Word of the year: Languishing

At the start of the year, there was hope. Despite cynics claiming that it was foolish to believe that we’d seen the worst of the pandemic, 2021 brought with it a glimpse into fool’s paradise. It was in these five seconds of paradise that I coined my word of the year for 2021. Then six months passed by.

I spent the last 180 days swaying between guilt, remorse and letting go. I dragged my leg with each task, failing to find joy in almost anything I did. Yes, they’d be brief moments of excitement, but so brief that they’d disappear as quickly as they arrived. Ambition turned into an unfamiliar word and amidst it all, I slumped into unfamiliar territory. I was stuck in a place I had never been before. For the first time in my life, I’d begun to dread getting up in the morning, turning to my laptop and logging into work. There had to be something wrong. Yet I couldn’t put my finger on it, far less find a way out of it.

Conversations with friends showed I wasn’t the only one. We were all in the same boat, sailing to nowhere. We didn’t know how we got on the boat, what it was called, or where it was headed. All we knew is that we were in it.

Then, I stumbled across this brilliant NYT article by Adam Grant. It came in on a regular dreaded day, in a dreary staff meeting poised as yet another pandemic article. The manager claimed that it accurately reflected how he & his team had been feeling. He shared it hoping his HRBP & colleagues could help pull everyone out of the trenches. I began reading lackadaisically, and as I crawled through the sentences, a wave of recognition swept over. One look at the faces on the screen and I noticed expressions around the room change as everyone faced a moment of epiphany.

This was it. This was the word we’d all been looking for. It’s what we’ve been feeling through the year and what we’ve noticed in everyone else. Adam Grant says it best and hence I am going to quote it as he writes it –

It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.

Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.

If there’s one other article you read today, let it be his. It is as he says. Finding a name to how we’d been feeling was step one, but an important step at that. We weren’t depressed, but we weren’t thriving and in between it all, we felt immense guilt. Why weren’t we achieving our goals? We’d already lost a year. Why were we ok with letting another slip by? Is this what the future looked like?

There are many ways forward from here, but for today, let’s live with the joy of having found the word and knowing that it’s the unintentional ‘word of the year’ for many. It’s ok. There are ways to crawl out of it, but we’ll talk about that later.


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