You Are Not Your Job

Except, of course, you are.

You’ve acquired some level of skill or experience in doing something, to the point where businesses are prepared to give you money in exchange for your time doing it. It could be mental or physical rent, but you have a commodity to sell on the open market and here we are, capitalism a-go-go.

But really is this such a bad thing? Why, yes. No matter what I do now or have done for a job in the past, you can bet your ass I’d rather be doing something else. It doesn’t matter how much I get paid, or what my ‘career progression’ looks like, if I need to be paid in order to do something – then I probably don’t want to do it.

One of the problems about being a (part time) artist, one that produces art as a side-hustle to a ‘real job’ is that you worry about your art becoming your job. Would you still enjoy it, if you had to do it, in order to eat?

We’re lucky in modern Western society that we’re unlikely to face that particular conundrum in real life. Especially those of us with dependents.

But if someone asks me what I do, I don’t tell them I’m a senior sales rep at a car dealership. I tell them I’m a writer, actor and musician. That gets rid of them pretty quick, let me tell you.

The Double Whammy

I have the exquisite pleasure of suffering from both anxiety and depression. Sometimes, when the Gods smile upon me, I get both at the same time.

For me, anxiety manifests itself as eldritch dread in the core of my soul, where existence itself seems insurmountable, terrible and deadly.

My depression, on the other hand, is like an opaque bubble surrounding me, keeping me solidly disconnected and untouched by reality, enjoyment, happiness. A bit like having no 3G reception on your phone.

So you would think, wouldn’t you, that they would cancel each other out when they arrive at once – perhaps the mundane lead trenchcoat of depression would smother the electric shocks of panic.

But no – rather, I get anxious that my depression will never end until I do. I get depressed that my anxiety precludes me from living a real life full of simple pleasures thought about just enough and not too much.

A frisson I don’t want. A paradox that neither excites nor progresses me.

It’s all rather a bother.

One Like = One Prayer

Let me tell you something about social media – I am no good for it. Not “It’s no good for me,” which I realised years ago. Rather, I’m not one of the people making it better. I have zero respect for it, so I tend to post whatever comes into my head with no filter, which is all a jolly jape.

Until it isn’t.

Very occasionally I’ll post something mindless, then be brought back to reality by actually hurting someone’s feelings or genuinely offending someone, and that doesn’t feel too good, because I do have respect for actual human beings. Believe it or not.

So you see, I’m not quite bright enough to realise that social media is made up of mostly human beings (the rest being advertising bots and Russian democracy fiddling).

A strange game. The only way to win is not to play.

The world of work

This year, I’ve learned some interesting things about working for a living, mainly through stress, anxiety and good old fashioned despair. I’ll share them with you now – for free – so you can ignore them and subsequently find out yourself that I was right all along.

  1. The company does not care about you. If you work for someone else, that company does not give a shit about your physical, mental or financial wellbeing, because that’s not how (most) businesses work. They pay you as little mental or physical rent as they have to in order to maximise profits for the owners/shareholders
  2. Working hard is pointless unless it’s visible. Bang your own drum as hard as you can or you will be taken for granted
  3. Never work harder than you have to. Unless it’s your own company, and even then I think this applies
  4. Only work hard at things that matter. Put your effort into things that enrich and enliven your soul, because that’s the only guaranteed return you can count on.

Dreams for the Dying

Once, when I was a child, I dreamt my own death. I think I must have been 10 or 11, and in the dream I was sitting on my best friend’s parent’s bed. I felt myself falling and everything went black before I hit the ground. I knew I was dead and paradoxically I was aware it was the end and there was nothing after it.

This stayed with me for quite a while and I think about it quite a bit. It’s certainly not the strangest dream I’ve ever had – that award goes to the recurring nightly dream about the little people that lived in my bathroom, but that’s another blog post.

Dreams, science will tell you, are the brain defragging its hard drive after a hard day thinking. But of course, we know different don’t we?

