The Performance Trap

This article was originally published in the August issue of Sunday Magazine.


If smart phones have taught us anything, it’s that “more” is always possible. It’s getting harder and harder to completely disengage from work and unplug from people requesting increased production.

For people like me in the emerging generation, many of us told ourselves we would never be like the workaholics we’ve seen come before us. Remember Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in “Jingle All the Way”? He missed his son Jamie’s karate lesson to work late at the office.

What an awful parent. I vowed I would never become that Schwarzenegger.

Now with a few years of real world experience under my belt, those decisions are much harder than I realized. I love my wife and treasure time with her, but sometimes it’s not possible to not finish that work project. Sometimes we have to keep an eye on email late at night and on the weekends.

Our culture always pushes for more—and not just in the workplace. Remember when Michael Jordan retired from basketball—again—in the late 90s? I don’t know for sure (MJ rarely returns my calls), but I assume that after he retired, many people told him he still had more left in his tank. He was the undisputed best player to ever play the game. He had all the accolades athletes strive for (and by that, of course, I mean he starred in a full-length feature film alongside Bugs Bunny).

He could have called it quits at the peak of sports and cultural achievement, but instead he listened to the voices asking for more, and he played for the Washington Wizards.

It didn’t go so well. Just ask Brett Favre.

More is not always better.

I’m not great at math and science, but it makes sense to me that the process of creating something new requires a transfer of energy. You can’t make something from nothing. Even if you’re simply coming up with an idea, that thing came from somewhere. Some of you is released with every new idea and project you create. At some point, we have to refill and refuel if we hope to maintain our sanity and our creativity.

So why is it that we keep pushing forward and starve ourselves of rest? Why is it so hard to turn the phone off and simply exist without distractions? Why is “more” such an addicting idea?

Deep down, more makes us feel valuable. Everyone can do a normal amount of work; we want to be more. It probably isn’t even a conscious decision, but we fear that living a “normal” life isn’t good enough. If we don’t do more, we could be replaced. Someone else out there could be better. It hurts to admit it, but part of our identity and pride stem from our ability to do multiple things well. If we can’t handle more, it means we are less.

In the new “Amazing Spider-Man 2” movie, there is one beautiful exchange between Peter Parker and his Aunt May. After a brief argument, Aunt May begins to unload on Peter about all of the sacrifices she has made for him. She adopted him as a child and put her life on hold to give this boy a chance. She tearfully admits that she’s taking on a second job to help him pay for college, and you can tell she’s about to completely lose it when Peter interrupts.

“That’s enough. You’re more than enough.”

I can’t help but see the spiritual parallels. I see myself in Aunt May, on the verge of tears, telling God that I keep working overtime, I take on additional freelance jobs, I joined a worship team, I strive to be a good husband, and on and on my list continues.

Jesus looks at me and tells me I’m enough. Take it easy. Breathe. Turn off the phone.

There’s no need to strive for more. He won’t think any less of us. In fact, He calls us to less.

I wonder if Jesus ever struggled with this “more” addiction. He frequently went away to rest by Himself, but He could have used that time to heal more people. He could have traveled further distances to tell His story to new regions. He didn’t run out of miracles. There was more water to walk on and other parties that could use more beverages. Do you think he ever struggled with guilt over not doing more?

I don’t know. Either way, Jesus recognized that His humanity demanded rest. Being God Himself, He probably could have tapped into an energy source we don’t have (or invented Red Bull a few centuries early), but maybe He also rested to give us an example.

I’m guessing you agree that rest is important, and you are probably yearning for more margin in your life. So how do you actually do it? How do you say no when so many people seem to need a yes? I think there are two things we need to consider.

First, remember that a lack of rest and rejuvenation results in lower quality work. If your body is tired and your mind is constantly running on empty, you’ll be more likely to recycle old ideas or settle for less than your best. When you’re always juggling, your employer, your family, and even your God get the second rate version of you. Be brave enough to say no in order to give your best yes to the things that matter.

Second, take some time to really think about what is causing a lack of balance in your life. Do you really have too much on your plate, or are you putting unrealistic and unnecessary pressure on yourself? Or both? You might decide you have to make some really tough decisions and find something to quit. Maybe there are things you can (and should) delegate that you don’t want to let go of. Or maybe you come to the even harder realization that your stress and busyness are really self-imposed, and you need to teach yourself to relax.

Remember that our faith shouldn’t be performance-based. God extends grace and love to all who seek Him. He isn’t impressed by a full calendar. If you don’t get that promotion or never get published, His view of you doesn’t change. I think God often looks down on us busybody Aunt Mays of the world and reminds us that we’re already more than enough.

We need to do our jobs well. As Christians, we can’t be known as slackers unwilling to finish the job. But, we also can’t run ourselves into the ground. More is not always better. Listen to the voice of the One who knit you together:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Those words are refreshing, aren’t they? Put down the phone. There’s no need to keep striving for more and more. Take some time to just be. Make a conscious effort to learn from Jesus and find rest for your soul.

Published by mattehresman

Crafting and spreading messages that matter.

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