Over the past few months, I've been putting the finishing touches on my upcoming book, Lifeless Pile of Mush. I'll be honest: it's been a learning experience. And by "learning experience" I mean that, at times, this process has made me want to pack a duffel bag in the witching hour of the night and start a new life as a welder in a small Northern England town. Perhaps somewhere by the sea.Read More
You know those words in life that just stick with you?
The ones that are spoken on completely normal days (Tuesdays, sometimes Thursdays) under completely normal circumstances (in conversation with a friend, on a bus, at TGIFridays)? They arrive casually into your life without so much as a warning, but they manage to stay with you forever.
I once heard such words from comedian Marc Maron. If you are familiar with Marc Maron, perhaps from his standup or from his WTF podcast, then you know that he is famous for speaking openly on topics that most people often find hard to talk about -- things like relationships, mental health, and his own personal history with drug and alcohol abuse.
On this particular occasion, I was listening to Maron on a podcast (not his own, actually). He was telling a story, one that is apparently popular in circles within Alcoholics Anonymous, and one that I have never since forgotten. Here's the gist:
A guy calls his sponsor (i.e. his AA mentor) in a state of panic. He tells him, "I'm freaking out, man! Everything is falling apart. I'm a total screwup. What am I going to do?"
His sponsor, concerned for his sponsee's immediate safety, responds, "Wait. Hold on. Where are you right now?" to which the frantic man replies, "At home. On my couch."
"Oh!" says the sponsor, sounding somewhat relieved. "You're okay then."
"What do you mean?" cries the distressed caller, a bit indignant at this point.
"Everything isn't falling apart," his sponsor assures him. "You're not a total screw up. You're just a guy on a couch."
I don't fully know why this story has stayed with me over time in the way that it has, but I have a hunch it's because, more often than not, I feel a lot like that guy on the couch.
If I'm being perfectly honest, I would say I'm not much of a live-in-the-moment kind of person.
I know I'm supposed to be. My friends tell me. Internet memes tell me. Oprah tells me.
However, personally, I find it difficult to hold on to what is happening "in the moment." My thoughts usually end up living more in spaces like the Past, the Future, the Not-So-Distant Future, and the made-up world of calamity that only exists in my own head.
That is to say: I tend to freak out a lot.
I freak out about what I did the day before. I freak out about what I didn't do the day before. I freak out about what I've got coming up in the days ahead. I freak out about the direction of my life. I freak out about how I'm perceiving someone else to be perceiving me.
But if I really take stock of those moments in which I am freaking out, you want to know what's really happening?
I'm just a girl on a couch.
Or at a restaurant.
Or on the B train.
I'm breathing. I'm well-fed. I'm often with someone I love.
For the record, this isn't a blog post about counting your blessings. I mean, that's a thing you should do, but that's not what I'm talking about here.
What I am talking about is the fact that so much of what we perceive as major problems in our lives are actually things that only exist within our minds. They aren't the truth of what is happening right now. They are thoughts. And thoughts aren't reality.
I won't sugarcoat things here: life can frequently look really grim. I'll give you that.
But if we examine life in the moment -- this exact moment that is happening right now -- life usually looks pretty okay. Even pretty great, sometimes.
Think about it: right now, where are you?
As for me, I'm sitting on a plush rug in my office. It smells good in here. I'm typing. The window air-conditioning unit is blowing in my face. It's a white-noise hum, but otherwise it's pretty quiet.
I'm just a girl on a rug, honestly.
So that said, what if we always digested our lives in these simple moments?
Maybe you already do. Maybe you don't need this blog post. If so, uh, good for you, I guess.
But for the rest of us -- the ones who live in stressful mental prisons of what we should have said or what we will one day have to do or what impossible future we'll never be able to have -- let's not forget that life is happening right now.
Like, right now.
That's not to say you shouldn't think ahead. Perhaps you have big dreams for your life. Perhaps you look forward to the person you will one day be and the mark you will leave on this world. That's fantastic.
But in the meantime, you're here. Living in this moment. Amongst people who are also living in this moment.
You're just a person on a couch. Let's not forget that.
You ever wonder what in the actual hell you are doing with your life?
Me -- nah. No way.
I walk around planet Earth just outrageously certain of myself, confident in my every decision. And man, it shows.
Daily, I'm stopped on the street by people who all have the exact same thing to tell me: "Good god, woman!" they exclaim. "You look like someone who KNOWS where she is going. Not just, like, directionally-speaking, by the way. What I mean to say is --" they pause briefly, struggling to find the words. "What I mean to say is that you seem to have this general sureness about yourself and your future. The heavens smile down on you for your fearless determination towards your singular, unwavering goal. Good for you, girl. GOOD. FOR. YOU."
