Why are self worth and productivity not mutually exclusive?
Chris Hyams sits down with social psychologist Dr. Devon Price to discuss his life, work and latest book "Laziness Does Not Exist". They dig into the “laziness lie", which falsely tells us we are not working or learning hard enough. Price's research has appeared in Slate, Business Insider, Financial Times, HuffPost, Psychology Today, and on NPR and PBS.
Like many Americans, Dr. Devon Price believed that productivity was the best way to measure self-worth. He was an overachiever from the start, graduating from both college and graduate school early, but that success came at a cost. After Price was diagnosed with a severe case of anemia and heart complications from overexertion, he was forced to examine the darker side of all this productivity. Using in-depth research, Price explains that people today do far more work than nearly any other humans in history yet most of us often still feel we are not doing enough.
If you are looking for advice to overcome society’s pressure to do more and understand the psychological underpinnings of the “laziness lie" this episode is not to be missed.
- Hello everyone. I am Chris Hyams, I am CEO of Indeed. My pronouns are he and him and welcome to the next episode of Here to Help. At Indeed our mission is to help people get jobs, this is what gets us out of bed in the morning and what keeps us going all day and what powers that mission is our people. Most weeks on Here to Help I talk to Indeed employees, exploring how experience strength, and hope inspires people to want to help others. But from time to time, I get the opportunity to bring in a guest from the outside to help shed some new light on what it is that makes people tick. I am excited to introduce our very special guest for today's episode whose work centers on productivity and the human condition. Dr. Devon Price is a Social Psychologist, Professor and Author whose work has appeared in Slate, Business Insider, Financial Times, HuffPost, Psychology Today, and on NPR and PBS among others. He is a bestselling author of several books, including "Laziness Does Not Exist" and "Unmasking Autism: Discovering the New Faces of Neurodiversity". Devon, thank you so much for joining me today.
- Hi Chris, good morning. Thank you for having me.
- Let's start where we always start these conversations by asking, how are you doing right now?
- It's a very dreary day in Chicago. So I'm feeling very sedate, which is great because I usually talk way too fast at things like this. So it'll probably even out and make it like a nice relaxing break in the work day, hopefully.
- Fantastic. We're actually going to get in a little bit to how our context and surroundings impact how we feel and how we show up, but let's start with your work. So, as I said, you're a Social Psychologist, Professor, and Author of bestselling books, how would you explain the focus of your work?
- I would've given a different answer a few years ago, but as I'm working on new projects and looking at like what the through line is for all of the books that I've been working on and the one that I'm working on right now, I think it all comes down actually to shame and to ideas that we have about, who we're supposed to be and how we're supposed to be that come from our culture and our economic system and how people can start to move beyond those messages and get kind of liberated from those messages and be, if not perfectly authentic, 'cause I don't think you ever arrive at something like that, getting away from those external constraints and getting free of them as much as you can, both personally and structurally.
- Great. Well let's dive into some of the social constructs that create some of these constraints and talk about laziness. So your book, "Laziness Does Not Exist", very provocative title, in the book you talk about the fact that laziness has been effectively and really expertly wielded to make people feel unproductive and unworthy. Can you talk about how you define laziness?
- Yeah. So to really get into the weird hangups that we have culturally about laziness and what laziness really means to us, we can really look at the origins of the word, the root words. So it has an old English root and it has a middle low German root and it's two root words. One of them means feeble or weak and the other root of the word laziness means false or evil. So there's a moral condemnation aspect usually when we talk about laziness in our culture. Aside from terms like lazy Sunday, which I think then it kind of means just language relaxed, that's kind of a net positive. But usually when we talk about laziness, we mean somebody lacks the capacity to do something at least on their own. And yet at the same time, that lack of capacity makes them evil or a bad person, which right out the gate, you look at those two meanings and it doesn't really make sense. If somebody isn't capable of something, why would that be evil? But that's generally what it means in our culture. If someone can't do something on their own, independently, we view them as defective and suspect and sometimes ourselves, if we're in that situation as bad people.
