Wow, I did not blog much last year.
Of course that’s at least partially because I moved my fandom/hobby shenanigans over onto Tumblr, which is not a decision I regret in the slightest, but also down to that old chestnut of not really having time to stop much and reflect enough to write about it, let alone put together a meaningful post with actual sentences. Here are my top four key takeaways from 2017.
1. Work To Live, Don’t Live To Work
Since my breakdown (wow, nearly three years ago now) I spent a lot of time drifting through work in a mild sea of resigned apathy, not really caring much one way or the other. Perversely, this has made me both a happier person overall and (bizarrely) a better worker, because by not living and breathing my work/career non-stop to the large exclusion of anything else I’ve actually started enjoying it again. This means I’m more laid back and productive all round, and because I’m spending a lot less time panicking like every tiny little thing that has or could possibly go wrong is some sort of extinction level event I’m fairly sure I’m a bit nicer to be around as well.
I’d like to be able to say I haven’t had any further emotional meltdowns, but I can’t say that without lying through my teeth so I won’t. The agency still sometimes does things that make me want to scream and tear out my hair (or someone else’s) and clients still often make me weep for the current and future state of humanity, but I’ve found that the term not my circus, not my monkeys is a very useful adage (along with remembering that it is the agency’s own money that is being spent on what seem to be to be stupid decisions, not my own personal money).
My agency’s CEO reminded me during one of my recent semi-meltdowns (in the nicest possible way) that he’s not paying me to worry about his job and the MD’s job and everyone else’s, so I should stop doing extra worrying for free, which is a concept I rather like: don’t worry for free.
A good old-fashioned oh well, fuck it often does the trick quite nicely as well. I’ll care about clients and their insanity during work hours – and will do so frankly quite passionately, because I quite enjoy what I do and like to get good results for people – until my time for the week is done, and then the lot of it can frankly go hang because I’m off to go swimming or play Mage The Awakening or whatever.
2. Creative Laziness Makes For Amazing Productivity
Everyone often comments about my speed at work – it’s one of the things I see clients, colleagues and third parties alike all gape at. I can (apparently) turn around documentation, technical testing and research in the time it takes most people to get their morning coffee, and more than once I’ve had someone’s jaw drop in amazement at my typing speed. Now the latter is easy enough to explain: not only am I an avid trashy fanfiction writer, but I spent nine months fresh out of university working as a medical secretary for a psychiatrist whose written English was not great, so she preferred to dictate everything.
The former is what I like to think of as creative laziness. I get tasks done as rapidly and efficiently as possible because I’d rather get something finished and ticked off in order to move onto the next thing. If I’m stuck doing the same thing for more than a couple of hours I get hopelessly bored – so the best way to avoid this is to actually work more efficiently, not less.
3. It’s Okay To Not Be At The Top
This is a major issue I have largely due to my upbringing and lots of other shenanigans I get to bore psychiatric professionals with – if you’re not in position numero uno, especially at work, then you might as well be at the bottom.
I didn’t get a clean sweep at either GCSEs or A levels (all A*s but one at GCSE, AAB at A levels) and was devastated to the point of tears when I only got a 2:1 honours on my degree rather than a first. That probably sounds utterly absurd to someone considerably less neurotic but it is a serious problem when anything less than perfection/top of the class/top earner (with all the career bells and whistles and job titles to go with it) is viewed in one’s own mind as equal to complete failure.
Partially a result of therapy and partially as a result of the much stronger ah, fuck it attitude described above, I’ve made significant strides towards getting over this. I doubt I’ll ever be turning cartwheels at being second best (or third, fourth, fifth etc) and I’ll never stop craving praise like a voracious little compliment weasel, but I stepped down from a significant Head Of title and role at work because I hated doing it. The agency only recently properly promoted someone else (a very deserving someone else, I hasten to add) to fill the gap, but no longer being “top dog” in that regard no longer bothers me. Fewer headaches. One less circus and a lot fewer monkeys.
4. Remember Your Own Needs Hierarchy
Anyone heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs? It’s a theory in human psychology that says people’s motivations are determined by certain needs, and those motivations and needs progress as they are fulfilled. This is a nice diagram from Simply Psychology:
Now, especially when suffering from a long-term mental illness your basic needs and psychological needs can overlap quite significantly, so this model sometimes stops applying. You can be entirely unmotivated by hunger, for example, because you feel so hopeless that basic bodily needs become just a background nag rather than an imperative. So actually what I find helpful is to create my own more personal “hierarchy of needs” based on the things I know I need to prioritise in order to stay functional and happy. This lets me evaluate situations as they come along and determine how to allocate my energy (or “where to spend my spoons,” to use a popular analogy).
Here’s roughly what my personalised hierarchy of needs looks like.
These are bit more abstract and first-world than the Maslow version of course, but I find this kind of “ranking” of things really and truly invaluable for allocating my energy; lower down things are more important and therefore take priority. Time to either do some writing or cuddle with the pugs on the sofa? The pugs take priority. Meeting a friend for coffee or writing some fanfic? The fanfic wins (I’m really not that social a person, as further evidenced by the fact that animals are a whole two rungs more fundamentally prioritised than people, who are in my book a “nice to have” – however I know several folks for whom “time to socialise with friends and family” would be a much higher priority bloc).
This pyramid is also really useful for the things that AREN’T on it. For example: career. If you’d asked me three years ago I would have told you my career was basically my life, and everything else was just secondary stuff orbiting around it. Now it isn’t even on there – as long as I’m earning enough to meet the “subsistence” requirement and the work I’m doing is interesting enough to fulfil the “stress-boredom balance” need then everything is good.
It’s amazing how useful this sort of thinking is.
So while doing the usual mindfulness and um-aah and spiritual critiquing that is popular at this time of year, try building yourself a personalised Maslow hierarchy. It’s a good exercise from a self-review perspective anyway, and it can prove really very useful in terms of helping to prioritise how you spend your mental and emotional energy.