An interview with #BullCon16 workshop leader Esmé Weijun Wang. Visit the Bullish Conference website here.
Hi Esmé! First let me say we’re looking forward to meeting and learning from you in PALM SPRINGS oh-so-soon! Would you mind telling us a little about you and what you do?
I’m a writer, primarily—my debut novel, The Border of Paradise, just came out this April, and I recently won the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize, which means that I’ll soon be under contract to write an essay collection about schizophrenia. I also run esmewang.com, which provides resources for writers to build resilience and excellence via free content, such as my blog, as well as products such as my self-paced e-course about restorative journaling. The site exists because I became interested in creating an online space for ambitious people–primarily writers—who are dealing with limitations in the pursuit of greatness.
When I first started writing Bullish, I couldn’t have imagined how many questions I would get from people struggling with depression and other difficulties that are often assumed to be in conflict with great ambition. I understand this is an area you’ve thought about a lot.
It’s basically my entire life. I live with both chronic Lyme disease and schizoaffective disorder, which greatly affects my ability to get things done. On my worst days, I lose strength to the point where I can’t lift my arms or remain standing—and in spite of having developed these limitations, my personhood as a hugely ambitious woman hasn’t changed at all. I still want to win the MacArthur. I still want to write things that impact people. I’m still interested in being of use.
When you just can’t accomplish all the things you’d like to accomplish, how do you decide where to focus your limited efforts? What has come to the front for you? Any techniques that have been helpful?
For me, living with limitations has meant deciding what I care most about getting done. On some days, surviving the day is all I can do; in the big picture, it’s about my contribution to literature. Because I’ve decided that writing is of primary importance, I do it in the morning, which is when I usually have the most energy and cognitive ability. I make adaptations: when I’m physically incapable of sitting as a desk, I might tap out part of an essay on my phone while lying in bed. I might not be able to write for hours at the time, the way I used to, but exerting effort toward my goals for fifteen minutes a day adds up.
A resource that’s helped me to figure out my priorities and simplify my life is the book Essentialism, by Greg McKeown. Productivity Bro books like this usually annoy me, but I actually found it helpful. I also own it in audiobook form, so I can listen to it when I’m having a challenging day.
Tell us a little about what to expect at BullCon!
I’m going to be teaching a workshop called Ass-Kicking with Limitations 101, and it’s going to be a good time. I love the Get Bullish ideals, but sometimes the primary tenets of bullishness require a bit of adjustment due to my limitations—and that’s what this workshop is going to be about. We’ll figure out our limitations, look at our goals and values, find our Big Picture priorities, and use our limitations to create adaptations that work for us. I’ll also probably tell some corny jokes. But a side benefit, I’m hoping, is that the folks who take the workshop will realize that everyone has some form of limitation(s)—I just happen to be vocal about mine.
I know you’re all over the internet – what are some links we should check out to learn more about you?
My home base is at http://www.esmewang.com/. There’s a lot there—a wealth of mini-essays in the Journal, links to my published work, and a well-populated Shop, for starters. I also send out a newsletter that people seem to like, which people can find out about at http://www.esmewang.com/e-letter. Finally, I’m extremely active on Twitter: @esmewang. Come chat with me.
Thanks so much for doing this with me, Jen.
Thank you, Esmé!