- Yeah. So clearly the context of how society talks about or defines us impacts how we view or define ourselves. I heard you tell a story in another interview about your pet Chinchilla named Dump Truck. Can you talk about that story and how that gives some perspective on how you think we define ourselves?
- Yeah. So in the book and in other writing that I've done about this topic, I talk about the laziness lie, which is just this cultural value system that says, your worth is determined by your productivity and you can't trust any needs and limitations that you do have that get in the way of that productivity. And that there's always more that you could be doing. Those are kind of the core beliefs that many of us have really deeply culturally ingrained in us and we're just always evaluating ourselves by, am I doing enough? Am I doing the right things? Am I doing things up to standards? But we would never extend that kind of thinking, most of us, to people whose lives we really treasure and care about and our loved ones and our pets. So in the book I talk about my Chinchilla, Dump Truck, who is not productive in any way. He brings no benefit mathematically in any kind of rational way to anything. And in fact, he's destroyed a lot of my apartment and chewed up the baseboards and flings poop everywhere. He's a force of chaos and destruction, but I would never think of him in these like cold, rational terms, right? Like when he's just sitting there sleeping and like kicking bits of hay all around the apartment and like actively creating problems, I just adore him for that. He's just perfectly alive. And I think that's how most of us feel about our pets and hopefully in a lot of our relationships, with other people we're not bringing that kind of cold calculating approach. So I think sometimes it's helpful if we're always measuring our worth as people by what we can do and what we're accomplishing to just remember that nature is completely indifferent to that and we're part of nature. And this ledger is something that we've made up as humans and that's imposed on us societally, but that we would never look at someone that we love taking a nap on the couch and say, this is disgusting. They're not using their time. They're not optimizing their time. And we certainly wouldn't do that for the animals in our lives that we cherish.
- And it's such a simple concept and yet probably the hardest thing in life in the human condition is to extend the kind of grace to ourselves that we would to someone that we truly love or cherish, it's a... Some of those really simple ideas are actually the hardest to put into practice. I'd love to talk about... So if laziness to some degree, at least in Western society is based on this belief that there's always something more that we could be doing and there are certain jobs that actually reinforce that, what's a better way to think about laziness.
- Trust. Trusting our own bodies when our bodies are giving us a signal that I can't focus on this task anymore, my eyes are just going blurry. You can try to drink more coffee and beat yourself up for the fact that you have a human brain with a limited attentional capacity. And we know from research, people can really only pay attention to really focus intensive tasks for two, three, maybe four hours a day and that's really it. And as a writer, I live this lesson every single day where I try to force myself to write for five hours or six hours and it's diminishing returns and I should just trust, oh, I can feel my attention flagging, I can feel my will to focus is running out and I should do something else with my time that would be worthwhile to me. So that's a big part of how we have to reconstitute our relationship to laziness. Most of us are really conditioned to ignore our body signals of I'm feeling jittery, I need to go take a walk, I'm hungry, I'm bored. Listening to what your body's doing and noticing, hey, I'm suddenly doing a lot of refreshing social media. Maybe that's a sign that I need actual social time right now. Or, oh I can't focus and I'm opening up a lot of like websites and online shopping. Maybe that's a signal that you can trust that you need some novelty you need a break. You need to look at something beautiful outside instead of on Pinterest or whatever. And then if we zoom out that trust piece also applies organizationally and societally. We know empirically that we don't need to micromanage people, we don't need to force people to be productive because humans have, what Rebecca Solnit calls, the need to be needed. We want to feel like we're doing things that are meaningful. We want to find fulfillment. If you put a human in a room with just like a bunch of blocks and just give them an hour or two alone, they'll come up with all kinds of weird goals and tasks with those blocks to pass the time. Like humans are very goal directed beings, but we do have this really deep seated cultural conditioning that says, you can't trust people, people are always just trying to get away with something. And if you don't force people to work, they won't do anything. When human history over and over again is a testament to the fact that's not the case. So we need to trust ourselves and we need to trust that other people actually will get things done that need to get done, that they need support in place in order to do that and they need a good reason to be working towards something. But this like slothful evil force inside of us that we've all been taught to fear that, oh, if I give in the floor's going to fall out beneath me and I'm just going to be lazy forever. A lot of people really fear that. I hear that over and over again from some of the most overworked, over-committed people that I know, they're afraid that they're secretly lazy. And there's just no evidence that that's the case we can actually trust ourselves.
