It’s my birthday today. (Woo.) And like many of us, the past few weeks I’ve spent in a bit of an emotional and intellectual spiral, in my case compounded by the fact that several personal things have blown up in my face in a rather spectacular fashion. Combined with my always-simmering Generalized Anxiety Disorder and recurring insomnia, the past few weeks have been disastrous for my health, mental and physical. There were several days when I felt that I was physically not capable of continuing to run a business or even deliver on the most important projects I already had in progress, but with the help of those closest to me, some on-the-ground political action (which always makes one feel that jolt of possibility), and a shiny new prescription for Temazepam, I feel like I’m coming out the other side of what has been a particularly rocky patch.
This year is, for many reasons, going to be a defining one for our entire country. There are days when even looking at news or scrolling through social media feels impossible, as the cloud of profound anxiety and despair it creates impedes one from doing even their basic professional tasks, let alone plan for a bigger, more generalized resistance. And as someone whose fiancé is not American, and here only by the grace of a visa, the constant looming threat of him no longer being welcome in our country for whatever reason is one that I have to force myself to ignore, lest it consume me entirely. So I enter this year with as much measured hopefulness as I can, and more importantly a commitment to do what I can while I can do it.
And in that spirit, I decided to write a list of the 28 things I am not wasting time on this year, on this, my 28th birthday.
1. Acquaintances. This probably sounds harsh, but I truly feel that for everyone’s mental health this year, cutting ties with people we don’t feel particularly compelled to become close with, yet feel guilty for never really seeing, is essential. I am treating my relationships like a fine pan sauce this year and reducing, reducing, until it is concentrated perfectly.
2. Being shy about my politics. I do not care if it costs me potential “connections” or alienates someone who might think my job is not to talk about my political beliefs — I am a Democratic Socialist (card-carrying!), and I believe that is the most hopeful future our country has. Every day that I spend talking and learning about money convinces me further of these fundamental truths: America is, as it stands, a deeply unfair and often cruel place, and the solution to that is to reduce inequality and strengthen the net around our most vulnerable, never the reverse.
3. Agonizing over things outside of my control. Marc has always had a level of personal zen that I deeply aspire to, and the more our political world seems to be a chaotic, terrifying place, the more I see the source of this. He focuses intensely and passionately on things within his control, and chooses to ignore the rest. He picks projects, dedicates specific times for informing himself of the greater picture, and the rest of the day will focus on what he needs to focus on, whether professionally or personally. He is an involved and informed person — more informed than nearly anyone I’ve ever met — but is very lucid about what he stands to have an impact on, and where his energies are best aimed. He is not constantly racking himself with thoughts of “What if [insert nuclear armageddon situation that is already underway here],” because even if that were a likelihood, there is nothing he can do about that in the immediate.
4. Feeling guilty about caring about things other than work. I love my work, I love TFD, I love building something. But it is not the primary source of my personal validation, or my happiness. When I picture my next chapters, my biggest hope is that I am able to either take a sabbatical or find a career path flexible enough to pursue diverse passions. When I look back at my Instagram this year, most photos were of food I cooked on my stainless steel table, and I must admit that cooking and sharing meals with friends felt like many of my high points. I often feel guilty that I do not drive such a strong sense of personal worth or motivation from how “good” a writer or businessperson I am, but I don’t. I do work I love, I try my best, but it is not “who I am,” and never will be. And I am okay with that.
5. Despairing about things that are already done. When it turned out that we would not be able to move into our beloved apartment with our dream kitchen and dream views overlooking the park, I immediately deleted all photos of it from my phone and resolved to be as excited as I possibly could about the place we are taking. I am sad, but dwelling on that sadness accomplishes nothing. What’s done is done, this year is about moving on.
6. Playing out agonizing “what-if” scenarios in my mind. There are several professional plates spinning in the air right now, and if I let myself, I could devote my entire day’s energy to playing out every worst-and-best- scenario in my mind, over and over. But I refuse to do that anymore.
