Before I start, I want to acknowledge Anne Peterson’s piece How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation and Tiana Clark’s piece This is What Black Burnout Feels Like. This essay isn’t exactly a response to those writers, but reading their works helped me to finally focus this essay, which I’ve tried to write many times with no success. This essay is also not advice; this is how I get through each day, that’s all.
It took me several tries to get through Ms. Peterson’s essay about burnout. In fact, I only finished it because I wanted to write about it, and figured that I should at least read the whole thing before I critiqued it. I also abandoned my response to Ms. Peterson’s essay because I realized I didn’t really care about what she was saying. I don’t mean that to be dismissive of her concerns; I mean that they weren’t concerns to me. I already know I don’t make alot of money, and I don’t mail things or sharpen knives because those things are boring.
I was able to read Ms. Clark’s essay much quicker, but honestly, I wouldn’t have read it if a friend hadn’t asked my opinion about it. Ms. Clark’s essay was more important because it presented the struggles that Black women face, and I need to be more aware of that. But outside of those specific challenges, I was similarly uninterested. I know how much it sucks to be Black, and I’ve long passed the point where I’m tired of being reminded. When my friend asked me what I thought of the essay, I responded with this:
I think two things. One, this is a great article, both as a response to the original and as its own standalone piece. The challenges and traumas of being a Black woman in America are more specific and daunting than anything me or Anne Peterson experience, and need to be shared for the benefit of other Black women (which could lead me into a whole rant about editors in general, but in the interest of not writing an essay right now, I’ll table that). For me, what I can do is read this and respond with kindness and understanding to the Black women around me.
As a more general response: yesterday on the bus ride to work, I went through my music and put all of the anime songs I listen to on one playlist. I named the playlist “Change the Future.” This is the music I listen to when I’m hyping myself up to work hard for the life that I want. I don’t mean working harder at my job, because fuck that. For what? To make $5000 more? $10,000? No thanks. I’m working three days a week right now and make zero apologies for it. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, living with two roommates and sleeping with my 11 year old son in the same bed. I can’t relate to alot of the stuff that I read in these millennial articles because I don’t care about them. I don’t care about owning a home, buying a car, traveling around the world etc. Not because I’m not interested in those things in the abstract, but because I have no desire to work as hard as you apparently must to get them. That’s my own personal tradeoff- I can’t work three days a week and have anything. But that’s cool, because I’d rather only work three days a week than have that stuff.
I don’t have stress about deadlines or work opportunities anymore. If I don’t want to do something, I just don’t. I felt the stress and anxiety that Tiana Clark describes about her work for a long time- the need to impress, to prove my worth, to be “a credit to my race,” to not let down the ancestors, all of it. And then after being fucking miserable all the time, I asked myself why? I don’t actually like the people I need to impress, so why do I give a fuck what they think? To have money? So that they’ll give me a chance? Pass, and fuck them. There’s always another job, always another bridge to burn. Maybe that’s why, despite being a decent writer, I post most of my stuff for free on my blog instead of being on a paid staff somewhere. But whatever, that’s just another tradeoff. I’m not stressing myself out anymore.
I listen to the anime music to get hyped about working hard to change the world we live in. We live in a nightmare world that’s about to get MUCH worse, but it has finally occurred to me that maybe it won’t? That maybe it’s possible to actually do something about it? That slavery must have seemed eternal (and for the people who lived and died under it, it was), but enough people fought and suffered to end it, across hundreds of years. Those people changed the future, and now it’s my turn. Others have suffered immensely for me to have the privileges I do, from my ancestors across time and space to my roommate who did two tours in Iraq to afford the house he so graciously rents to me. All of that is privilege. So I put on my music and deeply believe the platitudes about trying my best, the power of friendship and always moving forward, not for a millennial definition of success or to please the ancestors. As imperfect and insufficient as my attempts are, I do them for the people around me.
While I’ve referenced both Ms. Peterson and Ms. Clark pretty heavily until now, again, this essay isn’t about them. Instead, it’s about the next question my friend asked me. She asked, “How did you decide to refocus in this way to work less and be happy with what you have? Do you really not worry about money?”
No, I really don’t worry about money. That’s partly because of all the privileges I’ve been granted through dumb luck- the accident of my birth in this place at this time; the generosity of the people around me; the ability of a physically unremarkable person like me to make a living thanks to the miracles of technology. But it’s also because I don’t care about most things. I’ll go more into that for those interested, but the short version is, I want to do what I wan, and I want other people to have the ability to do what they want, whatever it is, so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. That’s it.