In fact, dreams are liminal escapes into the true reality of being, unfettered by material reality, corporeality, physics (quantum or otherwise – who cares if it’s a wave or a particle when it’s got your first grade English teacher’s face) or that pesky logic bullshit we’re tied to.

Dreams are real. More real than your office job or what people think about your new haircut. Truly, the only place you’re free from other people and – critically – yourself.

They say you dream more often than you remember doing so. I wonder how many other times I’ve died in the real world.

I Am a Genius

It’s time I came to terms with something you’ve probably known for a while. I am a genius. Every single idea I’ve ever had has been brilliant, revolutionary and genre defining. If you disagree then you’re probably not smart enough to understand.

Everything I’ve ever produced has been of the utmost objective quality, there can be no denying this. Any negative reviews I’ve had have been in error. Any ambivalence towards my creative output is due to a lack of imagination in the viewer.

If I’ve ever said anything to offend you, then you were probably just being too sensitive and I was likely being ironic anyway. You need to lighten up.

Where a decision I’ve made seemed questionable, you have to understand that I’m amazing at seeing the bigger picture, and you are not. Don’t worry, it will all become clear in the end.

And if you disagree with any of the above, then you’re just a hater and I’m going to ignore you.

Why I Stopped Watching the News

Of all the changes I’ve made to my lifestyle in recent years as part of my endless quest for happiness, none have been more effective than this: I stopped watching, reading and taking an interest in the news.

There are a number of reasons for this, and each speaks to a different benefit from cutting it out of my life:

Firstly, there is rarely any good news. A vast majority of news is bad. I am worried enough about everything as it is, thanks. Good things happen every second all over the world, but the news won’t tell you about them, because:

Secondly, it’s profoundly manipulative. The ‘Mainstream Media’ is specifically incentivised to keep the populace of the world angry and in fear. Angry at itself, in fear of itself. Be that terrorists, people of a different class, religion, or social strata. Conflict brings a (completely human and understandable) need for more information in an attempt to feel safer. Who provides the information? The media. Clicks are clicked, newspapers are bought, businesses stay in business.

Thirdly, it’s disempowering. While I have empathy for the victims of Ugandan genocide and wish with all my heart I could do something to stop it, it’s pure hubris to think me tutting and shaking my head makes any difference whatsoever. The news gives you the impression that being informed is the same as being empowered, when in fact the opposite is true. The global news cycle distracts you from the problems outside your door, the ones you can actually affect – but what’s the point in picking up litter in your street while dogs are being eaten in Korea?

Fourthly, it’s divisive and insulating at the same time. The news perpetuates the concept of us being “Mr Potato Heads” created from a curated selection of prescribed narratives. We choose these narratives from a thin strip of beliefs we’re already comfortable with. I used to avoid right-wing media and only get my information from liberal and left-leaning sources, because this was more palatable to me. But what wasn’t I being told? There is no such thing as an unbiased news source, and if you’re just choosing one bias over another, you might as well make up your own reality.

Am I saying ignorance is bliss? Certainly not. But in the same way it’s my responsibility to police what food I eat and be aware of the consequences of those decisions, so it is with my intake of information. For my own sanity, and to ensure my own personal impact on the world is one of focus and net benefit, I must be my own mental gatekeeper.

Try it yourself – ignore the news for a few weeks and see if you’re more content, see if you get more done, and see if the world goes to hell in a handcart because you don’t know what Donald Trump tweeted yesterday.

On Suffering

I have an injury to my psoas (one of the muscles joining the spine to the leg via the pelvis) that I sustained when training for a strongman competition in 2015. It comes and goes. Some days it flares up and triggers anxiety attacks (maybe it’s a hernia? Maybe it’s hip cancer?) then some days I realise I’ve forgotten about it.

Many clever people through time, from Viktor Frankl to Alain de Botton, have posited that ‘Happiness’ is a futile pursuit. Indeed, de Botton postulates that true happiness is impossible to sustain for more than 15 minutes, before our human neuroses pick it apart and destroy it.

