What is a weekend. Part II.

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The last quarter of the financial year is always busy. As a professional of any sort, you would know this. For those of you lucky enough not to know what this is, it is the period that runs from January to March every year. Most countries measure their financial years from 1 April to 31 March, making this period the last quarter of the financial year. Which also means, this is the time all the accounting has to be set straight. I don’t know what this means for any other industry, but in ours it means billing. Everything has to get billed, and all the bills have to come through. Which means more work. A lot more.

I can’t say I don’t usually complain, because you’ve been with me throughout and you know I complain about almost everything. But this last financial quarter has been particularly brutal in 2022. I don’t think I have had a single weekend off. And I don’t mean that I had to work a couple of hours every weekend. I mean full 10 hour long days every single Saturday and Sunday right from the end of December 2021. Which (I hope) excuses my long absence from this blog for the past couple of weeks.

I wasn’t in all fairness sure about whether or not I would be able to write something this week either. But an email in my organization pushed me over the edge. Made me sit down, block an hour on my calendar (I think I had to invent a couple of client calls for this) and get down to it.

One of the senior partners at our firm took the initiative to organize “weekend classes” to better “educate the firm” on deal learnings and how to run a transaction. Good intentions, I’m sure, but weekend classes? I was appalled. It is one thing for the work to spill over to the weekend (not that this is acceptable) but an entirely different to organize a firm wide work related initiative that cuts into people’s free time. Because you don’t want to waster precious billable hours during the week, you cut into and take away close to 3 hours of people’s free time. Or at least, what is supposed to be our free time. But this wasn’t what did it for me. I was happy to attend said classes whenever I could find the time. Time from work that I was already doing for my firm – and not from my well earned chilling. But this didn’t happen often and so I ended up missing quite a few of the sessions (read: almost all). Cut to a few weeks later, and we get an email informing us that the sessions had been cancelled because people were not showing up for the sessions because….well, they didn’t know why but they weren’t happy with it. Now I have a few things to say about this. First of all, it is the weekend. People are already spending all their waking hours working for your organization. It is absolutely understandable if they don’t want to spend 3 hours every Saturday morning on this. Secondly, the argument might have been slightly more persuasive if we worked in an industry where the job is strictly 9-5 (I’m scoffing as I say this, I don’t think this would be the case at all, but let us just assume this is the case for argument’s sake). I work in an industry where there are no boundaries between work and personal life and almost all of us spend our weekends working (case in point, scroll up a little). So, to miss a voluntary training session because you have billable work…which was the case for most of us…was not acceptable. On the other hand, of course billable work is sacrosanct is it not? So, what is one to do?

For one, I think they want us to feel bad. Feel bad about not staying up an extra three hours every Saturday to fit in both the training and all our other work. Maybe, just maybe, if I was the most dedicated worker on the planet, I would consider this. But there comes a point in time, where 24 hours in a day simply…how do I put this…run out. What then? Not their problem.

For another, I think they want us to feel grateful. Grateful that they are spending time on improving our skill set (I am grateful for this), even if it comes at the expense of what little free time we have, our health and our personal commitments. Because what kind of a corporate baby are you if you even dare to contemplate a life outside of the office?

And lastly, well actually I don’t know what else. The entire episode was such a rude reminder of what I dislike about the way we work and the kind of expectations we keep from the people who work for us. There is so much logic to back up why we should treat employees well and how working for more than 8 hours at a stretch is bad for us and what not. But that is for another time.

Signing off for now. Stay healthy kids, and don’t work too hard.

Pray tell, what is a weekend? Part I.

If any of you have seen ‘Downton Abbey’ you know that Granny makes the whole show. If I have one aspiration in life, it is to become like Granny once I become older. Is there anything that fazes her? Not much, but the concept of a weekend does. At the beginning of the show (I think it was the first season) Granny meets Mathew for the first time. He attempts to explain what he does for a living (a shocking concept all on its own). But he stumps her completely is when he tries to explain how is work is structured. How his days are divided into what we, of the working class call ‘weekdays’ and ‘weekends’. It is an iconic scene to be sure, and it makes me laugh every time.

