Feeling Needed

This is a guest post by Robert, who lives in Calgary and works as a financial advisor retired at 34. He is married, has three kids.  Robert and his wife then plan to return to school and become teachers, eventually living and working overseas.

Now that I don’t go into an office every day to work and generate income, I’ve occasionally wondered where the time goes. Some days, I accomplish a lot, but other days I read, write, play with the kids, swim, cook and by the end of the day, I don’t feel that I’ve been very productive.

When I was at work, being productive was important. My supervisor expected me to be productive. There was work that was my responsibility to complete, and it needed to be completed correctly, and within a reasonable amount of time. Other employees were also expected to be productive, and we held the same expectations for each other. For example, too much time spent on the phone talking with family at home was frown upon. And if projects were held up because a single employee hadn’t completed their portion of it (me, as often as anyone), there was grumbling from the others.

Now that I spend a lot of time at home, I’ve wondered about the idea of productivity. The basis of productivity is the fact that something is produced, either a product or a service of value. This idea is even generalized across the economy, with the government occasionally fretting about how productivity can be increased. More work per worker should, according to economic theory, translate into more GDP per capita, making everyone better off.

Some people might call me lazy, but upon reflection, I don’t really feel a need to be productive. There’s no question that being productive feels good. I like getting to the end of a day, looking back and savouring all I’ve accomplished. But what really makes me feel good is to feel needed. For example, last week a friend of our family had to go into the hospital, so we arranged to take supper to their family. It was stressful getting dinner together (with my wife) for two families, but when we dropped it off, the stress fell away with their gratitude.

I especially feel needed now that my two sons both have swimming lessons with their classes at school. Every other afternoon, they pile the kids on a bus and take them to a city pool for swimming. The girls all go into the women’s change room with the teachers, while me and one or two other fathers take the boys into the men’s change room. It eats up my entire afternoon, but the teachers continually express their gratitude that men are able and willing to come help with the boys. It sometimes gets noisy and chaotic, but think back to the first day when they crammed all the kids in the special needs/family change room and the help us fathers provide makes it go much smoother.

Now that I’m far less productive than previously, having my money work for me, instead of working for money, I can no longer base my self image on my productivity. Rather, it’s nice to feel needed when I care for my kids and help out in my community. Do you feel needed at work, or simply productive? Where else do you feel needed?

10 thoughts on “Feeling Needed”

  1. I am in a similar situation although I do still need to get some work done from home. I feel much more fulfilled though taking my daughter to the park, swimming with her and cooking dinner for the family than I ever felt working for a company. Is that unproductive? I don’t think so. It is just a different set of tasks and if you ever come to watch the difference between my wife in the kitchen and me you will see that cooking can be made more productive. Same goes for every other household task. Just because our society doesn’t value child rearing and housework as valuable and productive doesn’t mean that it is true.

  2. Money Infant, you’re absolutely right that our society doesn’t value child rearing and housework. That work can seem very menial, but so was some of the work that I did at the office. So in the end, I think it’s a matter of finding what works for you and me and each individual, then having the confidence to take fulfillment from that, and not from the value that others place on our work.

  3. I was very worried that I would hate being on maternity leave because I’m somewhat of a workaholic and am very proud of the work I do and how much I am able to accomplish etc. I was right- at first. It took a lot of adjusting and shifting of my priorities and now I feel very productive at home doing different things. My to-do list now that I’m home is just as long as it was at work but now the activities benefit me and my family rather than my employer.

  4. I think we all need to feel needed, but society (in general) twists that sentiment so we end up feeling that if we don’t produce something, we are worthless.

    As I have been changing my beliefs about life, money and values over the past several years, I have started caring a lot less about what society says I’m supposed to do, and personally, I feel that the further I can get away from the cookie cutter life I was told to lead, the happier and more fulfilled I become.

    At work, most of us are just interchangeable parts, and I used to fool myself into thinking “I” was needed. Later on, I realized the job I did was needed, by anyone who could do it.

    I now feel needed by the people close to me instead, seeing how I can brighten another persons day makes me feel more important than balancing a spreadsheet ever did.

  5. I know what you mean about the stress of a good deed being negligible in relation to the appreciation it delivers. I love all the work that goes into helping others because I know how much I am doing to make their lives easier.

    That being said I do feel the need to be productive. Doing my school work I always like to see the things on my to do list disappear. But I still have days (lots of them it seems) where not a thing comes off the list or it gets even longer.

  6. Poor Student, I like my to do list. When I find that things aren’t coming off, or a day goes by where I do a lot, but none of it was from the to do list, it makes me wonder if I’m putting the right things on my to do list.

  7. Ah, feel needed! That’s the right word! I was only thinking how stressful it would be if I was still working and needed to take care of family and friends. ‘Feel needed’ is the more positive way to look at it, thank you!

    I don’t have problem feeling productive at home at all; even looking out from my window daydreaming is productive to me!

  8. When I was still working, some days I felt more productive than others. As a go-to person in my division, I was often fielding questions and saving everyone’s ass at some point.

    When I switched to working part-time, I was still the go-to person even if I fielded more questions from home (when I did that) and on the 2-3 days per week I was at the office. But I was becoming more productive on the says I did not work, as my volunteer work and hobbies had begun to take hold.

    Now that I don’t work any more, some days are more productive than not. The volunteer work is a few days a week. The hobbies are a few days a week, sometimes on the same days but rarely conflicting. Some days I have neither of those activities, what I call “free” days. To anyone else, every day of mine is a “free” day. Whether I am actually productive or not does not matter. 🙂

  9. It is very ironic that I stumbled across this blog and this particular post, on this day. I retired 5 days after my 40th birthday, that was over a year and a half ago. Our first step was to build a house with our own hands so that we could be mortgage free. That is now complete; just before Xmas 2011. And now I am feeling the same lack of productivity eating at me. My life is starting to slow down, and there is no rush to get anything done. So, we do what I want, when we want. I feel pressure from my friends and neighbors who still work, and are productivity based. I know that this slow down is what should be happening, and I have looked forward to it, but the transition is still difficult, albeit welcome. And perhaps even more ironically, is that I feel no desire to be needed. In fact I find myself hoping that no one will ask me to help them out, because I no longer want to operate on that busy timetable, deadline, or productivity scale. I want to savor each moment of life, taste it, touch it, feel it, and do it all again if the mood takes me.

  10. One thing I have realized earlier in life compared to later is that your job does not define you and that it is only part of your life. This has been a hard thing to get used too but I am glad I have. There are so many other components in my life that have value and that are important to living a fulfilled life. I don’t want to spend all of my energy on my career and not be able to attend to other things. I think when I retire down the road my days will be filled with numerous activities that I will get feedback from. That way I will always feel I have relevance.

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