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When You’re Struggling…

Back in February, I saw a Tweet from Emma Wedekind that read:

Having a really hard time recently. I feel that I need to be spending all of my free time coding or blogging or creating content. And when I’m not doing those things I feel anxious and bad about myself. Not sure how to overcome those feelings. Anyone else feel like this?

Emma Wedekind

The answer, of course, is “yes”. I replied with a full-blown tweetstorm that I’d like to share here, in the hopes that anyone struggling similarly may benefit from stumbling upon it:

23-year industry vet here, reporting the exact same struggle. There are a handful of tools I’ve used to combat this:

1) Consciously accept that your cognition is your “instrument”, and that instruments need to be cared for. Guitarists tune up & change their strings. Butchers sharpen their knives. Your cognition needs good food, rest, and recreation (play) to stay sharp.

2) Learn to forgive yourself for not being productive all the time. “Forgive” seems like an odd choice of words, but that’s what it comes down to. If you feel you’ve transgressed by not being productive enough, ask: against who? The answer is “nobody”. So forgive yourself.

3) Let go of any emotional reliance you have (if you have any) on what other people think of your productivity. If you live up to your responsibilities at work, anything else is a bonus, and falls below self-care on the priority list. Nobody can fault you for that. Accept this.

4) Schedule play time. And by “play”, I mean activities unrelated to work that are not tied to your economic well-being, but are critical to your emotional well-being. For me, it’s boxing, playing guitar, and singing stupid songs about my cats. Find yours. Do them regularly.

I came by all of these realizations the hard way, and didn’t arrive at many of them until I was near 40. This industry will take every bit of you that you LET it take. Tune your instrument, hold your boundaries, and DGAF what people think. It’s both empowering and liberating.

That’s pretty much all the “old-timer” advice I can give on the topic, save for this last thing: you are not alone. I struggle with the feelings you shared, too. I suspect we ALL do. It never goes away, but we CAN get practiced at managing them, with time and practice.

These are the kind of things that I desperately wish someone, anyone, would have told me when I was younger and newer in this industry.

If you’re struggling even a little bit with guilt or self-recrimination over living up to the idea that you have to be relentlessly productive in order to be professionally or personally valued, please remember – slowing down, taking care of yourself, being kind to yourself…these aren’t signs of weakness or low worth. These are super-power moves that will help you avoid burnout and extend your career.

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