But seriously though, what is a weekend? I’ve all but forgotten. I haven’t had a free weekend in about 2 months and I am fuming. I don’t mind working hard, but this is getting to be a bit much. I think I have said it before, and I’ll say it again. Jobs wouldn’t be half as intolerable if people understood boundaries and gave you time off to do other things. What is with this obsession we have with our work? Let me give you an example. I work in an industry where we are always being told to give our 150% to the job. Being told that nothing matters as much as client satisfaction. Being told that being available and working around the clock are some of the biggest assets we have at our disposal. I can’t tell you how much I hate hearing these things. I disagree with all of it. Yeah sure, do your job well. And then forget about it. Should you be giving 150% to your job? Absolutely not people. You should, at best, on a good day, when you are feeling generous, give about 50% to your job and save the rest of it for the things you enjoy. Drinking coffee with friends. Watching the new Batman in theatres (totally worth it). Chilling in a bookshop. 50%. At best. Is there anything more important than client satisfaction? Oh yes. Enjoying time off. Learning a new skill. Afternoon naps on your days off. And should you work around the clock to give the clients (and your organization) everything you’ve got? I think you can guess my answer.

I just wish someone would explain to my bosses what a weekend is. Like they did with Granny. And I hope they start to respect time off a little bit more.

It is just a job

I read somewhere that the idea that you have to ‘love your job’ is a capitalist myth. I can’t remember the last time I agreed with something so wholeheartedly. I always hear about these mythical people who love their jobs. Someone, somewhere has a friend of a friend who is really happy in their job and love waking up on Mondays.

Now, I’m not trying to bring the mood down. I am sure there are some people who have been lucky enough to find work in a field they enjoy. But even so, the minute you attach money and deadlines to any activity, it can’t help but lose some of its charm. At least, that is what I think. Like, I used to love painting. And then people started paying me for it and commissioning stuff. And then all of a sudden, I didn’t want to go anywhere near my paints. And I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I mean, isn’t this the dream? That you have a hobby you love, and then you commercialize it. Isn’t this what everyone means when they say, “if you love what you do, you won’t ever work a day in your life.” Sure, yes. Or you could be working all the time. And as much as I like something, I can’t constantly be doing one thing and feel happy about it.

Which I feel is the central issue with how our jobs and lives are structured right now. And it took me some time to realize this. The first time I quit my job (the only time, but it feels more dramatic saying it like this) I thought I hated my job. That I couldn’t imagine going the rest of my life only doing this one thing. Then I realized that that was the issue. It wasn’t that I hated my job per se (I’m actually half decent at it, and when it comes down to it, the actual work I do is enjoyable enough). I just hated that the only thing I did was my job. There was no time for anything else in my life. I wouldn’t say I ever fell into the category of people who ‘love’ their jobs (if indeed such people exist) but I could tolerate it well enough if it gave me the resources to do some of the other things I liked. The most important resource being, of course, time.

Which got me thinking. Why did I feel like I never had the time to do anything else? I’ve come to the conclusion (and this is a work in progress, so I might come back and tweak this conclusion a few times) that it is the way we are trained to think. The way they make us think about our time and how much of it we owe to our workplaces. By ‘they’ of course I mean our omnipotent capitalist overlords. From the moment I started working the overwhelming consensus was that people who went ‘above and beyond’ what was required were the ones that will succeed in this field.

Like my orientation week. I was fresh out of college and very excited to be starting this job – my first job. I remember we were flown out to a new city and put up in a fancy hotel and made to sit through a bunch of talks in some fancy convention center. All designed to impress new recruits, which it did. During the course of the many talks I attended one of the speakers started talking about what it means to be ‘successful’ in this job, in this field. He started off by saying all of us have to have our own definition of success. This was not a one shoe fits all situation. Fair enough. Then he spoke about how to someone success might mean executing the best deals (whatever that means) and working round the clock to have the highest profit margin. To someone else success might mean not working on the best deals (again, whatever that means) but instead having time to spend with their family on the weekends. The way in which he spoke, it was clear that he thought the first person was normal and the second one was the kind they didn’t want at this firm. Spending time enjoying yourself outside of the office? What a dud.

This talk was followed by a lady who spoke to us about ‘firm perception’. She told us the story of a fresh associate who, while initially showed a lot of promise, turned out not to be someone the firm wanted to invest in in the long run. The reason? He didn’t understand what ‘loyalty’ meant. In the end, the actual offense turned out to be entirely anti-climatic. The poor kid had made a post on his social media at 3 am on a Sunday night talking about ‘late nights’ in the office which, in the eyes of the firm, made them look bad. So where was the disloyalty? Was it in talking about an actual thing that happened? Was it in talking about how you were spending all your time in the office? I think it was in not enjoying the fact that you spend all your time in the office. Because to my firm, this was the worst thing someone could do. Admit that they didn’t want to be spending all of their time doing this one job.

