25: When to dance.

- April 9, 2017 -

The way I see it, one of the greatest pitfalls of our collective obsession with productivity is that we’ve become conditioned to think that everything can be streamlined.

We’ve begun to think that every aspect of our lives can be made as efficient as possible, can be stripped to only its most essential, most beneficial qualities. We’ve begun to think that we can race through our lives in the same way that we race through our inboxes: cherry-picking at will, responding when we get the chance, and discarding the issues we don’t want to deal with.

In reality, however, the bulk of what we experience can rarely be made to fit within the confines of a productivity mindset.

. . .

Take a moment, for instance, to sit with the following question: when you think about some of the ways in which you might begin to cultivate more meaningful relationships with the people you care about, what comes to mind?

For me, it’s a lesson on what not to do via an episode of Arrested Development. (Specifically, the sixth episode of the second season.) This particular scene takes place in an office where, for the most part, it’s business as usual: phones are ringing in the background, workers are busy at their desks.

Out of nowhere, the company president makes an unexpected (and, given the circumstances, rather unusual) announcement to the remainder of the staff. “Everybody, uh, come out of your offices, please,” he says, going on to explain that there is a party happening and that it has now officially begun. He hits ‘play’ on a nearby stereo and some decades-old dance music begins to pulse through the office at a low volume.

This is the extent of the party.

Not surprisingly, everybody just continues on with their day as though nothing had happened. No one seems particularly keen on taking part in the festivities, if ‘festivities’ they can indeed be called.

The president, however, is undeterred. Thinking that some people might just need a little encouragement, he reiterates his celebratory intention. “Everybody dance now!” he gently suggests, smiling nervously.

.. Still nothing.

Frustrated that things aren’t going the way he planned, his mood suddenly shifts from playful to commanding. “Everybody dance now,” he orders in a stern voice, as though a fun, festive atmosphere were something which could be created on demand.

. . .

I’ll often think back to that scene as a reminder that, no, the people in our lives can’t simply be made to fit within the confines of our plans, our timelines and to-do lists for how and when things are supposed to happen.

We can’t turn to our friends, our family members, or our colleagues and say, “Alright, I’ve got you pencilled in for a soul-stirring conversation at 10am on Tuesday,” or, “Okay, this next coffee date is when we’re finally going to become best friends.” It doesn’t work that way.

Life isn’t something that can be streamlined or fit into a spreadsheet: it’s messy, it’s unpredictable, and it rarely unfolds in the way we’ve planned. We don’t get to decide when the meaningful conversations, life-changing moments, or opportunities to connect with the people we care about will take place, or even if they will take place at all.

(In other words, we don’t just get to throw a last-minute party and tell everybody when to dance. There’s a little more to it than that.)


As always,
– J


This piece comes from Jana Marie’s newsletter, The Sunday Letters. You can sign up to receive future editions below.