7. Not telling people exactly how I feel, in writing. I have written some seriously #emotional cards to loved ones over the past few months, and never have I regretted doing something less. I feel lucky to have so many people in my life that I truly love, and it is my responsibility to tell them that, written down so they can hold onto it.
8. Confusing “spending all day on social media” with “resisting.” The few hours I have spent doing actual, real-life political work thusfar this year have been worth a thousand times what my three-AM panic-scrolling through Twitter has been. Overloading yourself with every bad thing that is happening because you believe staying informed is the equivalent to doing something about it will only burn you out, and quickly.
9. Spending time wishing I had good skin. I don’t, I never will, and I’ve spent God knows how much time, money, and emotion trying to change that fundamental fact of my being. I have other qualities, physical and otherwise, and God doesn’t give with both hands. I drew the short end of the stick on my skin, oh well.
10. Reading about inane celebrity news that makes me want to die. I don’t care about celebrities, I don’t care about their breakups or their inane political musings or what they posted on Instagram. I’m fine if you care about those things, but good God, I am not wasting another millisecond thinking about Demi Lovato posing for a photoshoot in a shirt that says hashtag feminist and how it’s ~so important~ because being an incredibly superficial level of woke is good for celebrity brands now. Spare me.
11. Thinking about what other people in my field are doing. Some people are more successful than me, more connected than me, more respected than me, get better exposure than me for their project — whatever. I don’t care. Enjoy it, and if it’s really bothering me, I’ll mute them on social media so I never have to think about why they might be on some dumb list and I’m not. Who cares.
12. Agonizing over people whose politics I think are bad. Every second I spend being angry that someone can have certain views is a second I waste not building and bringing people into my own projects and causes. 2017 has to be a year of inclusion and finding new ground and welcoming new people into the fold, not obsessing over the people who aren’t good enough, or have what feel like insultingly-bad views, or whatever. Do not spend your time denigrating and mocking the alternative — we learned that does not work last year. Spend your time building and offering something better, and welcoming more people into it.
13. Arguing over who or what is “feminist.” Every second we spend debating over whether this celebrity or that viewpoint gets to qualify as “feminist” is a second we lose. Do the work, dedicate your time and money to the worthy causes, and take up the labels you feel comfortable with. Taylor Swift being a feminist is not a worthy debate, not because she actually is or isn’t, but because Taylor Swift’s personal politics are not the answer to our fucking problems.
14. Even entertaining the idea of “having it all.” “Having it all” is a dumb, ugly term that degrades women and pushes people to drain themselves ever-more completely in the hopes of projecting a certain image. It’s not worthy of even a moment of your consideration — you will never have it all, because no person does, and constant happiness and fulfillment is not even something we should be striving to, anyway. Grief and disappointment and frustration and uncertainty are parts of life to be experienced and grow within, not things to be swept under the rug over and over until you have a nervous breakdown in line at Sweetgreen.
15. Wishing I were “one of those [insert activity here] people.” I’m either going to put in the time and energy required to get good at that thing I’m constantly wistfully considering, or I’m not. Me sitting around thinking how cool it would be if I suddenly had this totally other persona is almost always for purely aesthetic reasons, and convincing myself otherwise is stupid.
16. Performative eating. Good LORD life is too short to ever pretend like you don’t want to split an order of tater tots, or finish your entire plate of pancakes. If I’m ever eating with a brilliant, thoughtful, wonderful woman again and see her picking at her food with agony and shame because she doesn’t want to make the social commitment to actually, zestily eating it, I’m just gonna start crying right then and there. I’m just going to be like “Trump is President now, don’t you know that none of this matters?” and order a plate of buffalo wings for the table.
17. Being afraid to talk to a doctor. I feel a deep sense of embarrassment asking for medicine that I need, like me saying “I can’t sleep and it’s destroying my life” is somehow a personal indictment of my character. That stops now.
