We were sitting at a breakfast joint in Jackson Hole, Wyoming at around ten thirty in the morning. It’s called The Bunnery and on their coffee mugs it says “Get Your BUNS In Here!” which is frankly really great and I should have bought one. It felt like a dozen other breakfast joints I’ve been in from California to Rhode Island, but comfort in familiarity was lost on me—phone in hand, checking emails and calendar notifications in total futility. As usual in the morning on workdays, I forewent breakfast for coffee like this digestive sacrifice would somehow make me less of a bad person for doing anything other than being at my desk.
I saw an older couple walk in and unwrap their scarves, making a beeline for the pastry case. Their heads were pecking around looking for something, hands clasped together in anticipation.
“Do you ever wish you were over fifty and retired?” I asked Chad. “Nope,” he answered without hesitation. I murmured something like “Well I do,” then turned back to watch them.
I looked longingly as they explained how delighted they were to have finally arrived in time to try the famous chocolate croissants, after three prior failed attempts. “We finally made it!” the husband exclaimed. “All the chocolate croissants you have left, please,” and I all I could think was, three mornings in a row! All the time in the world! Maybe they were on vacation, too, or maybe they’d just sold their app and were taking some time off—unlikely in a town with that kind of average median home price, but who knows. To me, they didn’t seem like people grabbing breakfast to hurry home and answer emails the rest of the day. I could be wrong.
They were bundled up, cute, and clearly rich, which helps my fantasy if I’m being honest. (It’s the same as my theory about the indulgent comfort of watching movies where people have problems but never money-related problems, and they live in impeccable homes like in Something’s Gotta Give, or It’s Complicated.) But as I sat there noting how I was missing a weekly conference call with my team, nervously watching the accumulating snow threatening to delay my flight back to normalcy, despite Chad’s response, age and decades lost seemed a delicious compromise for stress and anxiety and work.
I guess not to everyone, and maybe not on every day. To want to sacrifice twenty-five or so years of my life not to be anxious about work every morning might not be normal, but it’s me.
My mom has a tea towel in her downstairs bathroom that reads: “Ever look in the mirror and think, “Oh hell no, that can’t be right!”? Whenever I’m in there peeing I purposely look around at anything except that towel. As much as I know the inevitability of the sentiment, that those days will certainly come, I find it hard to live in the here and now most days. I think it’s this indignation I feel, as if there’s simply no time to appreciate the things I have now because I’m too busy being stressed out about other things. With great power comes great responsibility, yes; but with great responsibility comes great stress.
I recently read about this method of approaching problems or challenges by asking questions that reframe your thought process—lots of them. I think you get better at this the more you do it, but one I learned is a good place to start is:
“What would this look like if it were easy?”
- Fewer than 40 hours a week
- A slower pace of production
- Fewer deadlines and deliverables so I’m not always rushing or burned out
- Less pressure
- Fewer challenging topics
Quickly, with the fantasy of that free couple’s last three mornings fresh in my head like a plate of warm Wyoming pancakes, the question then became:
“What would this look like if I really enjoyed it?”
- Total creative freedom and control
- A whole week to write each article so it was great, not good
- Success measured by my audience’s response, not numerical metrics
- No stress or anxiety
(I hope anyone who saw my last Instagram post is ironically suggesting in their head: “Why don’t you just monetize your blog and write that for a living?” Hardy har har.)
[Beauty and dreams of life on the road around Jackson Hole. Inspired by one of my favorite Instagram accounts, America Is Dead.]
I stopped there, though, because something occurred to me, as things often do, which leads me to be what I feel is “all over the map” on a frequent basis. And that’s that I have no right to ask for different, less, or better, because I can’t afford to. And the reason I can’t afford to is a reason I really wanted. Total conundrum.
On this trip, about which I have a full story to tell, I was stuck wearing the same clothes for over four days. After my bag was delivered and I threw my arms around it in the foyer, I hauled it upstairs and began unpacking it. The first move was to repack every item I’d worn the last four days on the very bottom, never to be touched again for the duration: a white silk shirt (seen here on a very early date with CW; hearts!), leggings, and a long cardigan I proclaimed an “MVP” only a couple posts ago.
“At one point in my life,” I said to Chad, while folding the filthy silk shirt, “this was the newest thing I owned.”
It felt profound that this old garment I couldn’t bear to look at was once my newest, most favorite thing. Everything we discard was once novel and new. Many things we struggle with were once welcome and new. Even solutions to problems become problems themselves.
How’s that? Well with every new responsibility I’ve been given at work, more hours allocated, pay increases, high-profile projects to participate in (all excellent accomplishments!) I’ve swelled with pride—but over time, my anxiety and dread and fear of failure has swelled, too. You don’t really have those emotions when you’re working in retail, I’ll just note.
[Having some fun on the Cowboy Coaster on Sun King mountain in Jackson.]
A funny thing happens when you actually become a strong, self-sufficient, financially independent human being: You’re often trapped by your successes and independence. We always find a way to live within our means, but assuming more responsibilities in order to remain in a house by yourself (with all of its expenses now squarely on your shoulders, not yours and someone else’s to share) is a double-edged sword:
It’s fantastic not to need anyone’s help. It’s terrifying to swallow all the stress and anxiety you’ve assumed because it’s the only way you’re able to not need anyone’s help. These leap frog one another for the top spot on a sometimes hourly basis.
This year, I want to get excited about the former edge, about working hard to live (and improve) my life. I want to be excited about what I do, not beleaguered and afraid. Over the last couple of months, I’ve spent around [absurd 5-digit sum] dollars I’ve saved and shouldn’t be just throwing around on a new front porch, remodeling projects, an energy audit, soundproofing my wall (after 5 years of awkward audible encounters), various repairs, paint, a bed (finally), mattress, and sheets. That might not be all, so that number might be low. (And there’s still a ceiling repair I’ve yet to schedule.)
However, a majority of it was an investment in this home I expect to get a return on—another double-edged sword that glimmers somewhere between delight and total resentment. So much of the last few years has been dedicated to fixing things that always bothered me, in myself and in this house. It’s been empowering to write those checks. But when the OG partner in the home walks out on the plan and takes his skills with him, suddenly you’re free and it’s yours alone but you’re also saddled and alone, if that makes sense.
Today I realized my property tax bill is due tomorrow, another 4-digit breath-snatcher, and suddenly all the excitement over pouring money into this house on my own has morphed into a cash-strapped paranoia that keeps me up at night.
So you see, it’s cyclical. I need my job to make these things a possibility, then to assuage my fears once the possibilities become realities. It’s this shitty, scary, anxiety-ridden cycle, and it can get very lonely. I’m afraid I’ve bitten off more than I can chew in more than a few ways, and maybe it’s time for more figurative digestive sacrifices. Anyway, what was that thing I wrote about being hungry once? (“The lean years, the fat years…”)
New question time and I need your help. What should it be? What questions should I ask myself to refocus on enjoying what I do? What questions would you ask yourself to help you refocus, compartmentalize, get excited, innovate, move forward one step at a time?
p.s. that’s not my bottle of Buffalo Trace in the snow, but I wished it was!
Up next, for accountability’s sake: The new manifesto, the story of the most ill-fated trip I’ve ever taken, and how cashmere saved the worst of days.
Also: I love you.