I coined the term “human-scaled life” when I was making a weekly Oasis audio a few years ago, as an antidote to our endless drive to be productive or an anti-productivity hack.
I coined it in response to the insane pressure many of us experience around being productive, to always be improving, to be certain that every single thing we do, make, or experience has value, enlightens us, and saves the world all at the same time.
I wanted to push back against the internet-fueled instant everything craziness I see draining the pleasure and the meaning from our days.
And even self-care that can cross into just another way to beat yourself up for not doing it right. (So silly but I see it happen to women.)
But what is a human-scaled life?
It’s a life that embraces anti-productivity and acknowledges you have a human-body that needs rest, down-time, to touch other humans, to meander, to wonder, to eat your lunch slowly while staring at the trees.
It’s a life that acknowledges that too much time doing, rushing, and being on screens makes you sad. Even sick.
It’s an anti-productive life that acknowledges and uses the limits of your time, energy, and attention, and the call of your desires to help you find the unique shape of your life. You need both.
It’s a life that says, “Of course I have limits and while I am not a victim of these limits, I will be curious about them and see what direction they point me toward.”
A human-scaled life actively questions the dominant culture of constant doing, achieving, and improving — one that tries on anti-productivity for size.
Take what inspires you, fits you, and leave the rest.
A retreat participant asked me at my last retreat about promoting her soon-to-be-published book. We quickly determined that selling a lot of copies or building a big business around the book didn’t matter to her, but working with people in small groups did. But she wondered if she was “missing” something if she didn’t build a big business out of her wonderful book.
She ended up laughing at herself and asking the great question of, “Why do I let this stuff get to me?”
Because we can’t help but care what other people are doing and where we fit in. Because we are always checking out where we fit in the hierarchy. Totally normal.
AND we can keep gently and persistently placing our attention on the life we want to live.
Here is a quick exercise that might help you embrace anti-productivity:
Make three columns on a piece of paper.
Label the first column OUTSIDE WORLD, the middle column NEED, and the last column WANT. You may want to use a pencil for the rest of the exercise because you might want to move items.
Fill the first column with what the world/your family/Black Friday ads and anybody else says you should want, do, or accomplish. Name what crowds you.
Fill the second column with what you truly need to be okay financially, emotionally, and spiritually. The amount of money you need to earn to pay the bills, the kind of human contact you need to feel connected, the spiritual practices that keep you grounded and grateful.
Fill the third column with your desires. What do you really want? Yes, dream as big as you’d like, but erase anything that creeps in that is a “should” desire that actually belongs in the first column. Only write what truly calls to you, even if it’s faint or tentative.
Then read your lists out loud and notice:
- Do any of the items in the first column feel meaningless, heavy, or about someone else? Cross those out.
- Do any of the items in the second column overlap with things in the first or third? What do you make of that?
- Does anything in the third column belong in the first? If so, move it.
- Would anything in the second column benefit from being in the third? Again, adjust as needed.
Living a human-scaled life is about asking, “What is true to me? What do I truly want?” and paying attention to your needs for survival and safety.
It’s about bringing choice to the dominant cultural story of desire, testing it, changing it, rejecting it as you wish, and celebrating anti-productivity in its place.
I believe embracing our humanity is one of the most radical and important acts we can do in these fraught times. I believe it helps us reconnect with the earth, with other species, and with other humans.
I believe it helps us grow our compassion for everyone and everything.
I hope you find it useful and if there is anything you would add to this definition, I’d love to hear.