18. Not being honest when someone asks me a question where they clearly fear the answer. A lot of times people ask you something that they don’t want to hear the answer to, so you duck out of truly answering it because you want to humor them. It feels good temporarily, but ultimately it doesn’t help anyone, and frankly it degrades you both. Don’t ever focus on what the person wants to hear in these situations, because if they’re asking you, they almost certainly already know the answer.
19. “Self-care” that only makes me feel worse in the long run. “Self-care” is not eating an entire pizza, drinking several glasses of wine, and ignoring my work. It’s just delaying whatever emotion I’m trying not to feel until the next day, when it will feel twice as bad. Empty self-care rhetoric that tries to put every indulgence in some kind of medicinal category only hurts us. You can eat unhealthy foods, you can ignore your problems, you can drink alcohol and sit around all day instead of going for a walk. But just call it “something that feels good temporarily, possibly at the expense of the longer-term” and don’t try to make it something it’s not.
20. Messages and texts when a phone call is the right thing. If something is truly important, it merits a phone call. It merits two voices, or two faces, if you can manage a Skype session. The internet has made us all more deeply connected, but it’s also degraded what should be special, emotional moments by allowing you to do everything at a distance. Really good things and really bad things always merit voices.
21. Giving even one iota of a shit about “devil’s advocates” and trolls on Facebook and elsewhere. Delete, delete, delete. There is no reason to keep around someone who is just bringing your overall life down, and driving you to rage whether or not you engage with them. Do not waste your time debating basic human rights or scientific truths with people who get a sad thrill out of dragging everyone down with them.
22. Forgetting the damage that propaganda and echo chambers can do. Separating the trolls from people who are genuinely misinformed and afraid is so, so important. The latter can and should be reached out to, the former are not worth your time. People who have been bombarded with misinformation about their basic health and safety — to the point that they don’t understand what they’re voting for — need to be helped, not thrown away, if they are willing to work and learn.
23. Excluding anyone from “who deserves basic dignities.” While I totally understand the general disgust so many of us feel with people who vote a certain way, the weird post-election narrative of “LOL these people and their families are getting kicked off health insurance because they don’t know what Obamacare is” is so beyond gross, and degrades us all. You either believe that everyone — even people you don’t like — deserve basic human rights and dignities, or you don’t. You don’t have to engage with these people on Facebook, but you cannot call yourself progressive and believe they deserve to suffer and die from lack of access to medicine.
24. Giving up. I will not waste one minute this year feeling like everything is hopeless, and I refuse to give into the nihilistic chants of “we’re all fucked” and “we’re all dead” that we are seeing on social media. There is always hope, and we are capable of being our own heroes.
25. Social events I do not want to attend. I think it’s safe to say that 2017 is the year we can all stop attending social events we do not care about or get anything out of. You don’t have to go to that networking thing, or that wedding of an acquaintance, or that house party when you feel on the verge of a panic attack. Enjoy and draw energy from your social life, do not allow it to feel like another anchor or obligation that is draining you of your ability to do what’s important.
26. Being too afraid (or proud) to ask for an apology. If someone hurts me, I will never again stew for months or even years on end, wondering why they don’t care that they did. They probably are not even aware, or are feeling a sense of embarrassment and trying to avoid the topic. I will be an adult and say, “Hey, I know it probably wasn’t intentional, but [thing] really hurt my feelings.” They will apologize almost certainly, and I will feel satisfied and truly clear, instead of a pointless, simmering injury that lasts indefinitely.
27. Being too afraid or proud to apologize. I can have a really hard time apologizing sometimes, and it only makes me look like a prideful and callous ass. I will be more direct with taking ownership for slights or injuries I may cause, and do my best to be aware of how I impact other people (even if it’s unintentional).
28. Not giving this year every bit of my best self. I have no excuses and no sense of chastity or shame about throwing myself fully into everything that deserves it. I am going to do everything I possibly can do to make 2017 the best year it can be, in spite of everything. And if all of us take up that commitment — if we dive into our projects and passions and fight for what we truly believe is right — we may still be able to surprise ourselves with all that we can accomplish.
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