And even after the orientation, the idea that you have to make your job your entire existence is driven home to the point of exhaustion in so many ways. I have had superiors tell me that the best way to judge how well you’re doing is by looking at how much work you have. If you’re overworked, you’re doing well. What a twisted way of looking at things. Not only did it make me put in more hours than I needed to, it also made me feel guilty for not being worked to the bone all the time. And that stuck with me till I had to quit because of a burnout.

While I was unemployed, and when I tried to commercialize my hobby, I realized a couple of things which I think have helped me in coming back to work with a more balanced perspective. Firstly, that I didn’t want to get paid to paint. It would be nice if someone at some point liked the things I made and wanted to buy it. But I wasn’t going to turn it into a commercial enterprise. Because that turned it into a job, and I found out that I didn’t love any job. Then I realized that I actually liked having a job that gave me a steady income, as long as I wasn’t expected to love it and dedicate all my time to it. So, basically, I wanted a job I could just about tolerate for the most part and like in bits, and then have some time and mental headspace out of it to do the multitude of other things I enjoyed.

I take exception to how people at my job still want the newer kids to go ‘above and beyond’ for the job or give it their ‘150%’ and what not. I think it might be a lot nicer to tell the kids to treat it as a job. Just something you do on weekdays to make some money to enjoy your actual life. Something you can, and indeed should, switch off from whenever you can. You may not love it, but you can like it for the other things it does for you.

Self-awareness to prevent burnout?

I read an article today sent by my employer as a part of a larger series the company is doing on emotional intelligence. They like to do these things once in a while. I work in an industry which has extremely high attrition rates, and so instead of fixing the things that are making people quit in the first place (toxic superiors, unnecessarily long hours, extensive client demands and not enough time to do anything else in your life), they send us videos on how to improve our emotional intelligence by doing breathing exercises. Yeah, true story.

The article is titled, ‘Developing Self-Awareness Helped me prevent Lawyer Burnout‘ and has been written by Ed Andrew. It talks about his journey into building self-awareness – which is allegedly one of the best tools you can possess as a professional in any field, but more specifically this field – after he was diagnosed with cancer. Andrew starts off by talking about how, “the nature of legal practice, which involved long hours, pressure to excel, competition to rise to the top, dismay at repetitive work, fear of failure, and peer pressure is a potential melting pot for stress to build.” Then he goes on to give us a couple of shocking stories about toxic bosses, to highlight how real of an issue burnout is. There are a few helpful pointers in the article on identifying what is causing you stress in the first place and what not, but the article ends with some advice I want to talk about.

Basically, according to this piece, extreme stress is a part of my job and industry and since any real top-down change is unlikely, I had best learn to regulate my own mind and emotions. Some helpful tips on this? Breathing exercises. Again.

I’m not against breathing exercises in the least, don’t get me wrong. But the article has a defeatist tone to it I don’t enjoy. This is something I hear a lot in my industry, that “there isn’t going to be any real change, so you might as well learn to live with it”. Which I do. Because I have no other choice. But I’m uncomfortable with letting the bosses off so easy as well. There are tons of things that could be changed in my workplace (and honestly I think in all workplaces) without negatively impacting the bottom line (which is really, the only thing people are concerned about).

For example, working from home. There have been endless articles on how working from home allows people to work better, be more productive, while also enjoying some semblance of balance. For some reason, a lot of people in the legal industry are against this practice continuing indefinitely. Why? Who knows. Maybe they think we slack off at home. Maybe they think we might get the chance to start side ventures and eventually quit work if we stay at home. Or maybe, they just like the culture of depressing offices brainlessly filled by people at all hours because people are too afraid to leave the place before someone else does (even though the work is done).

Another thing? Working on the weekend. I understand that I work in an industry where people pay a lot of money for our services and so expect to get commensurate output. But I also genuinely believe there is no work that cannot wait till Monday morning. For some reason everyone has gotten into a bad habit of passing work onto their juniors at the end of the week, expecting to see it “first thing Monday morning” so they can “assess it with a fresh pair of eyes” and get it off their schedule. Expecting to see something on a Monday morning means you expect someone to work on it over the weekend, which in most cases, is completely unnecessary.

Punching in and out of the workplace. There is a lot of debate on the continued usefulness of the “billable hour”. If you’re not a legal practitioner, I am afraid I am going to lose you for a bit, but I really want to talk about it. Most law firms work on the idea that you have to bill a certain minimum number of hours in a year, and if you don’t meet this target, they tend to take it out of your pay. People, most of them way smarter than me, have often spoken about how ridiculously high this number is, and how useless the concept is as a whole. But because we are a “traditional” industry, we still insist on it. What does this mean? You have to spend a certain number of hours on your desk even when you don’t have any work to show you are meeting the targets. Which means people waste time they don’t need to on their desks, inventing work they haven’t done to meet their goals.

