Everyone’s a workaholic & other related concerns

Hello, Valentine’s Day week. May you all purchase for your significant others a greeting card as mushy as the one I purchased for mine.

Part of my theme of clarity has involved figuring out how I use my time & tools: deleting apps and accounts that don’t add value, keeping an accurate calendar, setting deliberate goals for my interests & projects and seeing how I move those forward. I’ve attempted and failed at time tracking three times already this year (probably due to my comfort in scattered focus), but I don’t feel the need for it because of the clarity I’m bringing to the why behind what I choose to do. I want to pursue a lot of scattered interests, and this clarity is helping me pick one to focus on when I’m bored or unsure, which is helpful because the list is long:

  • Write more music for solo piano

  • Listen to more music with intentional focus

  • Regularly write and grow a newsletter (hey!)

  • Write a speculative fiction novel

  • Learn Swift and make 1 of 3 different iOS app ideas

  • A bunch of DIY projects around the house

  • Find opportunities to automate things around the house

  • Start a punk band

  • Buying and building a few Lego sets

  • And probably others I can’t think of at the moment

There were multiple nights in January and early February during which I wanted to work on one of those things I resolved to start doing this year, but sometimes one just wants to watch a wonderful television show or spin a record. But there persists a nagging feeling. An itch not being scratched.

I have a lot of itches. One involves forming chords on a piano keyboard, another involves what you’re reading right now, several require spending money, most involve just building something cool. I’m not a skilled programmer, but I’ve wanted to become good at it so I could eventually make a product on my own. And then I realized that #nocode is a thing: No-code development, the idea (or now a movement, I guess) that there are dozens of cheap, scalable services out there on the Internet now which can be strung together to form a meaningfully viable business operation. I could spin up an idea of my own in a weekend.

As per usual I’m incredibly late to the party: Personalities on Twitter spinning out consulting services to help fellow no-coders, whole premium communities where indie hackers bounce ideas and team up.

There’s a lot of passion in those forums. But that passion seems as much about the money as the idea. It almost sounds desperate sometimes.

I am grateful that while I have lots of itches I’m trying to scratch, I don’t feel desperate to pursue them. I’m not truly sure if others feel that way, but the Internet sure makes it feel like it. Everyone in my social circle is hustling, peddling, working. Pretty much all the time.

This isn’t just isolated to LinkedIn or weird, specialty forums: it seems to have taken over Instagram. I have reached the point where Facebook’s own app — yes, the app that my mother and her friends use more than people my own age — is more useful to me than Instagram. I swore off Facebook years ago: it had not been on my phone since 2017 I believe, and I used to only visit Facebook to un-check an occasional box that I didn’t realize was checked that was sending me an email. But since moving to a town where meaningful news and activity gets conducted on Facebook, I’ve had to reinstall it. It’s how I know whether my trash pickup will happen. It’s how I know whether there are emergency road closures due to weather. It’s how I know whether there are bobcats roaming in our local area from which I should keep my puppy away. I even get some nice family-centric updates in my news feed which I’ve carefully pruned to avoid political dross. I’ve received value by completely disabling virtually all other content in Facebook’s ecosystem from showing up, but even the occasional one that does is almost a reprieve from the workaholism I’m seeing elsewhere. Example: Facebook seems to be the only place I can see friends from high school talking about their kids and family — not their work.

Instagram, on the other hand, has devolved into nothing more than escapes that no longer work for me and entities trying to convince me to buy their shit. I’m now numb to beautiful photos of landscapes, home interiors and adorable pets — or, more likely, it’s impossible to feel that escape when every fourth story is a sponsored ad and 50+% of the escapist photos are really just graphics supporting a call to sign up or buy. (My wife’s Instagram feed is even worse.)

It’s extending into the real world. My wife and I need to make a conscious effort not to talk shop while eating meals. I consciously decided to move my blog to Substack because they make it really easy to monetize one’s writing. Irony.

Where does it stop, though? Everyone’s always asked the obligatory “What do you do?” as an ice-breaker, but we don’t seem to need it anymore because well just yell what we do at each other because we need to just to get by.

Talking only about your work all the time can’t be good for us. It must inherently add massive stakes to virtually every conversation you have; the discourse becomes centered on your income, your lifeblood. Sure, eventually some of those side hustles could become sustainable, zero-maintenance, passive income, and that’s the dream. But think about the psychological damage this is probably giving us.

No wonderful mindfulness apps are so popular: it’s not that they’re fashionable, it’s that all of us are regularly on the verge of a psychotic break.

I truly hope my fellow millennials have hobbies they can pour this anxiety into. The beauty of a hobby is that, if I lose interest, or if my interest changes shape, there are no psychological stakes. Sure, a hobby might become a money pit but at least it’s on your own volition. I can morph that hobby as I please and as my passion for it changes. The problem with all this hustle is that, even if you try an idea and it doesn’t work, you are compelled to move onto the next thing. Sure, you can take a break and watch a few episodes of [insert HBO or Netflix show], but that may come at a price of either active or dormant anxiety. I know this to be true because my wife struggles with this constantly as a self-employed person, and we’re doing pretty okay financially. What about everyone that isn’t?

I am incredibly grateful that I landed a fairly steady job where I can be impactful and do somewhat interesting work for solid pay. I am also grateful for the music industry’s collapse and subsequent homogenization, because it painfully forced me to become comfortable with treating my expensive academic vocation as a hobby and pivot to something more stable. When I decided to stop exploring music as a profession, it didn’t stop me from playing; when I decided I no longer enjoy live music, I kept recording music and listening to recorded music. I listen to new and old music constantly; I strive to engage in deep conversations around why great music is great. But I gave up on trying to make money on it, and it’s no longer a stress point in my life.

(Then again, maybe I should be trying to make money on that interest: I could have easily done something like this. There’s the fucking itch again, and here comes the psychotic break.)

Maybe I’m just overblowing this in my head. But I don’t think this internal swirl of frustration and concern for my fellow compulsive hustlers is misplaced. The feeling is exacerbated, too, because I don’t know what I can do to help, or even if the help is actually needed. Some people love the hustle, even though it burns me out and it occasionally cripples people I love with anxiety. There is only so much I can do to productively add to the world, tune out the noise in it, and focus on those I truly care about.

I have no other conclusion than that. Perhaps also I wish Lego sets were cheaper because then I’d just build those all night after a hard day’s staring at a laptop screen.

I apologize if that came off as angsty or from a place of privilege. Here’s to another week of trying to suck a little less in a world of chaos.