action is overrated


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I was working away on a *brilliant*  post for this week when I read something that got my britches in a twist.

A tweet. Said something like,

“What would your week be like if you spent all your time in action?”

“Being in action.” It’s kinda buzz-wordy. I say it. Tara says it. It does means something, and it can be darn hard to do. We need guidance and strategies to make it happen. But we don’t need to be in action all. the. time.

Maybe I’m picking nits. But I think words matter. It’s how we describe our world, and when the words change, the thoughts they represent change. So I’m gonna change the words here a bit. But first, let’s look at “action.”

When you are in action, you are productive and moving towards a goal.  But you can easily to be “doing stuff” and simultaneously skirting the real work & the real action. Sometimes I write blog posts to avoid doing activities more directly related to my bottom line. But the blog posts need to be written anyway, so aren’t I technically being productive? Technically, sure. But I’m being productive to avoid (harder) income generating activity.

So “action” is retired for a few minutes. Instead, I want you to consider “engagement.”

Engagement speaks to the kind of energy and intention you bring to your work. When I do my blogging dance thing, I’m actually disengaged; I am doing a task to avoid other work. When I am fully engaged, I am invested, present, and available for the task or experience at hand. Yes, experience. You don’t have to be “doing” to be engaged. You are open. Sensitive. There’s no BS. It’s a simple state.

Think about things you do often. Are you engaged or disengaged when you…

  • watch tv
  • attend a religious service
  • sleep
  • do dishes
  • play with your kids
  • give a birthday present
  • call your parents

As an actor, I rarely watch tv in a disengaged state. I’m not “in action;” heck, I’m sacked out on my couch. But I am present and observant and learning. I’m engaged.

How can you more fully engage in your work and relationships? Where are you awake, and where are you avoiding?

8 thoughts on “action is overrated

  1. I’ve been thinking a lot about what is being active – or productive, and how sometimes taking time out of the doing to simply look around and percolate is doing. it’s the backstage doing before the ‘performance’ can come to life. But of course then we must take those little seedlings of receptive action and plant them in fertile soil, water and nurture them so they grow into our material creations. Yes!

  2. Laura, I think you’re on the money here. “Action” implies work for work’s sake: constantly moving and doing, whether there’s intention or not. Engaging is a much better word – although I have to say I don’t think I’d want to be constantly engaged either. My brain needs time to shut off!

  3. Well done Laura. I have been picking nits too over language or perhaps more accurately trends. Sometimes the stuff I am doing and the people I am listening to that are telling me to “Poke the Box” and “Do the Work” end up making me cranky. Then I know I need a break, but that does not have to mean as you said disengaged. I also agree with Nadine there are times when disengaged are in order to :)
    Last night I hit a wall on my current project and was stubbornly refusing to stop working. After snapping at my husband rather viciously He demanded (suggested) that I take a break. We ate, watched some TV and I went to bed at a reasonable hour. I woke refreshed and ready to take on the world again this AM.

    Thanks for making me think!

    1. Gwyn, in that case I’d argue that taking a break is actually engaging. It’s making decisions in your best interest based on what’s actually going on instead of supposed-tos.

  4. I like this distinction very much. I can be easy to find action – but when I’m engaged – I’m absorbed, like you describe and that’s when I’m producing whether I’m sitting still or physically in motion.

  5. engaged is a great word. a great way to look at things. I recognize that I have all sorts of anxiety wrapped up in being productive, in being in action. If I’m not productive and in action, I get stressed. But I don’t want to equate my self worth with a product. Life is a process. What I want out of life is to be engaged.

  6. Love the action/engagement distinction and definitely favour engagement as the way to go. Action creates stuff, drains time and what it produces can be postive or negative. Engagement is what gives meaning and meaning is what we crave both in the actions we take and in our relationships.

  7. Yeeeeees! That phrase has become a bit of an annoying cliche for me, and so I love your retooling of it. I can do dishes, clean house, and tweet all day long, but that action doesn’t do me any real good. I want to be engaged with and by my work, dammit!

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