Being unemployed is really hard. Like, way harder than it looks.
You probably know the feeling. You might have felt it during lockdown. You might still feel it now.
The feeling is the ongoing inclination to not waste time. That every single thing we do should be pointed toward profit and self-improvement. That all of our time should be designed to maximise productivity. This phenomenon is generally known as hustle culture, and I’ve only recently become aware of how much it resides in myself.
Let me explain some. Although I think I’ve been feeling the feeling my whole life, I can’t work right now (visa situation) and this lingering period of unemployment is causing me to feel it more than ever. I don’t have a job, I don’t have any responsibilities, I don’t have to do anything with my day if I don’t want to. This unemployment is a rare gift I’ve been given, a treasured break from the demands of life.
Everybody tells me so.
“I’m so jealous.”
“You can snowboard every day, that’s awesome!”
“You’re going to have such a great winter.”
I feel like I ought to be making the most of this time and work on everything that I want to do which I normally don’t have time for.
“Everything that I want to do” for me consists of: snowboarding a lot, writing and upkeeping a blog, writing and upkeeping another blog, becoming fluent in French, writing a book, practicing meditation daily, cutting out sugar from my diet, filming and editing snowboarding videos, etc.
And then there’s all the stuff I don’t really want to do but I feel obliged to do sometimes, like brushing my teeth, eating vegetables, wiping Greg’s snot off the bathroom mirror, and making sure Seb doesn’t go through a jar of peanut butter every day.
That might look like a lot, but I’ve always liked being busy. I like to plan and make to-do lists and schedule out my day to maximise productivity and efficiency. That’s what I’ve always been good at. That’s what I’ve always believed is best for you. In times of stress or uncertainty, making a schedule has always helped me to feel like I’m in control of my life.
For example, my day might look like this:
7:00 – wake up and stretch
7:30 – breakfast
8:30 – write blog post
10:00 – go snowboarding
12:00 – lunch
I don’t always physically write a schedule, sometimes it’s just in my head, but it’s always there. Always. I feel like if I can stick to a plan like that every day, then I’ll get so much done! If I finish all of these tasks, I’ll be more healthy and talented and happy. It’ll be great!
Everything has its purpose in my schedule. I’ve noticed the way I frame activities in my mind – it’s not just “I’ll have a bath to relax my body”, but “I’ll have a bath to relax my body so I can stretch afterwards and then tomorrow I will be able to snowboard better”. Or, “I’ll take today to rest”, turns into “I’ll take today to rest so I can work hard for the rest of the week”. Even moments of supposed unproductivity must become productive to be acceptable.
And you know what? I rarely stick to my mental daily schedule. I spend my days stressfully glancing at my watch, trying to focus on whatever I should be doing, but it just doesn’t work. I get increasingly frustrated with myself, feeling like I’ve failed, and that the next day I’ll have to do better. The next day I’ll fill myself up with coffee and sugar, trying to give myself the energy I need to tick off my to-do list. This sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t, but whatever happens I spend the day feeling pressured and exhausted.
I said this to Seb. “Why am I so tired? I’m not even doing anything. If I can’t get all these things done when I don’t have a job, when am I ever going to be able to do them?”
And he said something like. “Well, maybe you’re putting too much pressure on yourself.”
I was kind of surprised, because, duh. He was right.
I feel enormous pressure to make the most out of this time. I feel like I’m trying to prove something to myself, and to my friends, family, entire audience of social media, etc. I feel like they’ll judge me, and I’ll judge myself, if I don’t do something with my unemployment. I live in a culture that celebrates financial success and achieving professional goals, and as a snowboarding bum I don’t really excel in those things. Yet being unemployed has got to top the list of unpalatable lifestyles in the eyes of the highly achieving world I was brought up in. How do I deal with this contradiction in my identity and subconscious self-shame? By spending all my time actively working towards self-improvement using perfectly tailored schedules.
I’ve caught the disease of the hustle culture.
Seb made me realise that maybe this is the perfect time to move away from that thinking. Maybe I don’t need to plan my life out to maximise efficiency.
So lately I’ve been trying to follow my body and my mind, and do whatever I feel like doing in that particular moment. I’m trying to forget what day of the week/month/year it is, and even sometimes try not to look at the clock. I just follow exactly what I want to do. If I’m tired and feel like laying on the couch, I’ll go and lay on the couch until I feel like getting up again, instead of forcing myself through the tiredness to write something. If I feel like going snowboarding, I’ll go snowboarding, instead of feeling guilty that I should be doing something else. I’m spending time being as unproductive as possible, and meaning it.
I’m trying to remember that there is more to life on this planet then just getting things done.
I’m trying to remember to stop comparing myself to others.
I’m trying to remember that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
I’m trying to remember that my sense of self worth should not be reduced to my productivity.
I’m trying to remember that even if I don’t get this right all the time, that’s okay too. I’m trying to enjoy the process of learning how to listen to my body.
This might not sound that strange to some people, but I find it so weird living life this way. I’ve never known anything like it and it totally goes against my instincts. I constantly have to watch my thoughts to make sure I’m not dropping back into bad habits. Every day that goes by I realise how deeply I was emerged in this insane culture of hustling 24-7.
I thought giving up schedules would mean I wouldn’t get anything done. I thought I’d likely enter a miserable hole of idleness and ineffectuality and then drown in the consequent self-hatred. Instead, I’ve rediscovered the joy I get from writing (and not just because I get to tick it off a list of things to do) and my love for snowboarding. I’m beginning to realise that when people say I’m lucky, they’re right. It’s because I can live my life like this — with nowhere to be and nothing to do, I can just be.
So if there’s anyone out there that identifies with this, take a lesson from me (at your own risk) and give yourself a break today. Stop trying to be productive. See what happens.
“What are you doing tomorrow?” Seb asks me as we lie in bed. “I don’t know,” I say, and I mean it. It’s unnerving. It’s unbinding.
This morning I woke up, stretched, and then had a bath first thing (it felt incredibly indulgent). I wrote this post because I felt like it, without the aid of coffee or sugar (I’m day 6 into quitting both). It feels good.
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