These are just a few examples of things I can think of that can change to make our lives less stressful. It isn’t as easy to implement as sending out an article on breathing exercises to your employees every once in a while, but I think it might be the slightest bit more effective.

Sticking with it

There is a lot of debate going on about certain comments Prince Harry made on what is being dubbed as the “great resignation”. He said he’s quite happy people have quit jobs that make them unhappy or negatively affect their mental health. He said, and I quote, “Many people around the world have been stuck in jobs that didn’t bring them joy, and now they’re putting their mental health and happiness first. This is something to be celebrated.”

While some people have come forward and said they agree with the statement made, a lot more have (understandably) come out against it. I am the first person to tell people to leave a job (or really, any situation) that makes them unhappy, but the difference here is I only advice people who are on the same level (usually) as me, in terms of their socio-economic standing. I do not pretend to know the lot of people less fortunate than me, and so I keep my mouth shut. This advice is, standalone, not bad advice. If something makes you unhappy, you should do your best to get away from it. You should always try your best to improve your lot. This is a no-brainer. But when such truisms come from the mouths of trust fund babies (such as Prince Harry) who haven’t any idea what it means to hold down a job for survival; people who have no idea what it means to exist in this world without the security of having a multi-million dollar safety net, it becomes a little prickly.

I think I can speak from some experience here. I had a job most would consider a good job (read – high-paying), then I left it because it was stressing me out and I wanted to try out some other things in life, and then I had to come back to it because things didn’t exactly end up going my way. So, I have been a part of the great resignation. And now I am back to work. And let me be categorical when I say that if you have a job, you’re lucky. And if you have a job you love, you are almost mythical.

But more often than not, most of us will have jobs we don’t like. And we will continue to do them (or as in my case, to come back to them) because we need them. I wish there was another way, but for many of us there isn’t. Despite this I think that a lot of us try our best to make our circumstances the happiest they can be. I think a while ago I spoke about the things that make me happy; new habits I have picked up to make my life slightly better. I’m going to talk about a few more resolutions I have taken, re-entering a job I don’t particularly like, in the hopes that it might resonate with some of you. Because regardless of what tone deaf rich people might scream down at us once in a while, many of us can’t afford to let go of our jobs.

Buy cute stationary

The first time I started working I told myself it was going to be a temporary thing. I wasn’t going to be around for a long time. So, I never really felt like spending time on decorating my desk. I’m determined to do it differently this time. I don’t know how long I will be in this job. I have some plans, but you know what they say about plans; man plans and god laughs. So, till the time I am in this job, I am going to treat is as a permanent thing. The first thing I will do is make my desk as cute and homely as possible. Last time around, I didn’t allow myself to buy any of the cute office stationary I would constantly fantasize about. This time, the first thing on my list is a pink colored keyboard. Maybe baby pink. Something that cheers me up whenever I see it. I know some people scoff at this, but there is a lot of value in making your environment as cheerful as possible.

Spend my money

I know that the point above this also had to do with spending money. But this is a little more generalized than buying stationary. In my previous stint as an employed person, I didn’t spend any of the money I made. Because my parents had kindly let me live in their house, I didn’t even need to spend any money on rent. So, while I would slog away at my job, the money would sit pretty in my bank account. This is an extremely privileged position to be in I know, but it also had the effect of making me feel like none of it was worth it. It made me feel like I was working way too hard and enjoying the benefits of it way too little. This time, I am determined to buy myself things I enjoy. Which aren’t too many. Books mainly. And maybe some other things.

Learn to invest

This is another habit I want to get into. This is something I have wanted to do for a while, but I think with money starting to flow in again, it has given me an additional push to learn to manage my personal finances. I often wondered at why we were never taught important things like managing our finances when we were in school. Then I read somewhere that the sole purpose of designing the curriculum in the way that it was designed, was to prevent average citizens (people like you and me) from learning how to do anything practical, so that we stay hooked to bad jobs that make us live paycheck to paycheck. So, it wasn’t so much an oversight on the part of the school not to teach us about financial management as a conscious decision. I plan to change this about my life. I don’t hope to become any sort of financial whiz kid, but I do want to be able to generate a secondary source of income by learning how to invest well. Also, I have recently learnt that one of the worst things you can do with your money is letting it sit in the bank. So, for those of us who have the opportunity to save a percentage of our earnings (i.e., if all our earnings do not go into providing basic necessities) then we should definitely try and invest it in something or the other. Watch ‘The Inside Job‘ if you’re not convinced about the villainy of the banking system.