I then respond to this commonplace occurrence by simply shrugging my shoulders, smiling, tossing a mixture of glitter and five-hundred $1 bills in the air, and laughing as I mount the back of a motorcycle driven by my good friend and Grammy-award-winner, Rihanna. We ride off into the sunset together, leaving behind a trail of superfluous sparkle and currency.
And then I wake up.
The honest truth is I am never stopped on the street by such admiring strangers. Rihanna is not a close, personal friend. I am sorry if I misled you.
And the other honest truth is that I'm not always outrageously certain of myself either, particularly when it comes to existential matters of the what-am-I-doing-with-my-life variety.
See, I've got this condition, and perhaps you've got it too: I like a bunch of stuff.
In other words, I'm multi-passionate.
This means that I am seldom working towards one focused, singular goal. In fact, I'm often working towards multiple goals, fueled by a vast spectrum of interests, regularly dropping other ambitions in pursuit of new ones (a cardinal sin, many would say). Instead of living my life like a golden retriever on a treadmill running towards a steak attached to a fishing line, I live more like a chihuahua who got loose in an unsupervised butcher shop (i.e. I have several interests vying for my attention. There are many, many steaks, if you will).
For reference, here's a list of things I enjoy/care about/am skilled in, in no particular order: writing, reading, organizing events, traveling, being alone, being with people, being with some people but not other people, theater, music, podcasts, television, video editing, musicals, psychology, teaching, public speaking, leading small groups, Twitter, babies who wear glasses, convincing people to watch The Great British Bake Off, wearing fuchsia, Photoshop, design, singing, working with kids, baking, improv, blogging (oh yeah, that), feminism, activism, performing, wearing jumpsuits. The list goes on.
Offhand, this certainly doesn't seem like the worst condition to have. I always tend to agree with the adage that to be interesting, you must first be interested. (Doesn't that just have the very best ring to it?)
But the problem with being multi-passionate is that it can have the effect of making the road of life, particularly the road of a professional or artistic life, feel a bit winding and full of detours. The moment you start to pursue one interest, you immediately feel like you are leaving all of the others in the dust.
Here's a terrible diagram I drew to help illustrate this point:
If you're multi-passionate, perhaps you are familiar with what it feels like to experience life in this way. Others around you seem to be progressing at a normal speed towards something concrete while you are pulled in a million directions towards this vague idea of feeling "fulfilled."
This habit of falling in love with a million different life paths can make it hard to feel like you are ever really achieving expert status in anything. How could anyone ever possibly find the time to turn each of their multiple passions into honed disciplines?
Thus, for the non-expert, unsure, multi-passionate human being, a nagging question can sometimes start circulating in the mind, seemingly out of nowhere --
What in the actual hell am I doing?
That's the question that arrives in my mind, at least. Perhaps in your mind you use less salty language, but you get the idea.
This question, by the way, doesn't stand alone. It has friends: other kinds of questions that are all sort of similar but daunting in their own unique way. Questions like --
- Am I wasting my time?
- Am I in the right career?
- Am I good at this?
- What does everyone else think about this path I'm on?
- Am I doing what I'm doing for the right reasons?
- Am I being true to myself?
- Should I just give up already?
If any of this is sounding familiar to you, then unfortunately, the prognosis is official: you're multi-passionate. You like a bunch of stuff. You're doomed.
That is, until you consider the alternative.
Think about all of those other guys: the ones who know exactly what they want and always have known and won't stop until they get it.
What happens when they reach their goal only to find out that it's not all it's cracked up to be?
Or worse yet, what happens if something completely derails them from ever reaching their goal in the first place?
What if the won't-stop-until-I-become-a-scented-candle-maker guy loses his sense of smell? (Is that possible? I hope not.)
What if the won't-stop-until-I-become-the-first-person-on-Mars lady realizes that space is a vast wasteland that is better left unknown? (My personal opinion and I stand by it)
Certainly, this results in a crisis of sorts, and a big one at that.
But you, my multi-passionate, multi-talented, multi-fascinated friend: you're different.
While many people throughout your life will accuse you of being a head-in-the-clouds, impractical nutcase, I would argue that the opposite is true.
