I spent hours on Saturday putting together a 3,500 word blog post, an eBook, and a toolkit. Given the stress of the previous days, I knew that sitting down for six hours and doing creative work would allow me to do something I loved while also potentially helping others.

Fast forward a few days. Today, I was in a mental fog. I completed half of my to do list. I was sluggish. I barely completed the PowerPoint on time for the virtual class I taught at 1 pm. Although I was able to get in a run, hang out with my kids, and take our puppy on a walk, I simply couldn’t get into a creative rhythm.

And that’s okay.

I’m stressed and anxious. I’ve worked hard over the last two days but today I’m giving myself the permission to do less today. I’m also going to give myself the permission to work on a new passion project — either a novel or the dog comic strip I started a few months ago.

I mention this because I saw a heavily circulated tweet by an author stating why we shouldn’t work in our sweatpants. We should dress up for work if we’re working from home.

Jon Acuff writes, “I’ve worked from home for 7 years. Here’s some free advice if you never have. Start the day with a shower and then dress like you normally would for work. I love pajama pants too, but they’re a breeding ground for depression. Flannel feels like failure by day 3.”

I happen to love Acuff’s work. I love the blend of humor, research, and practical advice in the book Finish. I get where he’s coming from. I know he’s providing value to some people who need tangible cues to make working from home similar to working from an office.

But in my experience, sweatpants are a perk of working from home. Some of us thrive when working in comfy clothes. When I am more comfortable, I feel more at ease and I actually take more creative risks. I’m not distracted by the constriction of a collar. Odd, I know, but that’s me. I am incredibly productive when I am comfortable — which is why 90% of my wardrobe involves sweatpants and sweatshirts.

I wonder what it might have looked like if Acuff had modified his tweet slightly to say, “I’ve worked from home for 7 years. Here’s some free advice if you never have that worked for meHope it’s helpful to someone. Start the day with a shower and then dress like you normally would for work. I love pajama pants too, but in my experience they’re a breeding ground for depression. Flannel feels like failure by day 3.”

For me, flannel feels like comfort. Flannel feels like introverted work clothes. Flannel feels like getting stuff done. Flannel feels like kicking butt and taking names, but actually not taking names because you’re an introvert so it’s really just kicking butt and leaving the name-taking for someone else. But that’s just me. I love flannel. I call it Freedom Fabric and wear it proudly as I read, write, plan, grade, and create.

Acuff’s tweet is a reminder to me that we all need the permission to process and adapt in our own ways. Some folks thrive when working at a messy desk. I can’t. I need minimalism. I have three items on my desk: a phone charger, a candle, and a pencil sharpener. I might just put the pencil sharpener in a cabinet. The point is, I don’t think you need to go into Marie Kondo mode to be productive and happy. Some folks thrive in a messy space. It’s a part of their creative process. Other people need physical space for mental clarity. It’s deeply personal.

It has me thinking about the way we are all responding to the global pandemic. To my core, I believe we need to show one another grace and create spaces of permission for one another.

Providing Spaces of Permission in the Midst of a Pandemic

A few days ago someone sent me a Facebook message about the inappropriateness of sharing random memes in the midst of a pandemic. Note that none of the memes I have shared are about COVID-19. But I love to be goofy. It’s who I am. But more importantly, as someone with mild anxiety, humor is often what keeps it from skyrocketing. I have lost nearly every keynote and workshop for March and April (and I’m still on the hook for travel). I likely won’t have a graduation, and I’m frantically retooling an action research course. As a dad, I’m helping my kids process social distancing and the fact that they won’t get to play sports. There are so many ways to cope with this stress but humor is one of my healthiest options.

So, how about we give each other the permission to be and to process and to escape as we see fit?

Some folks need to share memes and laugh and goof off. Others need to share informational articles. Some need to share their fears from a place of vulnerability. Still, others just need a break from online interactions. All of these options are valid.

Some folks are meeting up virtually to share a pint via Google Hangout. I’m going dry this month. Knowing my family’s background with alcoholism, I’m not mixing alcohol with anxiety. But it’s deeply personal for me. I have no problem with folks continuing to drink in a way that is healthy and responsible.

Some people are creating structured schedules for their kids — and their kids need it. I believe that structure is vital for creativity. Others are letting kids get bored and play and that’s totally fine, too. Boredom is often what inspires creative work.

I have a friend who is an exercise nut but he’s taking a few days off of running and he’s sleeping in and giving himself the permission to take a midday nap. That’s what he needs. Meanwhile, I need to stick to my typical schedule. I’m getting up at 5:30. I’m also choosing to run and weight train even more because I’ve found those strategies to work when I’m feeling anxious.

A small caveat here. There’s a time and a place for social pressure. For example, it’s okay to implore folks to stay inside and use social distancing. I also think it’s okay to talk to trusted friends if you are worried that their coping strategies are unhealthy. However, the bottom line is this, I get that there are some very bad, destructive options in the midst of this crisis. But there are tons of healthy ways to cope and simplistic prescriptive answers won’t work for all people.

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John Spencer

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.More about me

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