Have you ever romanticized how overwhelmed you are? For many of us, the story we tell ourselves about “where my time goes” is about as real as a Disney movie. And actually, their plots are quite similar. Usually the story is a romance plot that plays out in our head about perfectionism, duty, fear of failure, or fear of judgment. These are some of the most core driving factors and functions in human nature. We get overwhelmanced at home. We get overwhelmanced at work. We get overwhelmanced just sitting alone with our thoughts. How can we break the dark spell of the Overwhelmancer casting traps of virtue and righteousness inside our heads?
First, we need to change the story. At some point, we realized that appearing as if we’re “busy” all the time came with a big payoff. We might feel more important, worthy, or validated by making people think our time is in demand. People will also generally thank us more for the extra work we do, so we feel satisfied for pushing ourselves the extra mile. Another payoff happens when our minds are occupied with complex problems. Burying ourselves in work is an effective distraction from any inner-work we might (definitely always) need to do. Isn’t it easier to fix other people’s problems than our own? Of course it is! And satisfying. Everything we do as humans is driven by a payoff. Even if we say we aren’t driven by payoffs, we get a payoff from the sense of virtue that we feel by saying we’re not driven by payoffs.
And here, we meet the true perpetrator of Overwhelmanticism: Virtue.
Do you know what I mean by “virtue” because it is an important definition within this context.
I’m gonna break out the “Mirriam-Webster” for this one:
noun vir·tue \ ˈvər-(ˌ)chü \
1 : a: conformity to a standard of right : morality
b : a particular moral excellence
2 : a beneficial quality or power of a thing
3 : manly strength or courage : valor
4 : a commendable quality or trait : merit
5 : a capacity to act : potency
6 : chastity especially in a woman
(Side note: “Virtue” was in the top 1% of lookups on the Mirriam-Webster website - considering the state of affairs in our world, I don’t find that to be very surprising. It is however, encouraging! People need to learn about and understand virtue to recognize the prison it creates.)
In this list of 6 definitions, first let’s remove the “manly strength” and the “womanly chastity” - while these are possibly relevant elsewhere (like a gender conversation, for sure), they don’t apply to our uses here.
Next, I would group definitions 2 and 4 together to mean essentially the same thing. Only difference being the “commendable” and “beneficial” words, which I would say I wrote about already in relation to “payoff” above.
“A capacity to act” is an interesting definition because it is relevant to overwhelmancy in that virtue can be a potential for action. If people know you are good at a thing, and they know you have done a thing, when you hear praise from them about it, or they need you, the feeling you feel is virtue. Potency, as listed with the definition, gives us power. But let’s leave the aspect of potential action aside for now. It will come up later.
And finally, the main definition is listed as “conformity to a standard of right.” Every word in that sentence matters. And, every word in that sentence also triggers my rebellious 16-year old punk. I can barely control my middle finger. But I will press on in service to my readers. How virtuous of me! The definition even has its own backup with a “b” definition: “a particular moral excellence” So being virtuous can be both the act of conforming to a standard of cultural morality, or the cultural moral itself. Thus, both definitions are listed together. Also, this is the core meaning of the term “virtuous” in terms of how we get trapped by way of overwhelmance.
Basically, to appear virtuous is to appear moral by the standards that exist within you and your culture. And, to be sure, virtue is deeply entangled specifically with appearance. The very root of the definition has to do with the perceptions of our actions, both by ourselves and others, in relation to our cultural values. Which cultural values are driving your sense of virtue?
Think about it. Really take time to get honest with yourself.