I would say that you're a hyper-realist (and so am I! Phew!). You know that there is more than just one option for you. You know that life is essentially just free sample day at Trader Joe's. You can try stuff. You can love stuff. You can hate stuff. You can combine stuff. You can even build a whole goddamn meal out of JUST. FREE. SAMPLES, you clever thing, you!
So when life throws you a curveball, you've got options. You may not know everything there is to know about one subject, but you know at least a decent amount about lots of subjects. At worst, this makes you a wonderful conversationalist, and at best, it makes you a valuable asset wherever you go. Seriously.
But it's a trade-off, right? For the singularly focused passionate person, there's potential for a HUGE crisis if a goal isn't met. For the multi-passionate person, there's even greater potential for a series of mini-crises for, like, the rest of your life.
(Sorry, but it's true.)
So if you're feeling like you're in the midst of one of those mini-crises right about now, I've got just the thing for you!
I've created a FREE workbook for your multi-passionate ass! This 6-page document is essentially an interview between you and your existential crisis. I'm giving you the tools to ask yourself questions that are far more helpful than "What in the actual hell am I doing?" so that you can get on the road towards feeling confident in your choices.
Ready to feel a little less panicked and a lot more sure of yourself? Click below to snag your free download!
Are you multi-passionate? How do you cope with the occasional existential crisis?
There are a million good reasons to pursue a freelance career.
Reason #1: You get to make your own hours.
Reason #815: Your boss doesn’t hate you because you are your own boss and you tend to think you are pretty great.
Reason #2,227: You don’t have to have weird conversations about your weekend in a break room while you wait for your Lean Cuisine to heat up.
All of these reasons and more were contributing factors to my career shift over three years ago. At that time, I was done living the 9-5 life, and I was beyond certain that freelancing was the life for me. In many ways, I 100% made the right decision. However, what I've realized over time is that while setting my own work pace and focusing on creative projects are massive perks, freelance life also comes with its own unique sets of challenges.
Unique Challenge #1: Without a boss, you don’t have anyone telling you what to do.
Unique Challenge #57: It’s hard to stay organized because you are in charge of ALL THE THINGS.
Unique Challenge #225: It can be hard to keep yourself on task while working at home/in a coffee shop.
It took me a longer time than I’d like to admit to figure out how to organize my life as a freelance writer. In the early days, it felt like new challenges kept presenting themselves all the time. I couldn’t develop a solid editorial calendar, I couldn’t figure out how to schedule my day, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to separate my work life from my life-life.
But then, one day, I had a thought: Oh wait! I live in the 21st century. There’s an app for all of this stuff!
Just like in every other aspect of human existence, apps make working as a freelancer SO. MUCH. EASIER. Over time, I’ve fallen in love with a select few that have made me a productivity machine (that might be an overstatement, but you get what I mean).
Looking for some apps to amp up your work-from-anywhere lifestyle (or, you know, some apps that will simply boost your general productivity)? Here are my favorites:
I've got a lot to say about this one because it's practically revolutionized the way that I get work done, so let's get started.
Where oh where in this freelance world would I be without Croissant? I will tell you: I would be huddled in the corner of some coffee shop in Brooklyn with a dying laptop (because I can't find an outlet), ordering coffee after coffee out of sheer guilt for staying there so long. Before Croissant, if I ever got the urge to get myself out of my home office, away from the cat, this is exactly what I had to do.
But now, I get to do the very dignified thing of going to a coworking space! Croissant is an app that aggregates some of the best coworking spots in your city (as of right now, they operate in New York, Boston, and DC), enabling users to hop between all of them. These are usually places with significant membership fees, but Croissant gives you access to them for as little as $39/month! Like, what?!
I love this app in particular because it gives me the freedom to live my go-with-the-flow, freelance-y life while also providing me with the structure and resources of an office. Croissant also gives me the rare opportunity to work around other creative, motivated human beings, which I really believe, in turn, forces me to be a more creative, motivated human being.
OH, and did I mention that every coworking space on Croissant's directory is absolutely delightful? My favorites are Rise, The Farm, and Workville, but they all have that wonderful, clean, startup-y charm that makes for a perfect working environment.
You know how crafting your daily to-do list is often just an exercise in documenting your upcoming failures? Well, it is for me anyway. Typically, with to-do lists, I'll write down every single thing I can think of doing that day, even if realistically it would take me roughly a month to check off every item. Then, when I inevitably fail to get it all done, I sulk and I eat a lot of salt and vinegar chips. It's a rough cycle.
But the One Big Thing app has nearly solved that problem for me completely! The principle behind One Big Thing is that on any given work day, even if you have ambition out the wazoo, you likely won't have the time or energy to get more than one big thing done. A blog post, a slideshow, a project outline, etc. -- if you get that ONE thing done, believe it or not, you are a success.