- Yeah, and it's certainly clear from our DNA programming is oriented towards survival and taking care of ourselves and we clearly had to work 75,000 years ago differently than we do now. But at least my understanding of the research is that, we weren't working 80 hour weeks back then, there was actual recognition of what the body needed in downtime and you were out hunting and gathering. And then there was, most of the time was actually not working. So this idea of hustle culture or working hard as a virtue, this sort of puritan ideal that sort of is stuck in many of ours in our software at least if not our hardware, how is that a bad thing? How is this idea that we have, that we have to be doing something hurting us?
- Oh, it creates so many problems. One problem that it creates is this idea that if doing something and being productive is always preferable to doing nothing and just pausing and reflecting. That means you're going to have a lot of activity just for activity sake. As an instructor that can mean assigning busy work to my students that is just going to stress them out and keep them from putting their attention towards the readings or the paper, the research project that might actually matter. And organizationally, I think we have a lot of that too. There's a lot that we keep up with for the sake of keeping up appearances and broadcasting to the people around us, oh, I'm a team player, I'm a good worker bee, I say yes to everything and my attention is so scattershot and my nerves are so frayed that I'm not doing anything well and passionately, I'm just completely overextended. There's the detachment from our bodies that I already mentioned. We really... I profile a lot of people in the book who worked through illness, including myself for a very long time. I had a really debilitating fever right after I finished my PhD. And I worked through it from February of that year until November, every day, I would get 103 degree fever at about six or 7:00 p.m. And I just kept working every day because I knew, while I'm productive during these hours of the day, I don't feel sick until the evening. So I better get everything done that I can and exercise and run errands. It was just so detached from my physical reality. And of course I didn't get any better when I kept living like that. And I profile people in the book who were working 90 hour work weeks while their gallbladder had burst inside of them, or a friend of mine who was running a bar who was running a business that you've just built from nothing, it's incredibly stressful as well as then bartending for that job. And then he was like throwing up in the bathroom every night and still working. Like those are extreme cases, but that's what burnout does to people. And I think all of us virtually know some flavor of what that feels like, even if it's not that dramatic, that feeling of just losing the passion for what you were originally interested in working on, having no energy, feeling ill, never feeling rested, resenting people around you, because they seem like they're not being as self-sacrificing as you are. There a real physical and psychological toll to this stuff. And it's really sad because we know, again, all of the data on productivity and insight and creativity tells us that people do better work when they have time to waste time, to daydream, to rest, to connect to other people, to take new inspiration in and all of those things that make life worthwhile.
- So I'd love to talk a little bit specifically about the use of the label lazy and talk about what are some of the types of people who typically get labeled as lazy.