Rather, it is said, we should learn to embrace the inevitable suffering that comes with being a human life form. Essentially, the meaning of life isn’t to pursue some nebulous, fantastical Instagram-post ideal, but rather to learn how to suffer well and find meaning in it. Given that sadness and bad times cannot possibly be avoided, and happiness cannot possibly be achieved permanently, what choice do we have?

Something I’m practicing is ‘sitting with’ anxiety, and ‘sitting with’ pain, rather than continually trying to flee from it. The aim is to avoid the external grasping for some resolution that only results in more pain, disappointment, disillusionment – the feeling that everyone else is having a better time than you.

Then, the actual good times, the 15 minutes where you are actually happy, can be enjoyed for what they are – part of life’s rich tapestry.

Why I Stopped Meditating

On my never ending quest to not be a miserable headcase, I’ve tried many things. Due to my ‘can-do’ attitude and general stubbornness, when I try something I go all out for the taste.

So, I took up mindfulness meditation.

I got an app (Calm), and goddamnit I meditated the shit out of it. Every single morning I would sit for 10 minutes, breathe deeply, try to let thoughts come and go.

Rewind two years – I tried meditation with an app called Headspace, which was also very good but perhaps I wasn’t in the right frame of mind because sitting there concentrating on my breathing just gave me panic attacks.

But now? Hoo boy, I had this thing nailed.

711 meditation sessions.
A total of 124 hours and 30 minutes sat meditating.
Longest unbroken streak? 358 days.

But at the end of it, was I any Calmer? Was I any happier? Was I any less distracted, anxious and fearful of real life? Was the skinny dog tethered in the rain that lives in my head howling any quieter? No.

Why did I stop meditating? Because I got it wrong. I took meditating as something you have to do as part of your daily routine, part of your checklist of ‘I’m doing the right things’, the natural anticipation being that checking these boxes results in an outcome you’re intending. Life, largely, doesn’t work that way.

In making meditation a required daily activity, I robbed it of its meaning. I emailed Calm support and their very prompt and kind response was along the lines of “why not try not being a dickhead and boasting about your meditation stats like it’s fantasy football, and just use meditation as a tool when you need it?”.

So I stopped meditating every morning, and I don’t feel any the worse for it, in fact I likely feel slightly better because I don’t feel like I’m failing to get the benefits of meditation.

And I’ve saved £30/year in app subscriptions.

Why Wouldn’t You Even Try?

When I was a kid, at primary school, we used to play Rounders quite a bit during our PE lesson. For those of you not aware, Rounders is a bit like baseball but shitter.

In my class there were a group of girls who used to be made to play the game, who obviously did not want to.

They would stand there when it was their time to bat, holding the stumpy wooden stick limply by their side, then when the ball was thrown (underarm, of course – we weren’t barbarians) instead of swinging the bat, they would take a listless half-step forward, drop the bat and saunter to first base. It may not surprise you to learn that not one of them ever came close to hitting the ball, even by accident.

I remember very clearly, even at that young age, being both mystified and annoyed by this behaviour. I couldn’t understand how you could stand in front of a slow moving ball, with a bat in your hand, and not even swing at it.

Why wouldn’t you even try? No matter how little you want to win, why wouldn’t you move your arm?

Now, I’m not trying to shame these particular individuals, because I’m sure they had their reasons – or maybe they didn’t need a reason and maybe it’s none of my damn business and the fact this has stayed with me this long says a lot more about me than them.

But in life ever since, I’ve met people who won’t swing the bat.

These are not people who get things done.

I guess that’s the funny thing about your own personal value system, anything outside of it is incomprehensible sometimes. Now, for all I know, these girls could have grown up to be heads of industry, and if so I wonder what happened to make them realise the value of trying, even when you don’t see an immediate benefit.

All I know is, when it was my turn, I swung that bat as hard as I could.