ways to quantify your supposed success?
I started paying attention to how I felt and the equilibrium in my home when I was less versus more harried. The result? You guessed it: More chill days at the beach with the kids, and less snide internal remarks about other perfectly normal (albeit complaining) people around me.
This post originally appeared on DailyWorth, where I am a columnist.