- Yeah. So I think it's useful there to look at laziness is history in the US. We've already kind of hinted at it in our conversation so far, but the Puritans were a big influence as what's now the United States was being colonized. In England, they were kind of religious extremists, but they had this belief basically that if someone is very motivated internally and driven, that's a sign that they're blessed. And if someone lacks the drive to get things done on their own, it's a sign that they were consigned to help, they're already doomed. So it's not even this belief that like you earn your way to heaven through hard work, it's that there's good people who are driven and then there's lazy people who aren't. And you don't need to worry as a society about those people, the Puritans believed, because they're obviously evil people. And that was ideologically a really useful belief system to promote in the US when the countries being kind of founded and relying on the labor of enslaved people and indentured servants. It's really convenient if you're trying to justify that kind of exploitation to say, there are certain groups of people who they need to be forced to work because they wouldn't otherwise. And that was a belief system that a lot of slave owners in the US actively promoted saying that they were doing their Christian duty of like putting a structure and forcing people to work that had been stolen from their homes. So that's where we begin to see laziness being leveraged in the US. Being applied to black people, being applied to poor working whites to a lesser extent. And then after abolition, it morphed a little bit. Where slavery was ended, there was this conversation about what are we going to do in the form of reparations to make good on what we've done. And if you look at anti-reparations political cartoons from the late 1800s, they depict black Americans as lazy, seeking a handout, faking that they need help when they don't really, taking advantage of the system. And we've never really lost that image from those old, old political cartoons. Those same political cartoons then were also applied to, again, some working class white people, Appalachians. Again, I say, as a child of hillbillies, self-described. It was applied to people on disability benefits. It was applied to... If we fast forward into the 80's, the welfare queen stereotype, single moms, again, predominantly applied to black mothers. Those are historically the groups of people that get branded the laziest are the ones who are exploited the most, and that we do the least as a society to take care of. And basically the more maligned and kind of pushed to the margins a group is the more likely we are to see lots and lots of media images saying that they're lazy. So working class people, fat people, disabled people, people of color. And I think it'll just continue to keep morphing to justify whoever as a society we're overlooking. People who are homeless, the list goes on and on.
- Yeah and thank you for tying that so clearly together, it always feels like a scene in "The Matrix" when you sort of grab a little thread and you pull on it, how these things that we take for granted, this word lazy, and that we use as a weapon against ourselves, that deeply rooted history, it always goes back almost to marginalization and control. I could stick on this topic for a very long time, because it's so interesting. I'd love to move on to your most recent book, "Unmasking Autism" and talk about, one of the things that I think is really fascinating is you draw a parallel between being trans and being autistic. Can you talk about those two experiences and what connects them?
- Sure, yeah. So it's kind of funny now to talk about the progress that trans people have made because we're facing so many legal attacks right now all across the United States. But just to give a little bit of context until pretty recently being trans was considered and treated as a mental illness, right. It was in the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental illnesses. And until very recently in our history, in the US, if you wanted to get on hormones or change your gender marker legally, or get surgery, anything like that, you needed a diagnosis with this mental illness. And thankfully we've made at least enough progress where most people are not, most people don't endorse that idea anymore and that's not the way that being trans works now. Especially in the US, we have what's called informed consent clinics where the idea is a trans person is the expert on their own experience, they might need help from a clinician to figure out what the best hormone treatment works best for them. They still need blood tests, you're making an informed decision about your health, with the support of a medical professional. But you are the person who knows who you are and there doesn't need to be something wrong with you for you to pursue some kind of transition. And I'm really advocating in this book for us to take a similar approach in a lot of ways to autism. Autistic people have always existed, neurodiversity has always existed, and as our kind of understanding of autistic people's experiences gets wider and more diverse, we just keep seeing the number of people who really fall under that umbrella, under the neurodiverse umbrella continues to grow because we used to really only target a really narrow realm of the autistic experience. And now we're realizing that there's a lot of people who don't meet the kind of white boys who are obsessed with trains kind of stereotype, that most of us were raised with what autism is. And so it's a lot more common than most of us were raised to think it was, and it looks a variety of different ways. And so that's where we get this idea of what's called neurodiversity. This idea that there are a variety of different ways that people think and feel, and socialize and experience the world and that instead of treating it as a disorder to be diagnosed and treated, the same way we used to treat transness as this disorder that you had to have that makes you think you're a different gender or whatever, that autism is just also, just a naturally occurring source of human diversity to accept and embrace. And for us to take more steps as a society, to include autistic people and to give us the accommodations that we need the same way that again, trans people we're facing a lot of legal attacks so I can't say we've arrived there, but we have over the years and decades gotten into a place where a lot more people at least understand, this is just a way that some people are, this isn't some puzzle to figure out, this isn't some disorder to cure. We can give the autonomy back to these people to live as they want to live. And basically I'm saying we should make the same approach with autism, ADHD, a lot of neurodivergences, a lot of sources of neurodiversity in humanity. It's just different, it's not broken.
