Routines, the elusive beasts I’ve been chasing for years and only now, am beginning to understand the true power of.
January was the first time in a long time that I was sick sick. Like take-off-work, hole-up-in-the-corner, eat-only-soup kind of sick — which should come as no surprise since almost everyone I know has been hit by sort bug or another since the new year began.
If a friend were to come up to me and say they were feeling ill and considering taking a sick day, I would nearly insist that they did.
“That’s what they’re there for!”
“Your health is a priority above your work ALWAYS!”
“No one wants you to bring your sickness into the office, so go home and take care of yourself!”
I’d say these off without even thinking, believing in them wholeheartedly because, well, they’re true. But despite knowing there is nothing more off-putting than someone showing up to work visibly ill and on the brink of contaminating the entire office, on a Tuesday night in January I found myself Googling at 3am, “how sick should you be to take a sick day?”
You know what’s funny but also not super funny at the same time? How bloody hard it is to relax, or more precisely, how hard it is to sit down and do nothing. I dream about it loads while my brain is whirling around like an Addams Family pinball machine and yet, when I finally find myself on the couch with an open afternoon spreading out ahead of me, I panic.
I panic because there is always more items to check off on the to do list, because it feels so good to be productive and moving towards a goal, and because — which I cringe to admit — taking time for myself often registers in my brain as being undeserved, selfish, or lazy.
I first developed this productivity idealization in college after feeling such pride at being known as the girl who could do everything at once. A lack of sleep, an unhealthy amount of anxiety due to stress, sacrificing time with loved ones — this felt like the price one needed to pay in order to make their dreams into a reality and every time I reached a new goal, I was onto the next without taking any time to sit down and appreciate what I was actually creating.
This was all going swimmingly (*heavy sarcasm*) until last summer when I hit a wall. Or as blogger Amber Burns put it in her recent newsletter, “I didn’t break up with hustle culture, it dumped me, HARD.”
This January the New York Times published a feature titled, “Why are Young People Pretending to Love Work?” which was a followup to BuzzFeed’s viral op-ed essay, “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation.” In both articles, the writers address the growing dangers of “hustle culture” for glamorizing unhealthy work-life balance among millennials, many who have taken on this collective mindset of “work hard, play hard, do everything, you’ll sleep when you’re dead.”
I have definitely fallen into this hustle culture trap, especially with freelance work, where your success is based off how much or little you’re putting in. But what I didn’t realize until I hit my wall was how much I was sacrificing along the way. Sleep, mental health, physical health, time with loved ones, the ability to be spontaneous, the ability to see what things were/weren’t actually working in my life, and just a general enjoyment of the little things in life — the things whose value aren’t related to furthering my goals but simply for making me happy.
This past year I’ve been working on overhauling my knee jerk reaction to overplan and overcommit in the name of the “hustle” (literally just rolled my eyes so hard at my own use of the word “hustle”). I hate to admit it, but it’s a hard habit to undo! At least once a week I catch myself stressing about all the things I’m trying to balance at any given moment. How do I keep up with friends outside and inside of NYC AND work on my long-term work projects AND enjoy my time of creativity AND carve out time for working out AND be there for my family 2000 miles away AND still have time for myself?
The answer I learned after a particularly rough week is that I can’t do everything at once and that’s okay. It’s okay to put some tasks to the side, it’s okay to unplug, and more than anything, it’s okay to sit on the couch and do nothing. Because what matters even more than the external accomplishments around me are all the things happening inside my overzealous, passionate, ever-changing mind and heart.
^^ Favorite Billy Joel song that I listen to on repeat when the stress sets in. ^^
This is all easier said than done and this past month I’ve been doing a bit of a life revamp, or a mental decluttering if you will. This means I’ve been slowing down and prioritizing self-care over everything else, which is hard! Choosing to go on a run, or sit and read, instead of driving myself crazy over a pitch letter has felt like I’m reseting my mental code. But this time around, this mental decluttering has truly allowed me to re-engage with productivity in a more focused and intentional way — which feels like a breathe of fresh air. Now I set timers for how long I’m going to work on something each day, I don’t try and do 18 things in my two free hours after work, and in general, I feel more on my own team. It’s a work in progress but it feels good to be doing it slowly but surely.
So if you’re in the same boat, consider this my permission slip to you to slow down you crazy child, and do something just for the joy of it today. All the chores will still be there after you take 30 minutes to turn off your phone and paint your nails but your mindset will have shifted into an entirely different space. You can still be ambitious and passionate and yes, productive, while also having a healthy, balanced life. This is not something you have to earn, but something you inherently deserve.
So best wishes my recovering over-productive friends, you are worth all of your dreams coming true as well as the time to sit and enjoy the hell out of life in the most unproductive, spontaneous, adventurous, relaxing ways.
To be honest, I think this might have been my own permission slip as well.
Hey, long time no see! Would you believe that I’ve been working on this post for weeks and every time I sat down to give it a whirl, found myself needing to suddenly clean out my closet or re-seal my bathtub? Sometimes it stuns me how much a break can affect my entire creative routine and despite me loving writing, how hard it can be to jump back on the horse.
Since June I have been struggling with my creativity and lacking what my therapist recently named as “my muse” — which made me feel like an 18th century painter. It just seems that every time I sit down to write I feel so overwhelmed to make something perfect that I often don’t finish anything at all. As any good overthinking introvert would do, this entire experience has left me questioning long into the night the concept of creativity: Is it a muscle that needs to be worked everyday or do I give it a rest and wait for it to come back? How do I stay focused in the midst of longterm creative goals? And how do I get creative with my creativity? (To name a few.)
Lucky for me, I’m not the only one contemplating these big creative life questions. While stumbling around in the dark trying to find my own answers, I found that The Layman has been doing the exact same, and it got me thinking: Where does creativity come from for me?
[Shameless plug: The Layman is a new 1021 Creative YouTube series hosted by one of my favorite humans Alex Sargeant. After years of making YouTube videos for other people, Alex is stepping out on his own to answer life’s big questions with the help of some very smart people. This episode above features one of my best friends from childhood Robbie McCarthy — a former Master Lego builder, classical composer, musician of all the instruments, and founder of Air-Schooled. The episode is all about creativity and it’s definitely worth hitting that subscribe button for.]