A Review of "Laziness Does Not Exist" by Dr. Devon Price
I love helping people step back from their workloads and embrace not just what is meaningful to them, but also what is boring and restful. I also know that it’s hard. I say this as someone who does not self-identify as a workaholic in most capacities, who dreams of a world where we can exist without capitalist labor expectations. I also know we *currently* live in a world where permission and means to rest is not accessible for many.
Sitting down to reflect on this book, I am kept company on my bed with sips of caffeine and an overcrowded to-do list. I’m a new mom to a child under one, working from home through the pandemic without childcare. It is my “day off,” and I already know I won't get to everything I hoped to today. Even after finishing two burnout-prevention reads this year, my tendencies are still my tendencies. While I don’t internally berate myself for not crossing off every item on my list, I’ll miss the dopamine rush I get when it happens. Doing the bare minimum is much more sustainable, but it won’t get you high.
It's common to hear clients in therapy comment on how "lazy" they are, then to connect this with a sense of failure and a sense of self as "bad." On page 212 (location 3324 in the Kindle edition) of their book, Devon speaks to the conflation of work with moral purity:
Here are some indications that you may still be associating productivity with goodness:
When you get less done during the day than you anticipated, you feel guilty.
You have trouble enjoying your free time.
You believe that you have to ‘earn’ the right to a vacation or a break.
You take care of your health only in order to maintain productive.
Having nothing to do makes you feel ‘useless.’
You find the idea of growing old or becoming disabled to be incredibly depressing.
When you say no to someone, you feel compelled to say yes to something else to
‘make up’ for it.
While I don’t identify with all of these, they are pervasive--inevitable fumes in the ideological air that we breathe!
In his 2002 article Addressing Personal Failure, the late narrative therapist Michael White wrote that “the phenomenon of personal failure has grown exponentially over recent decades. Never before has the sense of being a failure to be an adequate person been so freely available to people, and never before has it been so willingly and routinely dispensed."
That was nearly 20 years ago, and it’s no less true now. The helping professions don’t always “help” to debunk this, and may even define functioning strictly by one’s ability to work or return to work, which can perpetuate the cycle.
As Price reminds us on page 91 (location 1475), “Burnout is not just a labor issue, it’s a public health issue.”
If you’re looking for ideas about building habits to challenge these tendencies and to learn more about the historical contexts from which our definitions of laziness and work were defined (Puritanical culture, slavery, the Industrial Revolution, to name a few), this book is great. To check in with yourself about whether a resource like this one is a good fit, another place to start is just noticing when these voices crop up, meeting them with curiosity--not fusing with what they have to say, giving yourself permission to release them when they’re not serving to motivate or energize you. If you’re having trouble with this, consider biblio or therapeutic camaraderie, even the support of a like-minded friend!
Note: I read Devon’s book on my 11-year-old Kindle and have included e-reader locations as well as the page numbers cited. I am interviewed in this book for topics both peripherally and directly related to the thesis, but I am not receiving kickbacks for this review.
(Of course, I was geeked to be featured , but even if I had not been, I would still be plugging this! I read their essay on Medium prior to its expanded book-length publication and it so deeply resonates--even if you mostly live outside the world of academia as I do, it should pack a lot of punch.)