Should you ever want or need it, the shortcut to immediately irritating me is to ask me in a wondering tone of voice how I do everything that I do. I understand the impulse. I do a lot. I raise a kid without a partner or financial support. I have no other family backup. I work full-time, part-time and extra time, and spend the rest of the time keeping up my home. I’m busy. This is why I have to remind myself about self-care from time to time. But I also have to remind myself, and others, that self-care isn’t the whole story, and, when it comes to reminding others, that process irritates the hell out of me.
The gloves are off in this one, so I hope you’re prepared.
First off, let’s answer the question. How do I do what I do? I work my ass off. That’s it. There’s no secret. There’s no magic. I. Fucking. Work. There is nothing special about me at all. I go to bed early and I get up early and I do a lot of work and I schedule it carefully and it doesn’t matter if I feel like doing it or if it suits my fragile butterfly nature. There’s work to do. I figure out how to do it. There’s literally nothing more to the answer than that.
Now, I don’t always do it well or completely. I’ve learned to do it better over the course of years and I’m still learning. I’m not perfect and I know I never will be. I used to let a lot of balls drop. These days, my average is much improved. (Although please don’t look at my laundry baskets right now.) But it’s important that people who wonder at what I do understand the amount of condescension and privilege inherent in their question. I am likely working twice as hard just to get to the same level of comfort they take for granted in their own lives. The fact that I’ve done it for long enough, and earned/lucked into a relative amount of success, that now I’m at the point where people ask me for advice, is strange indeed.
When you ask me for advice, or if even you wonder idly in my direction, know that this is where I’m coming from, and know what kind of response you’re going to get. I don’t believe much in waiting for the right opportunities or finding the perfect people or jobs or places or relationships or comfort zones. I’ve never really had the luxury of doing that. If you want something, chances are you’re going to have to make your own way to it, or you’re going to have to make it itself. Don’t mistake the long, hard years I’ve spend doing that with finding the perfect path that put me where I am now, and don’t expect anything different for yourself.
Also don’t mistake any of this as a defense for any sort of existing system that doesn’t make professional and personal pathways easier for all people. We should all be working towards better systems to support all people to make it easier for them to succeed without working themselves to the bone to improve their lives and families’ opportunities. But, if you’re like me, you have to do something in the present moment to help yourself. And so here we are. Also don’t mistake this for a dictum that everyone has to follow the same path. If you don’t want to accomplish the same things I’m accomplishing, then of course don’t work the same way. I have no interest in pressuring people to be like me or anyone else but themselves. But when people ask about and to me, well, here we are again.
How do I do what I do? I work. I hustle. I find ways of securing help and support however I can. I have a reliable sitter for my daughter. I have a therapist and now a career coach. I get plenty of sleep. I try to take care of myself without indulging bad habits (self-care does not always equal self-indulgence, a point which deserves an entire essay of its own). I focus on creating good habits, and accept that it takes a long time of constant effort to put them in place. I try not to lie to myself. I remember that a lot of people work even harder than I do for less gain, and that it’s my responsibility not to gaze at them in wonderment, but to acknowledge and honor their hard work as best as I can, whether it’s with direct help or with credit or with simply applying myself to my own work without complaint.
Because here’s the nicer, more optimistic side of my rant: if I can do it, so can you. Seriously, there is nothing special about me. I had some privilege and luck of my own, but chances are you have even more, and even if you don’t, here’s what you have that I didn’t: my earned strength and my learned lessons. If you want to talk seriously about how to do everything, I’m happy to help. But you have to be serious. You have to be ready. Otherwise, neither one of us is going to get anywhere.