So, yes, if I had to take a position on the whole Prince Harry x The Great Resignation debate, I would say I’m against his benign advice to quit our jobs, because for most of us the decision isn’t that easy. If I need to, I will definitely hold on to the job I get and try to work our way around this job-related-misery in whatever tiny ways I can.

Building a personal narrative

This is something I read in online. There is some value to building a personal narrative. It is called a “personal narrative vision” exercise. There might be things you want in life, but you are too scared to say them out loud. And because you are too scared to verbalise them you forget to visualise them. If you don’t visualise something, how will it stay in your mind space?

I want to take some time out from my day, a little bit everyday, to build a personal narrative.

What does this mean?

You talk to yourself. More than that you tell yourself a story about how you want your life to turn out. It is a manifestation technique. I think more than that, even if your life does not turn out exactly the way you write it down, it is also a calming technique.

It feels corny to write it down. Even now, when I am only talking about it, and not actually doing the exercise, it feels a little silly. What good will writing down an imagined version of your best life do? On the other hand, what possible harm could it do.

I think the idea is not to write in terms of what you want. I mean you should be writing about the kind of life you want, but you should try not to begin sentences with “I want”. I think the idea is to write as if there is no possibility of your life turning out any other way.

I read an article where a man had written down his own personal narrative. Here is an excerpt:

My online courses are managed and continuously improved by a dedicated team of remote collaborators, who take total ownership for their success and know how to leverage me and my skills when needed. Thousands of people take my courses each month, breaking through limiting paradigms, creating groundbreaking new projects, products, and businesses, and becoming leaders in the movement to transform people’s relationship to their work. Everything I know is open-sourced and available to help people create more freedom, pleasure, and impact in their work and lives, whether they ever buy from me or not.”

I admire how honest he was, especially since I don’t think I could ever have the nerve to say these things out loud. He writes things down very specifically, complete with details of the people he wants around him when he achieves something and the timeline by which he has to. I like the way he writes; it is like writing down a story in the future tense. Like a prediction.

I already journal religiously. I think it would be fun to write this down too – to build a personal narrative. I think every Friday or so should do it.

Snake oil salesmen

Link

There was once a man called Clark Stanley. He travelled the length and breadth of the United States of America to sell his product. The product was oil made from rattle snakes. At least, this is what he claimed. Large crowds would flock to this man’s presentations, usually given at local medical showings. He claimed that his product, based on the Chinese water snake oil (words that sound exactly as shady as they are), could cure all sorts of ailments known to man. You name it, and it can be cured. All by using this, um, snake oil.

Sometimes I wonder – will future generations look back at us and marvel at all the dumb shit we fell for? Will they laugh when they discuss our almost unshakable faith in the many healing qualities of scented candles? Or will they be shocked at how ‘Goop’ was a real company selling the products it sells to actual people (I’m still shocked, and I belong to this generation). But anyway, back to our snake man Stanley.

He carried on quite a successful business selling his snake oil to anyone and everyone. After some time, someone had the bright idea to examine the claim. They found out that not only does the snake oil not cure any illnesses (shocker I know), it also isn’t snake oil. Yup, it was just regular oil. I mean, I’m honestly not even mad at the man. If he could pull this off, then good for him. As far as I’m concerned, he earned that money, for entertainment value if not medicinal value.

Since then, the term ‘snake oil salesman’ has been used in pop culture to refer to, well, frauds. These are the people who go around advertising their ‘cures’ to the weak. There are many kind of frauds out there to be sure. But the ones who use this method of operation, the ones who prey on people who are at their most vulnerable to sell them basically nothing, are the ones deserving of this title.

A great place to find such snake oil salesmen (let us call them SOS) is the internet. You can get them for almost anything you want, in almost any field you might ever be interested in. You can find these people peddling their goods in the areas of learning how to start a business, or learning how to blog, or learning how to grow on YouTube, or learning how to get rid of acne. But I believe that the most vicious ones are to be found in the niche of ‘How to get Rich Quick’.

The thing all of these Get Rich Quick scheme people have in common is that they sell a particular kind of fantasy. One where (1) you can become immensely wealthy; (2) you can become immensely wealthy in a short period of time; and (3) it does not matter who you are (“anyone with a lick of sense can do it” as they like to say). They all have a system for it. And the only way you can do it is if you follow this system, and you follow it religiously.

