Tomorrow morning, I’ll wake up no later than 4:00 AM to start my day. I’ll call out to one of the artificial intelligences now living in my home to brief me on world events, the hallucinogenic nightmare that is our current governmental situation, business and technology developments, and , maybe a tidbit or two from the annals of Page Six. I’ll force myself to drink at least 32 ounces of water to start my day even though I find drinking anything first thing in the morning strangely unpleasant, stretch, eat a banana, and try to coach myself through my resistance to facing yet another busy day, reminding myself that this is my life and I don’t have to live it—I also get to.
By 4:30 AM, I’ll have turned off the news, done my morning shower and skincare routine (cold water to shock me out of being exhausted, which is less a state of being for me and more of a way of life), and opened my computer to focus on structuring my day. I’ll open up my calendar app and start plugging in entries to break down my time so that I can remember it by the time the week closes—partly because I have to as a function of my various jobs, but also because sometimes so much happens in a single day of my life that I feel amnesiac by the end of the week. I know lots of things happened, but sometimes it’s hard to say when, or what exactly. I did what I had to do, yes, but sometimes it’s like my body did all of it while my mind was occupied elsewhere.
“Academic reading for PhD.” Two hours.
“Review lesson plan for the day and make any last-minute changes.” One hour.
“Respond to work emails and complete any outstanding tasks that need to be done before my coworkers on the west coast see the light of day or need anything urgently, which they inevitably will, because we all depend on each other.” Depending on each other and making things happen together is what I love. These are at least three precious, absolutely necessary hours.
“Commute to class. More academic reading en route. You need to do this every single day if you’re ever going to finish your goddamned doctorate, and you’re unfortunately not getting any younger.” One hour and thirty minutes.
“Teaching.” One hour and thirty minutes.
“Commute to the office. Everyone is just getting in. Work emails. Write content for your primary job. Plan the market research thing. Read labyrinthine documents and figure out how to transform them into miraculously brief, layman-friendly talking points. Write up the website. Edit the thing.” Five hours, at least.
“Switch gears. Focus on freelance stuff. You need the money. Everyone needs the money, but you especially. New York isn’t cheap. You, who has fallen victim to a need for creature comforts and psychic stimulation, are not cheap.” Four hours. Five? Who knows. Just make sure you bill it. You need to pay your medical bills. You need to fund the things you do to keep your mental health intact, inasmuch as it can be.
Go to the gym and listen to an audiobook sometime slightly before midnight. You need this. You need to look your best. You need to practice “wellness” and mindful movement. You are not perfect and you know that. You have no choice but to try, at all times, to be remarkable, because you know just how punishing the world can be to someone like you when you are anything short of that—and you have so many fucking people and circumstances depending on your ability to work miracles and be miraculous. Someone must fill these shoes, because if they don’t, a lot of other someones may someday be in trouble, and you could never live comfortably with that.
Think about that article about Millennial burnout. Think about how your to-do list is neverending, and that beneath the self-satisfaction you feel when people say “I don’t know how you do it all, you’re amazing!” is a profound fear that if any piece of this superstructure is moved out of place, everything could come toppling down.
Understand that, even if you wanted to get off of this ride, you can’t really. Everything is too important to you. Everything you do—still, even though you tell people that you’re learning to not be this way and to relax and to not be so driving of yourself toward an end that not everyone understands, and perhaps you least of all—is tied directly to your sense of self-worth. If you aren’t a Doctor-Marketer-Businessperson-Academic-Bastion-of-Wicked-Humor-and-Good-Nature, who is also profoundly beautiful, fit, patient, confident (but not too confident), and self-effacing (but not too much so; such humility is suspect), then what are you?
Disposable. Not contributing. Doomed to be eaten up by internal and external forces that are ravenous and waiting for your misstep.
Vacillate between pride in all that you’ve accomplished and are working toward, and the perpetual fear that it will never be enough—that all the blood, sweat and time you’ve sacrificed to creating yourself, will not save you or the people you care about in the end; that there will be no reward in this life or the next. Recognize the potential for that futility, but accept that you could never go down without a fight, because that’s who you are. Through and through, it’s that will survive, to take power not for its own sake but to protect yourself and others from life’s myriad cruelties, to keep pushing, to keep becoming, that has propelled you through every single challenge, over every bed of coals, that has taken you off of streets and into classrooms, and boardrooms, and wherever else you need to be to get through this difficult-ass-life because, god damn it, if something or someone stops you, it won’t be because you didn’t try.
Think about all of the “twice as hard for half the reward” speeches you’ve gotten throughout your life and realize that the calculus is flawed. It’s more like five-hundred-times as hard for a twenty-fifth of the reward sometimes, and that’s okay, because whoever comes after you—if you do this right—will have the opportunity to navigate a better equation. And ultimately, that is what all of this is about. Your siblings need security and direction. Your mother needs to retire comfortably. Your friends need opportunities. Your students need guidance. People who don’t know you, but feel like they are a part of you (and you feel that same way about them), need to believe that good things are possible. Accept that you are scared that you can’t accomplish all of this, or any of this, or that to try may be fruitless despite your conviction—which, even in the face of that fear, is absolute.
Once, becoming seemed like a vanity project. Now you realize that it was always about survival and about opening doors so that you can live and so that others can walk through them after you.
There are days you feel terrible—more than you like to admit. Every day you feel like an imposter who can do everything he sets his mind to but is somehow not worthy of being called to do any of it. Account for that. Plan around that. Just keep moving. Jump when you don’t want to. Push, for the love of God. Fight. Try not to let this harden you too much, or to make the… sensitivities you’ve developed as a result of hitting a couple of bad walls a little bit too hard make your relationships difficult. Try to be open. Hold on to your compassion—it’s your greatest asset and why you’re here. Try to love yourself, although that’s always been hard. Try to let other people love you in the best ways that they can—knowing that that has always felt impossible. Make it through the schedule. Follow the plan. Become all of the things and do it well.
Deliver on living in your myriad purposes not just because you must, but also because you can, you get to—while many cannot—and because, ultimately, you should.
Then, once you’ve mastered this balancing act—however long it takes—learn to lift someone else up and make it easier for them to navigate this world as a person like you, without necessarily having to be all of the people you have pushed yourself to be.