Over time, I have come to learn there are things I can do that make me feel pretty good, like reading a book, going for a walk, writing, cleaning parts of the house, cooking, or even just kicking ass at an obligation I have, like the freelance editing I do.
There are also things I can do that make me feel bad, like mindless procrastination or oversleeping – basically failing to spend my time doing things in the above list. Some parts of the work I did for my old job would have fallen into this category as well.
When I look back at my posts, I can see I’ve written about ways to remove some of the wasteful drains on my life, whether it’s on my time or my budget. I don’t have as much on ways to add value back in. For some reason, the former is a much easier idea for me to tackle, but ultimately, I don’t think it’s nearly as effective.
Probably one of the most common questions I get now that I’m unemployed is “what are you doing with your time?” (It’s a close second to “any news on the job front?”) From what I’ve read, FIRE folks tend to get the same question. I think the worst nightmare of someone leaving the rather normative status of the employed is not having an answer to that question. I know I usually dislike answering it, with at times a surprising amount of passion.
I think it’s because I don’t often have a good answer. “Applying to jobs,” I’ll say, and “working on projects.” I think something about the way I give this answer makes it clear details won’t necessarily be forthcoming. It’s sort of a cliche answer for the aimless unemployed, and I hide behind it.
Now, sometimes it’s hard to describe a project as it’s forming (or sometimes your blog project is, er, anonymous). Talking about job apps to employed people is also, I imagine, about as much fun as being single and talking about first dates to partnered people. There’s a persistent fear of judgment there, even from those with the best of intentions. So, sure, perhaps it’s understandable.
But it’s not desirable. It’s not fun to hide this way. Why do I?
One thing I’ve noticed lately is that, when I feel adrift, after I check my procrastinatey impulses, I don’t course correct. Yes, I’ve reigned in some of my distractions. Then what? I can’t tell people that what I do all day is manage not to play games on my smartphone.
Pressure from outside is tough – there’s only so much you can do with it. I could do almost anything on my “good” list above, with the possible exception of my freelance work, and I’d still have a hard time telling people that’s what I do with my day. “I apply to jobs, keep the house clean, read books and go on walks” still sounds like a vacation. How much job applying is “enough” to prove I’m really “working”?
More important is the view from the inside. I need to satisfy myself before I can satisfy others. I hate telling myself all I did all day is not play games too, but while that’s very clear to me, it’s harder to express what exactly it is that I’d love to tell myself.
On a certain level, I do know this – hence the good list, and a somewhat more amorphous list of, yes, “projects” I’d love to dive into. When I do manage to do the things I love doing, I don’t need to reign in distractions… they rarely come up. It would seem that when I’m stalling out in neutral, reliably shifting into drive is a much better way to go forwards than reliably not-shifting into reverse. Far fewer horns honking behind you, too.
As I said, I do have what I feel are thoughtful goals. I even have an answer for how to implement my goals, which is to set up a reliable routine. But knowing this isn’t enough. I need to feel it too, to be excited to say yes after saying no.
For me, the hardest part is always, always starting. Once I get on a roll, I can rip off quite a lot of high quality whatever, potentially for hours on end. The tricky part is getting myself to start. And that’s why my current goal is to really think through some of the things on my list (amorphous ideas especially included), not to refine them into action steps (though that wouldn’t hurt) but to remind myself why I originally put them on the list. These are things that make me happy, generally things I identify with who I want to be and which I would be happy to both do and share that I have done. These are good things to fill my day with. When I hit a rut, I want to remember just how good it feels to get out of one, instead of just how hard it feels to be stuck inside one.
Though I’ve wandered a bit down a different path in this post, I wanted to tie this into finances as well. I’ve come to enjoy cooking, and I love that it can shave however much percent off my annual food budget. Still, as far as the math goes, it’s strange that I get so much more excited about the 15-20% I can trim by cooking than by the 100-150% I could easily add by getting back into the world of the employed. While there’s a lot more to this aspect (ie: cooking fun, working crappy job not fun), it’s worth remembering, and feeling, just how happy I’ll be when my savings goals are ticking up at a higher rate again.
It snowed here today, even though spring started over a week ago. I’m excited that after today, snow and ice should finally be behind us for the year. I’m even more excited that the outdoors are opening to me once again for warm weather enjoyment. That’s right – it’s a fine time to uncover some inspiration.