As a serial achiever and perfectionist, this thought frequently pops into my brain. Based on some engagement I’ve had with y’all, it comes up for you, too. And it can lead to what I’ve started calling “singleness productivity guilt.”
On the one hand, this can be a motivating thought. What kinds of opportunities do we get because we don’t have a spouse or kids? How can we celebrate those and take advantage of them? I love being able to spontaneously hang with friends. So one way I take advantage of that is to say “yes” as much as possible when I’m out with friends and something else comes up. Maybe it’s getting invited to play tennis the next day, or for a trip upstate the next month, or to walk home instead of taking the train on a nice day.
But there’s a darker side to this desire. It’s easier to illustrate than explain.
Another thing I love about being single is being able to commit to my work with a more singular focus.
It starts off well enough–the feeling of passion and fulfillment, the drive to keep working and creating. It’s even fun. Until one late night turns into another turns into another. Slowly, I notice myself getting more easily irritated. It’s harder to take breaks and stop at the end of the day because I want to finish just one more thing. It’s harder to get up in the morning because the pressure is more debilitating than motivating. Instead of feeling satisfied when I do stop working, my brain feels like oatmeal.
Underneath this good desire to “use our singleness well” can lurk a desire to justify ourselves. To whom? Maybe to our married friends or to ourselves. What are we justifying? Just because we don’t have a family doesn’t mean we are wasting our time or using it selfishly. Perhaps we see the frantic pace of those whose lives contain less margin and we feel guilty about our relative freedom.
For me, the struggle is one of needing to maximize every moment of my time. I don’t want to be accused of not working hard enough or not using my time well if I don’t accomplish my goals.
This feeling of singleness productivity guilt can creep into almost any area of life. It’s in the nagging suspicion that we aren’t making the most of the relationships we’ve been given. It’s in the fear that we should be taking on more responsibility at church because parents can’t commit the same amount of time we can (never mind the fact that you already volunteer in five different ministries).
I must confess that I am not proficient in driving away this feeling of guilt. In fact, I often use it as a motivator. I am, however, learning to notice it and question it, and even occasionally focus my bandwidth elsewhere. And I wonder if it’s realistic to think of it in terms of getting rid of it once and for all time, anyway.
When we start down the “should” spiral, it might be helpful to take a mental step back and consider, What’s driving the car? We get caught up in all we feel we “should” be doing, and we think we’re covering our bases or motivating ourselves. When, for me at least, it only ends in paralysis, guilt, and defeatism.
What’s calling the shots when this thought pops into your head? Is it healthy motivation? Or is it fear and anxiety? What’s one thing you could choose to focus on instead?