Everything is bad, all at the same time
Is everything in your career and life so awful that you pick up motivational books at Barnes and Noble and laugh until you cry at how pathetically inadequate the advice is to your life?
This happened to me. The particular book was Julie Morgenstern’s Time Management from the Inside Out. There’s nothing really wrong with this book. It’s simple, general, and uncontroversial. As I remember it, Morgenstern pointed out that there are only so many hours in a day, and that it would be good to see them all at once on a calendar, and that most people greatly underestimate how long it will take to do a task; thus, you should try to estimate honestly the amount of time it will take to do the things you need to do, and then you should put these tasks on a calendar, scheduled for specific times. Well, yes. Few of us do this all the time, but it’s kind of hard to argue that that’s a good idea, right?
My response was to laugh hysterically and then tell Julie Morgenstern’s little cover photo, “That’s really cute for regular people, but IF I DON’T DO 500 THINGS BY TOMORROW, BY WHICH I MEAN SIX MONTHS AGO, MY LIFE WILL BE OVER!” There were also some expletives that Julie Morgenstern did not deserve.
If everything in your life is not working, all at the same time, it is actually fairly unlikely that incremental improvement will give you the results you want. If you have a terrible job in a terrible city where you live with a terrible boyfriend in too-close proximity to your terrible relatives, and you try to fix everything as it stands, it’s pretty likely that you will wear yourself out early on, and you will stop tinkering as soon as things become bearable again – that is, the goal will become relief, not awesomeness.
David Sedaris wrote in one of his books about going to Japan for several months in order to break his smoking habit; he just couldn’t do it at home, where everything is a physical cue to do the things one has always done. Dumping yourself in another country is an excellent way to make clear to yourself that there are many, many lives you could be living, and the one you’re failing at is not necessarily one you need to go back to and tinker with.
Drop everything. Go teach English in Moldova. Seriously, if you don’t have any money, you can still travel, because America is actually really expensive and a lot of other places are much less so. Just Google “vagabonding,” or try this to start.
Or, could you stop failing at something hard, go do something easy – maybe some kind of feel-good temporary job that allows you to pay your bills – while you use your newfound mental space to plot your next move? If you drop everything and take up dogwalking or coffee-serving, it won’t even look like a chink in your career at all if you can come out of it in a couple of years with a book, a new company, an invention, or some other creative enterprise most people aren’t ballsy enough to even attempt.