So the One Big Thing app is exactly what it sounds like. Within its minimalist design, you write down the big thing on your list for that day along with three little things you would also like to accomplish (send an email, buy more post-it notes, eat a salad, etc.). This kind of list helps keep us overzealous task-masters in check by providing reasonable expectations for the day. Plus, for those of us who appreciate a good affirmation, One Big Thing has lots of built-in encouragements whenever you check something off of your list. (For instance, whenever I checked this blog post off of my list, the word "YES!" popped up really huge on my screen, and my heart grew three times its size).
Arguably the worst thing about being a writer is having to get my work done from a computer. If I could handwrite all of my blog posts (which I've actually done, by the way) or painstakingly type out essays on a typewriter, I feel like I would be downright prolific. But computers come with the Internet and the Internet can be a distracting place. I don't know about you, but I can easily lose an hour looking at nothing in particular online, and that's a scary feeling.
So when I really need to get cracking on some work, I use Freedom. Freedom is an app that works across all of your devices to block distracting websites. You can set it up to block specific sites for customizable amounts of time. For me, I block all of my social media and Buzzfeed. That way, I can't stray from my work by reading a list of 10 Cats That Look Like Presidential Nominees.
After spending the early days of my freelance career writing down ideas on the backs of gum wrappers and receipts, I can easily say that Trello has been a game changer for me. In a nutshell, Trello allows users to organize ideas and projects using two basic systems: boards and cards. Cards are the small ideas or to-do list items that make up a larger project (a board).
I've used Trello to organize everything from my e-course, to this site design, to my editorial calendar, and I even used it at the start of this year to create a vision board for 2016. Don't judge me.
What I love most about Trello is that there is a calendar attached to every single board. This means that you can attach due dates to every item and it will reflect that information in calendar-form. This means no more having to rewrite things from your to-do list onto your calendar. It's all connected. And it's a miracle.
Also, one last thing: Trello is a fantastic collaborative app. You can share boards with other users, which as a freelancer is immeasurably valuable. I mean, imagine being able to show a client a detailed project board while you are creating it. This earns you mega independent contractor points, my friend.
When I'm not using Croissant to do my coworking thang, I'm usually at home working in my tiny, quiet office. Now, if you're anything like me, a quiet room can be somewhat terrifying, so a bit of noise can be a good thing when it comes to productivity. A lot of people I know play music while they work, but that doesn't really work for me. When I listen to music, all I want to do is sing along and focus on Joni Mitchell's extraterrestrial voice instead of getting my work done.
That's why I use Coffitivity. Coffitivity is an app that provides users with the sweet, sweet sounds of a local coffee shop. The hum of customers chatting, dishes clinking, receipts shuffling -- it's all there. While that might seem a strange thing, it's the perfect background noise to help you stay focused on what you're doing while not having to sit in a painfully silent room. So save the $4 you would spend on a latte, and instead bring the coffee shop to your home.
But sometimes as a freelancer, you just feel like being at a coffee shop. While coworking is definitely my favorite way to work, there is just something about the feeling of sitting in a neighborhood coffee shop that will always have a soft place in my heart. So from time to time, I'll spend way too much on a latte just to have that experience.
The problem, however, is this: coffee shops can be loud. Loud customers, loud music, loud snacking, loud chairs squeaking. And for someone like me, with the inexplicable sensitive hearing of a small dog, this can be incredibly distracting.
These are the times when I pull out The App Formerly Known As H _ _ R (it used to be called "Hear" but they seem to have gotten in a bit of trouble for using that name, oops). This app is crazy (and warning: you might hate it, but I feel it deserves to be mentioned).
The App Formerly Known As H _ _ R filters the noise of whatever space you are in and synthesizes it all into music-like sounds. Essentially, it’s a noise-canceling device that takes distracting noise and turns it into a harmonious, productive ear massage.
That definitely sounds weird, I know, but it’s honestly hard to explain. You kind of have to experience it yourself. But warning: when you first turn it on, especially if you are in a relatively quiet room, you will think that aliens are taking over your brain. But play with the filters a bit and perhaps you’ll start to see/hear what I’m talking about.
What are some of your favorite productivity apps?
P.S. Did you miss your chance to sign up for De-Funked, my FREE 5-day email series for folks who feel a little meh about life? Well, it's not too late, friend-o! I'm leaving the course open, so you can sign up right here and receive your first email today :)