I’m a founder. And a writer. And a creative. I do a lot of different projects, a lot of different kinds of work. I know what the cliché says — I should be a hugely focused and productive person, who lives like a superhuman and breathes pure and untainted inspiration.
Right now, that cliché is finding its home in Instagram quotes and Linkedin motivational screeds, and the message is this. That we should all be pushing ourselves to the limit, in the middle of a global pandemic, and using a crisis — both of society and of our own dark night of the soul — as an opportunity to somehow hack a new version of ourselves.
It’s aspirational productivity porn, taking to an all-new extreme.
But here’s the truth. I’m a total fucking mess. A hot mess. I run my life and my business and my writing career and my speaking engagements with a sense of organised chaos. Do you know why?
Because I’m a human. And humans are disorganized, chaotic, emotionally up and down, totally inconsistent and gloriously weird. We are. Even when we try to impose a sense of order, and we look like hyper-scheduled automatons, we’re still flying by the seat of our pants.
When all of life is completely unpredictable, it’d be fucking impossible to do anything else.
With that in mind, I want to talk about my rituals, and my way of greeting the day. It might not be inspiring, and you’re not about to learn any life-hacks, but I think it’s going to resonate with one or two of you.
I wake up at 6:00 AM and hate myself and my life.
There is no way around this. Almost every morning, almost every day of the week, the first thing that drifts into my mind when my alarm goes off is how much I hate everything. How much I hate being awake, and hate work, and hate getting up, and hate showering, and hate writing, and hate building things.
I wake up at 6am because I don’t sleep well. I’ve never slept well.
This is largely unavoidable. I know, because I’ve tried everything. Setting myself motivational messages, getting more sleep, modifying my diet, doing yoga etc. Doesn’t help.
The version of me that wakes up is just a real, grumpy asshole. There’s not a lot I can do about that except hold it in and wait for the fog to clear and the feeling to drift away.
To pass the time, I like to think through a list of things I’m grateful for. It’s not a total antidote, but it does help. My comfortable bed, my breakfast, my family, Fugazi’s debut album, whatever book I’m reading.
It’s not an easy list to make when hateful me has the Comm, but it’s a positive move, nonetheless.
I battle with my early morning phone addiction.
After I finally drag myself out of bed, I struggle with the crazed urge to check my phone. I know there’s going to be tweets, emails, app updates, tech news, funny shit to read and probably one or two hilarious gifs, and I want to see them all so incredibly badly.
I’ll occasionally freeze with indecision, itching to grab my phone and dive in but knowing I need to get my ass in gear. Recently, I’ve been trying to form a habit of charging my phone in the living room, to escape its clutches in the early hours of the morning. But it doesn’t always work out that way.
I know if I don’t, I’ll sit on the bathroom floor, delaying my shower for a good 20 minutes while I scroll, swipe and tap away. It’s wasted time, I’m rarely conscious enough to comprehend what I’m reading and it makes me run late.
If I’m lucky, I can make myself do something physical.
I hate jogging. It’s not something I want to do. I know I’ll love the version of me that returns from a run, glowing and sweating and feeling accomplished, but I’m not fond of the version of me that actually runs. At all. And I can’t motivate myself with instagram crap.
Most mornings, it doesn’t happen. But I try and hit a target of getting out the door 3 times a week. Or 2 times. Hey, it’s a moving target.
It’s incredibly fucking hard to meet that target, because I’m never motivated about working out, and I’d rather watch early morning X-men cartoon re-runs, but it’s a matter of making a conscious decision to exercise at least a few times.
When I get back from my jog, I’m exhausted. Wiped the fuck out. Not in the mood to make a kale smoothie and post on Insty. Instead, I try to meditate for 10 minutes.
A couple years ago, the therapist I was seeing for my depression suggested I calm down by spending 10 minutes visualizing myself placing every thought came into my head on a leaf and watching it float down a stream. I know it sounds like bullshit, but it has never failed to work for me.
Any more than 10 minutes and I get way too bored. Sorry, that’s the way I am.
I eat breakfast. And drink a normal, delicious coffee.
I make a point of sitting down every morning, every week and eating a proper breakfast. With a cup of delicious coffee. Not green tea, not bullet-proof coffee or a super food smoothie. Beautiful dark, incredible coffee. It’s my favorite part of the day. And I eat whatever it’s going to take to comfort and nourish me. A hot croissant, dripping with butter. A bowl of lucky charms. A bacon and egg roll made at home in a hurry, with very little culinary skill.
That’s most mornings for me. They’re not inspiring, and my morning ritual isn’t designed to turn me into a productivity machine. It’s pretty normal, and it’s often a huge mess. But it works for me, and it doesn’t stop me from hitting the ground running and knocking out my to-do list — most days.
You don’t have to try and hack your life with all the bullshit advice out there. You don’t have to get up at 5 AM, drink a warm glass of water and read Chicken Soup For The Online Blogger Slash Startup Founder Slash Future Motivational Speaker. I know we’re told that literally every successful person in the world does that, but tough shit.
When I was younger, I read all the blogs, and decided I was going to turn myself into a Jack Dorsey-like machine. I tried being at my computer by sunrise, writing blog posts. It did not work. I was angry, unmotivated and a real pain in the ass to be around.
My point is, you have to wake up and face your day in whatever way works best for you. For me, it’s trying to make positive choices about what I do every day, and fighting a battle against my worst nature. And losing that battle a couple days every week. It’s probably going to be something similar for you.
Don’t try and life-hack your way to post human status. Don’t get too caught up in the self help stuff out there. If it inspires you, that’s great. But you need to live your own fucking life on your own terms.
The pandemic is not business as usual. Your goal is simple. Your mission is simple. It’s the same as mine. We just have to survive it, in one piece, and with enough of our health intact that we can help ourselves and the folks around us on the other side. This isn’t the perfect time to start a new business. This isn’t a staycation. This isn’t a lifehack. It’s a crisis period, and however we get through it is…well, it’s okay by me.
Joan Westenberg is an award winning Australian contemporary writer, designer and creative director. She is the founder of branding and advertising firm Studio Self. Her approach to messaging, communication and semiotics has built her reputation as a writer, and she has been named as one of the leading startup voices in Australia by SmartCompany.
Her writing has appeared in The SF Chronicle, Wired, The AFR, The Observer, ABC, Junkee, SBS, Crikey and over 40+ publications. Her regular work can be found on Pizza Party, a blog about creativity, culture and technology. Joan is the creator Transgenderinclusion.com, an open-source workplace inclusion hack, and the author of the book #DIY, a manifesto for indie creativity.