I see so many of these millionaires all over YouTube. The gurus that drive fancy cars, big houses, have girls all around them (which by the way, I take exception to, because they always show girls as some sort of commodity that ups your social value in the same way cars and houses do) and seem to have done all of this seemingly effortlessly.

I’ve been down the rabbit hole with these gurus. Many of them, many times. And, I think you can already tell what my opinion on this is, but let me spell it out for you anyway.

First of all, anyone can fall for this trash. It does not matter how smart or well-educated you are. The trick with these SOS is that they catch you at a vulnerable time in your life. The first time I started following one of them was when I had recently quit my job. These were the weeks in which I went through life with a smug sense of superiority – thinking I had cracked the matrix. I was out of my 9-5 corporate job and I was going to do what I loved to do and automatically become a quite rich while doing it. Seems pretty straight forward does it not. I was all set to be the dream. And what I needed was someone to guide me and help me navigate the world of personal finance. You know, one of those people that teach you ‘how to become a millionaire doing what you love’, or ‘how to generate 6 streams of passive income’, or ‘how to make money work for you’. You get the idea. It was scary to be out in the world alone without a monthly salary keeping my ego afloat, and so I turned to these SOS. As quickly as I fell into this, I started to realise something. Which brings me to my second point.

They have nothing new to offer. One could argue they have nothing to offer at all. But I don’t think that is true. If you listen to them with the intention of having some positive thoughts screamed at you by some middle aged man who clearly pumps himself full of steroids to avoid dealing with his emotions, then yes. That need gets fulfilled. What they don’t offer you is any value beyond this. They always say the same things, and they always say things you already know. I heard at least 6 different men tell me that to be rich I have to generate multiple streams of income. Ok, yes, agreed. But I already knew that. I didn’t find out anything new. And I certainly did not find out how to make money quickly did I? Generating multiple streams of income is good advice, but it takes years of insane hard work and some very smart investing to get to this point.

And these are the nicer SOS I’m talking about. Don’t even get me started on the people who tell you to sign up for ‘exclusive’ courses to learn all of their ‘tricks’. The only thing exclusive about that course is the money that exclusively flows out of your pocket.

I followed a few of these gurus for some time, and then I got tired of having the same thing screamed at me. Luckily, I didn’t end up spending too much time on it. I mean, I might have signed up for a few online ‘take quizzes and make money’ schemes but I didn’t do much more than that. But from what I know, it can get a lot worse.

Alright, I think I am done with my rant for today. I’m going to go back and try and finish packing for my trip. I will talk to all of you tomorrow.

I could be inspired too

There is a proverb (I think it is a Buddhist one) which goes a little like this, “comparison is the thief of joy.” Neat little way to sum up a lot of the criticism I see when it comes to social media. At least the surface level criticism. How it makes us feel bad to see these perfectly constructed online lives of high achievement, in comparison to the mundane lives we live in reality. I know that there are a lot of other things that are wrong with the whole social media scene (and other people have done a much better job of talking about this, check out this video if you want some food for thought). But basically, when it comes down to it, a lot of the stuff on social media makes us feel bad because we compare it to the things we have (or don’t have).

I don’t want to talk in general terms. Let me give some examples of things that always make me feel bad whenever I come across them online.

People Travelling

I hate how perfect everyone’s vacation looks. I am sure that if and when I put in effort into clicking pictures while I am out vacationing, I could also, sort of maybe come up with something that is decent. But I get lazy when I travel (that is when I’m not having a terrible time of it, like I’ve said before). I see reels of people eating pasta in small Italian villages, or perfect looking girls making montages of their chocolate syrup and croissant breakfasts in Paris, or people hiking in a pretty Japanese forest; and I instantly feel bad about whatever I am doing. I could be having a perfectly enjoyable day (tucked in bed with coffee and watching a movie I like) and seeing these images of other people enjoying their trips will mess me up.

Happy couples

I don’t want to sound salty (maybe just a little) but seeing people post about how they have found love and happiness makes me want to gag. Don’t get me wrong. I’m very happy for everyone that has this in their lives. But since I don’t at the moment, I don’t see why I have to cheer along this obnoxious display of cuteness. I refuse to participate in the cheer. It instantly reminds me of how single I am. Which by the way is a perfectly fixable situation if I just get out of my room and make the effort to meet new people. But where is the fun in that. Imagine a life without cribbing.