- So the title of your book, "Unmasking Autism", I think it's a sort of double play because part of it is for me as a reader, you're unmasking and making a little more clear what this is all about but unmasking is a particular term. Can you explain for folks that don't know what unmasking is, what that means?
- Yeah. So masking autism or masking any kind of disability is taking steps to camouflage your disability in some way, and taking steps to compensate for your disability, both with the goal of avoiding detection as weird and other. So masking autism can be things like forcing myself to make eye contact, even if it's painful, because I know that in America, at least if you don't make eye contact, people think you're lying or you're cowardly, or there's something shady going on with you. That's not true in every culture, but in the US it certainly is. And compensating for autism or trying to hide one's disability through camouflaging or through compensation can be things like only taking work from home jobs ever, because I know I don't have the energy to do a full office jobs amount of socializing, and the fluorescent lights are really overpowering and things like that. So those are just two examples. But people with disabilities like autism, we do all kinds of things to mask who we are in order to get by. And so unmasking autism is all about taking steps to get back in touch with your authentic self as a disabled person. So communicating your needs more openly in situations where it's safe to, because a lot of times and for a lot of us, it still isn't safe to. Letting ourselves have the mannerisms that come more naturally to us, whether that's like hand flapping or fidgeting, or you can't really see here, but I'm sitting in a very like contorted little gargoyle posture that as a kid I was just always told, that's not professional, that's not workplace appropriate, you can't sit like that. So unmasking is letting myself sit like that and talking the way that comes naturally to me, rather than faking neurotypical tone of voice. It's so many different things. Every autistic person's different, but almost all of us have been taught repeatedly that we need to conform, that we need to look more professional, more mature, whatever that means and fit into this really narrow box. And unmasking is just finding ways to get outside of that box and live ways that are actually more comfortable for us. And it's not just for autistic people, is the last thing I'll say on that. I think we all are forced or think we have to mask who we are, especially in professional settings. And so unmasking is really for everyone. I think we all stand to gain from having more relaxed social standards, where people can be more open about what they need and what makes them feel comfortable in who they are.
- So you provide essentially encouragement to unmasking, but you also do give a significant disclaimer for autistics of color. And can you talk a little bit about what some of the additional challenges are there?
- Yeah. I think unmasking is a really valuable thing. We know that when people mask who they are a lot, is associated with social anxiety and depression, even suicide ideation, because when you're not living as your authentic self, that's a really deep existential pain. But at the same time, it's easier for someone like me to unmask, because I'm five foot, six, I'm white, I'm small, I don't get interpreted as dangerous or threatening by most people in the world. So I can walk down the street, singing along to my music at full volume, flapping my hands. I can wear almost whatever I want, nobody's going to see me as threatening. I'm never going to need to worry about the cops being called on me. But that's not true for a lot of black autistics. There's someone I profile in the book,, Timotheus Gordon, he's the Founder of a group here in Chicago called, Autistics Against Curing Autism Chicago. And he kind of talks to me about how, if I'm in one neighborhood openly, stemming flopping my hands, fidgeting, I might get robbed. And if I'm in a different kind of neighborhood doing that, I might get the cops called up. I'm not free to unmask in that way. In the book, I also profile a black, autistic woman who kind of mentions how people at work expect her to be this like sassy stereotype of black womanhood that's really predominant in our culture. And she is very introverted and kind of flat, matter of fact, and people interpret that as hostility, when she's her authentic self. Like when she's relaxed, she looks neutral, but neutral, a white person looking at a black woman, they don't see a neutral facial expression they see hostility a lot of the time because that's what we've been conditioned to think and to see people that way. And so, unfortunately for a lot of black and brown autistic people being your authentic self is always going to be, at least now, this tight rope block of what am I safe to do? Can I let my guard down? And unfortunately, a lot of workplaces say that that's what they want, but they haven't done that deeper cultural work to unlearn that stuff. And so it isn't always actually safe to be yourself.
