Last week I shared a New York Times article on an IG story that left an impression. It described the meaning of the word languishing. I know referring to the Merriam-Webster dictionary for semantic clarification is a bit … (insert other word worthy of looking up in a dictionary) but I’m gonna go there.
Actually, let me just be lazy and insert a screenshot.
The New York Times article quite adequately uses the description “the absence of joy”. And you know what – it resonated with me. In the past weeks and months I’ve found myself in a strange, emotional no-mans-land. Not quite depressed. Not quite burnt out. But quite… indifferent.
My motivation seems to fluctuate wildly. My desire to progress my career is strangely muted. It seems as though nothing really matters. But then again, objectively everything is ok. I can do it a little longer. Days and weeks roll by. Highlights are simple things, like picking up food from a favorite restaurant. The prospect of more significant events seem to have faded somewhat, like a foggy fantasy not to be entertained too vividly.
Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but this is certainly direction I’ve been in at times.
Languishing isn’t torture. It isn’t critically urgent. It’s a lingering discomfort, a tranquilizer that numbs you, but apparently, I learnt reading the article, prolonged states of languishing can have real impacts to your emotional health.
It even mentioned PTSD. This immediately made me feel severely PTSD’d.
It’s the ambiguity that makes it particularly difficult to address. What level of action is appropriate to take over a discomfort that isn’t critically urgent? I suspect many of us are in a languishing state of passively deciding that it’s fine. That we can languish a bit more.
My own, frivolous levels of languishing have prompted me to reflect (languishingly) on the obsession of our contemporary (particularly corporate) culture with change. Everything is changing all the time, we tell each other and ourselves. We have collectively decided that not only is this an objective fact, it is also a success requirement.
Perhaps this belief, which we have fought so hard to accept and embrace in the past years, has only predisposed us even more to a particular vulnerability when it comes to the slow-motion incurred by the pandemic. Maybe the languishing that many of us experience now is only made possible through the contrast to what we for a while called “normal” but probably, in the end, wasn’t.
This brings me to the question that I ponder these days. What exactly are the dynamics between Change and Growth? Is one a prerequisite for the other? Or does one result in the next? I was sitting on the sofa last week, eating an emergency-McDonalds dinner well past 21.00 while rewatching the movie Bridesmaids (another classic mode of languishing), a comedy about female rivalry and the passing of life phases, when the dialogue between two of the characters hit me.
Helen: “It’s funny how people change, isn’t it?
Annie: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know. Do people really change?
Helen: I think they do.
Annie: Yeah, but I mean, they still stay who they are, pretty much.
Helen: I think we change all the time.
Annie: I think we stay the same, but grow I guess a little bit.
Helen: I think if you’re growing, then you’re changing.
Annie: But I mean, we’re changing from who we are, which we always stay as.
Helen: Not really, I don’t think so.
Annie: I think so.
Helen: I don’t.”
While I think the New York Times article has its merit, I also think that the truth lies somewhere in between the alarm of languishing and our stories of what used to be normal. Maybe we are just in a giant calibration. Maybe it will all work out for the better. Maybe… a little bit of Meh is ok.