The latter part of that incredibly long sentence is pretty straightforward. Yeah, I try to work against racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. because those things prevent people from doing what they want. Women should be able to do whatever, as should transgender people, Native Americans, everyone. I don’t care what you do. Work where you want. Wear what you want. Fuck who you want. Use whatever pronoun you want. And if it makes you happy, then sure, I’ll call you whatever you want. It really doesn’t matter to me. But I also know that my nonchalant attitude towards all of these things is not the standard opinion, so I do have to work to make sure that people have the right to do whatever they want. That’s where the anime music comes in, to motivate me to do the right thing.
It’s the former part that I had to arrive at eventually. And I arrived at it by realizing, after five years of working full time, that I fucking hate it. I quit my last full time job with no plan for where I would work instead, but at that point I’d decided that I would rather have the stress and anxiety of not knowing where my next check would come from than the stress and anxiety of waking up earlier than I wanted to, to go to a place I didn’t want to go to, and do work I didn’t want to do. I’m trying to work as little as possible. I derive no personal fulfillment or value from my job. That’s what the rest of my life is for.
I was also confident that I could make whatever money I had last because I don’t need alot of stuff*. That’s a result of the way I grew up- having a car was the exception, not the rule when I was a kid, so I’ve been riding the bus my whole life. When people talk about the convenience of having a car, my feeling is generally, “But if you plan your bus trip, then what’s the big deal?” It takes longer, sure, but I just read or listen to music or sleep. To me, that’s a pretty good use of the time. Walking to the bus stop in the winter sucks, but in the summer it’s the best. And on the days I don’t feel like standing in the cold, there’s Uber. My parents also didn’t own a home, and we were very transient. Anything above transience is a major step up. Not having a car and not having a house is not very expensive, so I don’t really need that much money.
[*It’s also important to recognize and be thankful for the massive privileges I have. I say, “I don’t need alot of stuff,” but I also live in a place with abundant access to food, water, electricity and every amenity of modern life. I can take all of those things for granted, and I did nothing to earn those things except be born as an American.]
Beyond that, I’m generally a low maintenance guy. In an essay I wrote about dating, I described going to Providence for a date. It was a wonderful city, and it’d be nice to go back, but if I never do, whatever. A couple of days later I had another date where I went to the batting cages and ate Subway. I had an amazing time, and it cost maybe $40. I enjoyed the date because I enjoyed the woman I was with, and I don’t really care what we’re doing, as long as we’re doing it together.
In the best summer of my marriage, all my ex-wife and I did was smoke weed, eat candy and watch Battlestar Galactica. My favorite pastime with my last was to buy a cheap store brand pizza, some cheap chicken wings, smoke and play Smash Bros. That’s all I really need- someone to smoke with, fuck and watch TV with. Everything else sounds nice, but I don’t care about those things. The things I want (weed, sex and conversation) are cheap.
I can live on PB&J, cereal and spaghetti forever. Go through my Facebook pictures- I have like five shirts and two pairs of pants. I average one haircut a year. My monthly bills are my rent and my cell phone. I haven’t had to refocus or make adjustments there, because I’ve been very lucky that the things i like are cheap.
But most importantly, I’m happy. Right now, I live in a house with my friends. I can drink on a Monday night because I don’t have work on Tuesday. I can fuck until 3:00 AM on Thursday morning because I don’t work until the afternoon. I can smoke all the weed I want because I don’t get tested, and I don’t care to work at the jobs where I would be. I give my son everything he needs, and most of what he wants. I can write all the stuff I want because I have tons of free time, and the magic of the internet allows me to present it to people without someone giving me the okay. $10,000 more, even $20,000 more doesn’t come close to being worth any of that. What’s the point of money? To do what you want, right? Well, I get to do that now. More money means more work, which would actively detract from the lifestyle i value.
I’ve always been told to want things- a house, a car, a good paying job, a family, a fence, nice clothes, vacations, retirement, a good education, jewelry. I was talking to my brother about all the things we’re supposed to have, supposed to value, and how we don’t have them or want them. “I don’t really want anything,” he said. “I just want to relax.” What I realized is that not wanting the “normal” things doesn’t mean that we don’t want anything, simply that we want different things. The different thing I want the most is time. Time to write, time to smoke, time to fuck, time to hang out with my son. Time to do nothing. I don’t disparage anyone for wanting those other things, but I’m not willing to work 60-80 hours a week for anyone or anything, and I’m damn sure not going to waste time worrying about not sharpening my knives. It’s just not me.