- So going back to something that you mentioned, actually just a couple minutes ago about being able to sit in a position that you're comfortable in, because we're doing this over video here and you're at home and for someone, for whom that's something that could be helpful that might be harder to do in an office, or might take a little extra work. And so, as a result of the pandemic, there's been obviously so much change to how we work, including this introduction of remote work, which we've certainly seen it in Indeed, had a radically different set of responses from individuals. There are certain people who have been waiting their whole life to be able to be in a quiet environment where they could control their desk and what's around them and listen to what they wanted or not have to listen to what they wanted. And then other people who were stuck in a 700 square foot apartment in Tokyo with three kids and had to be on the phone and on Zoom all day and that was really difficult. So this idea of neurodiversity and how that plays out in the workplaces, I think it seems a lot more clear to people maybe than it did just a few years ago, when you think about and I'm really sick of this phrase, future of work, 'cause it's just work. But how do you think about what we've been through over the last couple years will help us navigate creating the best environment for the most people possible?
- I think the potential for positive change is in what workers are experiencing and what they're refusing to tolerate anymore. I think for a variety of reasons, including the pandemic and just the number of people who died, the labor market is very different now. And a lot of people learned a lot of lessons from the pandemic about what matters most to them. Whether it's, I got to spend the last two years having breakfast with my family instead of being stuck in a car and my commute to the office and I don't want to ever give up that quality time again and I'm not going to take a position where I can't do that. Or for other people, as you mentioned, 'cause there is neurodiversity here. A lot of people can't focus on work at the place where they sleep and have to do the dishes and kids are running around and the dog's barking and having that mental shift and that social shift of having access to another place where they can work is something that people actively want to use the option of. I think we're in a time now where a lot more people are advocating for what they need. I entered the labor force. Well I became job searching age right during the great recession, right. So I and a lot of other millennials, we had it really drilled into us, you're lucky to have a job, any kind of job, you shouldn't complain, you should be a good worker bee and comply with everything and just not cause a stink. And it's very jarring still to be in a job market that is so radically different from that where you can really say, if there isn't a work from home option, I'm not taking it. Like it's hard for that to sink in for people that they can say that if that's what they need. Or conversely, I want to have access to if not an office that I can come into, a co-working space and will my employer subsidize that or subsidize internet costs. If my home internet is going towards work like let's put that on the negotiating table. That's all where I feel really, if not optimistic, I see the fruits of people kind of having these realizations about those things. Or even things like, oh, I'm not dressing up anymore, I'm not wearing makeup anymore, I'm not cramming myself into something that's uncomfortable, that makes it harder for me to focus on work. So that's another big realization a lot of people had too. Where it gets trickier is on the employer side of things, because it seems like a lot of companies and a lot of people in leadership and a lot of companies, they have certain beliefs about how people work and those beliefs don't always line up with the data. So productivity went up during the pandemic in a lot of sectors by like 30 to 40% because people didn't have a commute, they could set their own hours, there was a lot less time waste that you get in an office that you don't get when you're working from home. So productivity went up. And a lot of companies that have forced everyone to go back into the office, regardless of whether or not they want to, productivity's gone back down again because you have a commute, you have meetings that are sometimes not the best use of everyone's time and just the human time waste that comes into being in the office. And even though the data shows that you don't necessarily see everyone in management saying, oh, wait a second, we should go back to the old way because people's productivity went up when they were working from home, we have a big lack of evidence-based management in this country. People have beliefs about, I need to impose a structure in my employees, I need to be looking over their shoulder, I need to be checking in super often and making sure things are done the way I would want them done. There's a fear I think of giving up control and giving over that trust to people even when, again, the data shows us pretty consistently that people are really good at finding out what works best for them and they'll get done what's important and what's really incentivized and what feels rewarding if you make it rewarding. And you don't need to. You can use the carrot and not the stick so much. But, yeah, I think that's a lesson we'll just keep learning over and over again in the US because we just really think we need that 60 hour work, we need that heavily structured workday. Some sectors are doing better than others and realizing that's not necessarily the case.