Well-trained dogs

This is an odd one I know. How can anyone hate on dogs, you might be wondering. I don’t. I love dogs. More than a lot of other things in fact. I have a dog, and I would do anything for the little beast. But if you’ve been around for a while you’ve probably picked up on the fact that he isn’t the best behaved dog out there. Ok that is an understatement. He’s a heathen. He’s all over the place. He never listens and he is spoilt as spoilt can be. All my fault, I know. I didn’t raise him well enough. Be that as it may, looking at videos of highly trained dogs turning tricks like climbing ladders or balancing glasses of water on their heads (which by the way, why on earth would a dog need to do any of this, it honestly is the worst form of showboating) irritates me.

Now that I’ve given you a few examples of the things that make me sad or irritate me, let us talk about the flip side of this.

I recently came across an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience which had Kevin Hart on as a guest. Amongst the many things they talk about, they also touched upon how social media, and looking at the lives of people who are better off (apparently) than us, might not always be a bad thing. The episode is also wickedly funny, and I would highly recommend you giving it a listen.

Anyway, Hart talks about how sometimes he looks at social media posts of other people who are doing better than him in a particular field (especially one he wants to improve in) as a source of inspiration. He looks at these posts, and instead of automatically thinking, and feeling bad about, the things he doesn’t have or isn’t necessarily good at, he tries to think of ways he can emulate the people he looks up to. Or how he can draw inspiration from them and think about the ways in which he can improve.

Putting it in context; forget the stuff I get envious of. I follow a ton of art accounts on Instagram. One of them is an artist called Sophie. I’ve never felt bad looking at her posts, even though she is ostensibly doing a lot better than me in the field I want to excel in. Instead, I love the way she posts consistently. Not just the finished project, but her entire process – the things that have inspired her, the ways in which she incorporates things people tell her about, the times she gets stuck and what she does to get over such creative blocks. I aspire to be as consistent as her in posting about my art. I want to get comfortable about showing people the process I follow in making the things I make, as silly as that may sound.

I thought this was quite a positive spin on things. I always talk about how bad social media is and how it gives me anxiety. But Hart talking about it as a source of inspiration sometimes, and not just comparison, made a lot of sense to me too.

Alone time

Photo by Kasuma on Pexels.com

I think I have written about how I don’t enjoy talking to a lot of people anymore. This might not seem like a big deal to many people. Especially the quieter ones. Like my sister for example. She rarely talks to other people. You really have to draw her out into having a conversation and even when you manage to do that you get the distinct sense that she is participating only to please you. For me though, it has been a massive change.

I can barely stand to make conversation with most people nowadays. And it isn’t because I don’t like them. Most of these people are close friends, they are people I genuinely adore. But somehow, I just don’t have any interest in the things they have to say. Every single time I get pulled into a conversation I have to force myself to go through the motions – it really isn’t an enjoyable experience for me anymore.

Alone time has become precious currency for me.

Once I started enjoying the time I spent alone, away from people and their incessant problems (which I’m sure mean a lot to them but very little to me, as selfish as that sounds), and really started enjoying my own company, I was more or less spoilt for others. There are not many spaces of my existence left in which I want to let people in. I don’t mind enjoying them from a distance or enjoying the idea of them.

And the thing is – I’m not depressed. I don’t mean any of this in a sad girl-done with life way. I feel so happy to be left alone. For the first time in months, I feel emotionally stable. And it turns out, I never even get bored. I make great conversation in my head. I have tons of interests in common with myself. And I never disagree with my own movie choice, so that is sorted too.

I remember a couple of years ago – when I was just starting out on being alone, truly alone, for the first time – one of my closest friends told me he is scared of spending too much time alone, because what if he starts to enjoy it too much and then never wants to make an effort to spend time with anyone else ever again? I see what he meant now. I really can’t imagine anyone’s company being more enjoyable than my own. I hope someone out there can prove me wrong, but it doesn’t seem likely to occur in the near future. I read somewhere that the term ‘alone’ is used differently to show different states of being. You say loneliness when being alone is a negative feeling for you and solitude when it is positive. It definitely is positive for me.

And also when you’re alone and doing things you enjoy you stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. You stop caring who hasn’t invited you to which event, you stop caring about the things people are getting upto – new jobs, new partners, new stresses – none of these things matter. At the risk of sounding preachy, I genuinely think I have reached some inner well of peacefulness. It may be temporary, sure, but so be it.

