How to Make Progress When You’re Just a Dried-out Husk of a Person
Do you feel like you are kind of a crusty old shell of something that used to be a fun and cool person? Like a sea urchin someone removed from the sea fifty years ago, hollowed out, and filled with hard candies from the seventies that have since become dusty?
This happens to everyone from time to time.
You probably still want to make progress in your life, though.
When I first started writing Bullish (here I shall “oh sweet summer child” myself), I envisioned it as a series of articles for already-high achievers who wanted to MAX THEIR SHIT OUT. I knew – as a successful, unencumbered person who even had great biceps – that I was in a brief season in life where the shit had not hit the fan. I knew the shit would hit the fan later, and I wrote about it obsessively. MAX YOUR SHIT OUT, MAKE PROGRESS, PREPARE YOUR FUTURE SELF FOR DOOMSDAY.
I was surprised, then, to start getting so many questions from people dealing with bad shit now, already. At one Bullish Conference, we did an opening roundtable where one person mentioned dealing with migraines, and then something like twenty percent of the remaining attendees also disclosed that they have serious migraines, and then fortunately there was a workshop on succeeding despite limitations by Esmé Wang, who has written about schizophrenia and late-stage Lyme Disease, and who, among many useful tips, talked about writing a book from bed on her phone.
Does Bullish disproportionately attract migraine sufferers? It is very possible.
Let’s talk about how to move your life forward when you are a dried-out husk of a person.
Don’t put tasks on your list that you know you don’t have the personality for
I have had many business ideas that were dependent on doing something like, “Go around to local stores and sell them on this idea.” I will never do that. Not even once. Doing this just one time would take weeks of my life energy, like that torture machine they put Westley on in The Princess Bride.
If you are an eldritch horror, you are not the person to do that task.
Does the task actually need done?
If it was assigned to you by a boss, discuss with the boss how the overall project will be more effective if you instead do some other, specific thing that you are an expert in, and the sprightly social task goes to some person on whom you will now lay numerous, sincere compliments. “I was just thinking that our new hire, Brad, has an amazing ability to build relationships with IT vendors, so I think he’d be very successful at presenting our offering to delivery drivers. It would be a growth opportunity for him.”
What if it wasn’t a boss? Did you do this? If you assigned this task to yourself, go look in the mirror: You are Gollum and you would want your ring back if you cared enough, right? What were you thinking? Now seriously:
What was the endgame of that task? To sell something? To publicize something? To get a new job? In order to make progress, you need to keep your end goal in sight.
How can you reach that endgame in a way that turns your personality – or the dank remains of your personality at this time – into a strength? What can you do that Brad cannot and how can you use it to achieve your aims? Can you build relationships with other dank souls and malcontents? Can you make a name for yourself by publicly hating something? Can you methodically do a large task so detailed that Brad would forget who he is halfway through?
Are you in a hiring position? You can hire a chipper personality. Do not abuse that person or make them sad. You can’t completely abnegate the emotional labor burden of interacting with humans professionally. But a “cheerful demeanor,” a “good phone personality,” the “ability to express excitement to prospects about our offerings” are all things you can hire for. Plenty of people are naturally bubbly and extroverted and have not found a way to monetize this characteristic, so you could form a mutually beneficial professional relationship with such a person.
Feminists talk a lot about emotional labor. The point of recognizing emotional labor isn’t that no one should do it – it’s that it’s real work. What’s great about that is that you can pay someone to do it, and when you pay someone to do it, you don’t have to. Make progress by finding this person and enlisting them ASAP.
And remember: only assign yourself Dark Arts from now on.
Already a dried-out husk? You are INVINCIBLE
There is a Chinese expression “to eat bitterness,” meaning to suck it up and do something unpleasant. Is your life already bitter? Do things kind of suck? How much more bitterness could you absorb into your life and not even notice? Can you make progress in your life by doing that, at least for a time?
When your life is charmed, it’s quite a blow to have to lock yourself in a room and study biochem or do those tedious physical therapy exercises that are going to fix your back. But there comes a point of stoicism in the life of a desiccated woodland tree-witch whose rage has deadened into stoic glowering and beetles. BRING IT, you are numb to the punishment these tasks bring! Begin the tasks that are too painful for the sweet, tender-skinned above-ground people.
I wrote in this article about breakups:
Finally, heartbreak can be helpful. It drowns out a lot of other things, like muscle soreness from really solid exercising, or boredom from monotonous forms of work. Go organize all the receipts for your taxes. Run. Take the cat to the vet. Do 500 calf raises. Make flashcards of French verb conjugations. Heartbreak will numb you to the little trials and boredoms that bog down happy people.
Just do really productive, somewhat-boring things repetitively and stoically in order to improve your life, so that when you feel better, you’ll look around and say, “Holy shit, the sun is shining again and my job is amazing and I can do six pullups in a row and I speak French?”
You will now make progress in your own life by taking a course that you hate but that will put you well above your peers, or crunching so much data that the presentation of this data to a decision maker will frighten them. Are you filled with hate? How much hate can you encompass in the bone-chilling void that is your psyche at this time? Do more things the tenderhearted cannot bear. It’s leg day at the gym. Let your quads burn like you want to burn your enemies.
Slowly and stoically, set up your future self
Some of us identify as a “Wednesday” and some of us as a “Morticia,” but sometimes, you absolutely cannot be bothered to style your gothic hair and form human words with your mouth. You are Lurch. And you know what Lurch does for the Addams family? He is a butler.
You will be your own butler.
And I wrote in this article about how to be productive when you’re a little tipsy:
Think of drunk-you as the lovably inexact personal assistant to sober-you.
Go ahead and have some more wine. Now what does sober-you need to get started tomorrow? An outfit? Great, get that ready.
A packed lunch? Pack her one of those mason jar salads so she doesn’t have to worry about lunch and can stay at her desk working. You can make a mason jar salad while inebriated: Just put the dressing at the bottom, and something that’s not lettuce on top of that, and some lettuce on the top. If you don’t have any lettuce, just throw some food in a jar. Many cultures have different ideas of what constitutes “salad.” A jar of meat and candy is a salad if you believe it in your heart.
A Post-It on her monitor reminding her of her top priority? Do it.
Certain documents and emails all in one place? Great idea! Most of the time that people procrastinate on a task, it’s because they don’t have all their materials together, and they don’t know clearly what the steps should be. Two drinks in the night before is a great time to work that out.
Now tomorrow-you can get started first thing in the morning.
The same principle applies, except you are not drunk. You are a Frankensteinian force of (un)nature, moving things where they need to be, rearranging your haunted mansion. Prop up a corpse in the corner! Festive! Choose a Powerpoint template and make a title slide as though you are making it for a completely different person who likes giving presentations. Set it up as much as you can for your future self. Headshot? Page numbers? Lurch can do this well enough.
It seems likely that you will eventually have a future self who is more like the daywalkers, laughing and brunching and signing emails “Cheers!” If you think that will happen in a few days, get all your future self’s clothes ready and clean out their inbox. If you think it’ll be a lot longer until they’re back, stop buying things that a large assemblage of stolen body parts unnaturally imbued with life wouldn’t need and aggressively save money so later they can live in a rotting tree stump in a haunted forest without having to go into the village to buy spider parts and cauldrons.
Look, sometimes, you fulfill your childhood potential, and sometimes you’re just a compost bin behind a face. That’s okay. It happens to everyone.
There’s no need to feel guilty about already feeling bad. It’s possible to arrange your work to be a better fit for your inescapable knowledge of human decay. Where are my sea witches? Where are my raccoon people? Let’s do this.