- So I'd love to take a second and just look at now these two works of yours and sort of the through line. What is the connection between autism, neurodivergence, neurodiversity and what is perceived as laziness?
- Yeah, I think the best way to answer that is to start with my own personal story of why I wrote "Laziness Does Not Exist" first. So I didn't know that I was autistic until my late 20's, I found out after I had finished my PhD. And up until that point in my life, I just knew there was something about me that was a little bit off that just the way people responded to me and just the way that I functioned in the world. I used to think I was just like an antisocial person, because I would be angry in crowds and overwhelmed in meetings and really overstimulated and I thought that meant, I was just like just a misanthropic person when really I was just kind of overloaded. So I grew up my whole life knowing there's something that keeps me at a distance from other people and people can't seem to connect with me and I can't seem to connect with them, most people. And so I really sunk my teeth into this cultural myth that all of us regardless of disability, get taught this idea that like, you need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you need to take care of yourself. That felt especially true for me, 'cause it felt like people are not going to be there for me. People don't get me, I don't get people, I really need to be ruggedly independent. So I was really, really achievement-oriented when I was young. I was taking college classes in high school. I finished college early, went straight ahead to grad school, finished my dissertation when I was 25 and then went into a postdoc research job and that's when I got really, really sick that fever that I was talking about, every single night 103 degree fevers. And it was all motivated by this idea that no one's ever going to be there for me. I need to achieve and earn my way into comfort and safety because nobody else is going to provide that to me. And my life is really an illustration of how unsustainable that is. I was able to be a pretty high achieving person and it still left me sick, miserable, lonely, and struggling to just keep myself working. There was no end to it. Like you can set this goal for yourself, I want to be a professor, I want to have a PhD and you work really hard and you get it and then you're still struggling with those same issues of alienation and fear and precarity. So it was then when I was really sick that I realized, okay, this is not sustainable for me, I need to find a different way of living. I gave up on the idea of being a tenure track professor because that is... Anybody who knows academia, trying to get a job like that is a job unto itself. Like you're applying to sometimes hundreds of jobs in a year. I gave up on that. I completely reoriented my goals in life and it was only then that my health started getting better. And that was also around the same time that I found out that I was autistic. So for me, that's the big through line that I had a disability and I didn't know that I had it and so to compensate for it, I tried to be the most high achieving person I could possibly be and that still left me struggling. And I see versions of that story in so many people's lives. Whether it is a black woman, who's been told her whole life that she needs to achieve twice as much as her white counterparts or maybe even more than that to deal with the fact that she's living under misogyny and racism. Whether it's someone who's just from a working class background and they just know that our country social welfare supports are just not there and a single illness could leave you bankrupt. It can happen to anyone that kind of mindset because we just live in a really precarious world. And so, so many people are just driving themselves constantly to do more and achieve more, thinking that will earn them safety and acceptance and it just never ends. We have to actually take care of marginalized people and take care of each other because we all need that. None of us can actually be ruggedly independent. Even if we're very lucky, the first 20 years of our lives, we're going to be pretty reliant on other people and probably the last 20 years or more of our lives, we're going to be really reliant on people. So we have to kind of get comfortable with that. 'Cause most of us, we actually are reliant on people, our whole lives just in more subtle ways than that. So yeah. So that's my journey on that topic and how I've seen it play out in a lot of different people's lives of a lot of different backgrounds.