Romanticise your life

I’ve been in a rut for the last two days. I have been irritated with my friends. I haven’t touched my paintings. I haven’t done much work. I’ve just stayed in bed the whole time. My entire existence in these last couple of days could be summed up by the introduction to Ibrahim Kamit’s video on why social media is bad – you know the one where he wakes up late, stares at his phone til its lunch time, barely gets out of bed for food, and then stares at his phone till it is time to sleep.

We all know social media is bad in some ways. We have heard so many people say this – explain why it is bad, and how its affecting our health (mental and physical) and what not – that now, to say these words, feels very clichéd.

I think it is bad too (shocker). I feel really awful after spending the whole day on Instagram or YouTube. But what else am I supposed to do with my time? To my mind, this is just the societal evil we have been given to deal with – just as our parents had to deal with industrial smoke, and their parents had to deal with feudal overlords or something (I don’t think I have the timelines right here – but you get my point). I know I am never going to get off social media (at least not in the foreseeable future) but sometimes I like to remind myself of why and how it is bad. Salem Tovar has a great video essay on this in case you’re interested.

She talks about how comparing our real lives to the constructed lives of others online, or even the constructed online version of our own life, can make us feel bad about our existence. No surprise there. You can see a variation of this phenomenon everywhere. Take Snapchat dysmorphia for example. You become so used to see a filtered version of yourself that it makes you cringe to look at your actual face. But more than your physical appearance, looking at other people live out their lives online makes you question, and be unhappy with yours. I know all of this firsthand because I am guilty of it too. I took a trip recently (I’ve spoken about it before) and while the sights were beautiful it was a very difficult journey. For the most part, I was cold and uncomfortable. I got motion sick frequently because we had to travel by car and our driver really wasn’t interested in how many of his passengers made it back alive, including himself. But my god, if you check out the pictures I posted of the trip, you would think I was in heaven. And the captions! What a bile inducing mix of happy and inspirational quotes. Really, if I was someone else looking at my profile, I would call me some not-so-polite names. And then wish I was on that trip. Only to find out the trip mostly consists of nausea and shivering, and very little heaven.

Right at the end of the video though Tovar says that while it isn’t feasible to expect people to go off social media entirely, you should definitely take breaks from it. Another thing you should do is romanticise your life.

The best example of what romanticising your life looks like are Studio Ghibli films. If you haven’t seen any yet, do yourself a favour and watch one. The absolute joy of watching those characters do their everyday mundane tasks in the most beautiful way possible almost makes me cry. Making food, drying clothes, cleaning your house – everything is done with such love and care. Plus there is always the best lo-fi music in the background. So, taking inspiration from these movies, and Salem Tovar, here is how I have been romanticising my life recently.

House Plants

House plants are like little low maintenance buddies you can have in your room. I never understood the appeal of being a plant mom till I visited a cousin of mine who is absolutely crazy about gardening. Her entire room is filled with all sorts of plants – it takes her half an hour at least (from what I saw) to finish watering all of them. Her room looks magical. And my quality of sleep in that room was unlike anything I have experienced in a long time. So, I decided to get some of my own. I have about five right now. They give me something to do every morning, and they also give me company the entire day. I didn’t think it was possible, but having plants around me also makes me feel less lonely.

Scented candles

This is something I have loved for a long time. I love good smells. You know how they used to say that being told you smell good is an ‘elite’ compliment? I totally agree with that statement. Nothing makes me happier than to be told I smell good, or that my room smells good. Earlier though, when I wasn’t making my own money, I wouldn’t buy these candles. I grew up in a household where buying scented candles would be regarded as ‘wasteful’ expenditure. Not to mention frivolous. But ever since I have come into my own money, I’ve decided to spend it on things that make me happy. I’m not some whiz kid with money, but I know buying one or two scented candles a month isn’t going to be the reason for my debt crisis. I light one every evening, and it does wonders for my mood.

Bookshelves

I don’t mean that I buy bookshelves on the regular to romanticise my life. I just like arranging them differently once in a while. I like setting my books according to size, according to colour, and sometimes even according to authors. I have started putting little decorations on my bookshelf. It isn’t much, but it makes me very happy to look at it whenever I cross it.

Coffee

I think I have mentioned if before. Earlier I would drink coffee just to stay awake – as a sustenance thing in office. Now, I’ve started getting into the different kinds of coffee beans there are, new recipes, the whole lot. Also, interesting fact, I read somewhere that in Turkey (in the middle ages) it was perfectly alright for women to divorce their husbands if they couldn’t provide their ladies with coffee. Honestly, given where I am in life, this seems like a perfectly reasonable proposition.