- So in terms of practically what to do with this information, can you talk about the connection of values to how someone might approach sort of fighting this laziness lie in their lives?
- Yeah, so it's funny, it kind of comes up in both the discussion of autism and unmasking your disability and the discussion of, how do you get beyond this productivity, obsessed, cultural conditioning. They both kind of, on the personal level, when you're trying to unpack it in your own personal life, they both kind of come back to get in touch with what you really value, what really matters to you in your life. If you can't do it all, what do you actually want to do with your life that is meaningful, that you find kind of innately motivating to do because it's rewarding or enjoyable. And if those questions are way too vague 'cause I think sometimes they really are. There's one exercise in "Unmasking Autism" that just ask the reader to think about five moments in your life where you felt really alive, where when you think back on those moments you go, if all of life was like this life would be amazing. Just like five key moments throughout different times and ages and contexts in your life if you can. That exercise is something called the values-based integration. And it's by this therapist, Heather Morgan, who works with autistic patients who are trying to unmask. But it's true for anyone who's become out of step with their values and their goals because they are just trying to always be a high-achieving, productive worker bee. Think about what was actually meaningful in your life, what were pursuits and moments and what unites those experiences. And it might be something like a beautiful moment in nature where you hiked to the top of a mountain and you took in the beauty of nature and you felt accomplished, but also small. It might be your wedding because you were surrounded by people that you love and getting to really share in that love together. Whatever it is, each of us our key moments are different, but those moments reveal to us what we find innately motivating, what we really value and what we stand for.
- So as we unfortunately come to a close here, 'cause I could keep talking about this all day long. I like to close out by asking the question, we've been through an extraordinary time in the last two and a half years with the pandemic with a huge amount of challenges and suffering, but also a whole host of new ways of looking at the world that have merged from that, and my question is through all of that, is there anything in the last two and a half years that has left you with some optimism for the future?
- Yeah, I'm not an optimistic person, I'm a very like gloomy person. And I think sometimes there's value in just like letting go of that toxic positivity and just sitting for a moment and grieving, like I'm worried about the future of the planet, like I'm... We've all lost a lot in the last few years. There's a lot that sucks and it's good to be real about that. And in some ways that is one of the things that brings me solace too, is I think we are, a lot of people, not everybody, but a lot of people are opening up more now about this stuff, about how much they're struggling, about how untenable our old way of living was and how we really need to radically change. And I think the thing that is the most galvanizing and optimistic for me is some of the stuff I was talking earlier about how the game has really changed and I really do see people talking more about, I'm not going to give my whole life over to my job. I need to move at a slower pace, I need to downsize and have a lifestyle that's more sustainable for me and people being willing to really have those conversations openly and to begin to organize with their coworkers and unionize and push for that. Like the Amazon unionization push has really been inspiring to me, the one at Starbucks as well. And also just the people that I know, my friends who are like, my workplace is trying to make us all go back into the office, so I'm going to quit, like I'm not doing this. Like I know what's better for my mental health or whatever the case might be. People who are making those really clearheaded decisions of, I don't need to feel bad about how I work and what is good for me, I can just say it and see what follows from that. People did not used to be that open about that stuff. And as an autistic person who takes things super literally, and usually like, I mean what I say and I say what I mean, it used to be really impolite to do that. And we've gotten to a point culturally where suddenly it's not as impolite to say this isn't working, I'm exhausted, I'm grieving, I'm depressed. Like something needs to change. And it can be an unpleasant conversation sometimes, but I'm really glad that people seem to be embracing that kind of authenticity a lot more now and I think that's huge.
- Well, Devon Price, thank you so much for joining me today and thank you so much for sharing really just a, I think a new perspective for many of us on how to look at things that we've accepted as canon. And just like so many other things really deserve a little deconstructing. So thank you for that deconstruction today.
- Yeah, thank you so much for having me.
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