My alarm goes off at 7:00 a.m. I don’t hit snooze. Fun fact about me, I’m not someone who hits the snooze button. I know. That’s super annoying, right? Morning people.
Here’s another fun fact: I’m not a morning person. I don’t hit the snooze button because I never have an opportunity to do so because every single morning I wake up with debilitating anxiety. As soon as that alarm sounds, my stomach begins to turn. My brain comes out of slumber like a racehorse out of the gate. Usually, I run to the bathroom to throw up. It’s all stomach acid and blood, and it’s incredibly painful.
My dog licks my face from around the edges of the toilet. I stand up, wipe away tears of pain, and start my day. I say to my Google Home, “Okay Google, play music,” like a real suburbanite. I listen to Christian rock mostly (weird, I know). I brush my teeth, get dressed, do my hair, put on layers of makeup to cover the bruising and redness from under my eyes. If you ever wondered what someone my age is doing still wearing so much eyeliner, it’s basically because I suck at makeup and figure eyeliner is better than bags. I feed my pets, make my coffee, do all the regular get ready for work things.
I take my dog out to play ball and go to the bathroom, bring her back in, get in my car. It takes me about 45 minutes to get to my 9-5:30. I don’t talk about my “real” job much here on the blog because this is a space for my writing career, but yes, I do have full-time employment other than writing. I have to pay the bills, after all, and only selling a few books a month isn’t going to make rent. So Monday through Friday, I work as a paralegal at a civil defense firm–labor and employment. I love my firm and my coworkers, but ask anyone who works in the legal field about it, and you’ll likely hear that it’s high-paced and stressful. Sometimes we have slow periods, but when it’s busy, you better buckle up because you’re in for a hell of a ride.
After the 9-5:30 is over (if it’s over at 5:30, sometimes it’s not), I travel 45 minutes home. I feed my pets, take my dog out to play ball again. While I’m throwing the ball for her, I’m trying my best to answer/send emails. A self-published author has no marketing team, so I have to find people to blurb my books, I have to find book bloggers to read and review the book, I have to run my own website, I have to try and find new and interesting ways to self-promote. A large chunk of this is done with a tennis ball in my hand. In case you ever wondered.
When I go back in the house, I turn on CNN. I allow myself approximately 1 hour of TV time per day, and it’s always to watch the news. Depending on the day and if I have any after work appointments, it’s the end of Wolf Blitzer and beginning of Erin Burnett or the end of Erin Burnett and beginning of Anderson Cooper. While I’m catching up on the news, I’m trying to throw something together for dinner.
Let’s be real, here: most of my meals come from a box. Frozen pizza, pasta with some Alfredo sauce (bought, not made). Hell, even my salad comes out of a bag. Why? Because I don’t have time or money to spare. Don’t talk to me about crock pot meals or Pinterest ideas or planning my meals in advance. They all sound perfectly lovely, but I’m not going to do them, so don’t waste your breath. I’m overwhelmed by my daily existence as it is without having to try to figure out cooking or planning or any of it. And yes, I know it’s healthier, and cheaper, and would save me time, and why-don’t-I-just-go-vegan-if-I-love-animals-so-much? But it’s new and trying new things is a constant source of anxiety for me, and there’s only so much of that I can take. My anxiety quota is spent mostly on my full-time job and my fledgling writing career, not meal planning.
As I eat and listen to whatever CNN is talking about (something loud and orange, usually), I’m continuing to answer emails and update social media, maybe working on a blog. Very, very rarely am I doing only one thing at once. I’m high strung and hyper focused. Slowing down is the enemy because slowing down leaves me exposed.
Whenever my hour of TV time is over, I get back to work. I write or edit or work on yet more lists of reviewers to query and people to solicit. Whenever I run out of steam for whatever I’m working on, I move to something else. If I get stuck on what I’m writing, I work on editing another book. I’m currently developing three books, all in various stages of the process. I ALWAYS have something to do. And if I’m not feeling creative, I’m sending out requests to reviewers, or I’m working on a blog, or I’m trying to schedule social media posts, or I’m simply running through Twitter to take stock of what the market looks like, what’s happening, what people are enjoying, and what they aren’t. I’m constantly watching and listening and learning.
This goes on until somewhere between 1 and 2 a.m. Then I try to go to sleep. I put on something narrated by David Attenborough. His voice is soothing. I fall asleep to the sounds of science.
But I don’t stay asleep. Somewhere between 2:45 and 3:15, my dog paws my face. She does this because she’s a service dog trained to wake me up when I’m self-harming in my sleep, which happens when I have night terrors. When I start to scratch myself bloody, or grind my teeth into nothing, or scream, Gabi will whine. If I don’t wake up at the sound of her whining, she’ll smack me right across the face.
Rinse and repeat. Sometimes, she only has to wake me up once. Sometimes, she has to wake me up half a dozen times. Depends on the night. Either way, there is very little sleep. Then, at 7:00 a.m., I get up and do it again.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, I’m telling it to you because I want to expose a lie that we’ve been told all our lives and that is this: If you simply work hard at the thing you love, success will come to you.
I’m sorry to burst your bubble friends, but this. is. a. lie. Not only is it a lie, it is a harmful lie. It’s not a little white lie. It’s not telling a friend she looks great in that dress that’s the wrong color for her complexion. It is a problematic, harmful lie that can lead people to burnout and early graves. I know because I’m headed toward one, and even though I’m aware of it, I’m unable to stop.
There are so many things that go into success that we don’t have control over. There is no secret formula to “making it”. You can do everything “right” and still struggle. You can have talent and persistence and grit and still fail. It’s horribly frightening, not having control, but that doesn’t mean we can or should lie our way out of reality. And reality is this: there are forces at work in our lives we cannot control. We cannot always work away our socioeconomic status. We cannot lie away racism or homophobia or the way society looks on “the different”. We can’t say, “If you just worked harder, then…” and wipe our hands of the very real outside forces at play in our lives, one of which is simple luck. Another of which is privilege, in all it’s varying forms, which I’m very aware has helped me get as far as I am today.
Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t work hard and do your best, because obviously, you should. It’s like the saying about the lottery, “You can’t win if you don’t play.” The work is the “play” part, but just because you play doesn’t mean you’ll win, either. Work is not everything. Hard work and persistence and grit are only a few of many, many factors at play in overall success. Reaching the “American Dream” is not a one-two punch, “Work hard. Get rich.” Sorry, but it’s just not. If it were, I would be working full-time as a writer, as would many others.
What I am saying is that we need to be more careful about our vocabulary. I had no idea how deeply the “work hard” mentality was ingrained in my psyche until I started seeing a therapist, and she pointed out that I was slowly killing myself. Not a metaphor, that’s meant in a very real way. “Work hard” is a mantra I’ve heard my whole life. It’s one of the foundations of my belief system, one of the hardest things to root out of a person, and though it seems benign, maybe even positive, when it’s taken to the extreme, it can be damaging.
I’m one of the people quickest to advocate for self-care and one of the last to practice what I preach on that front. I hold myself to a higher standard than those around me. I’m less empathetic with myself than I am with others. And that’s not actually a compliment, it’s a very real character flaw. One that’s premised upon the “work hard” mentality. Even now, sitting here writing this post, knowing without a shadow of a doubt that what I say about other outside factors influencing my life, my career, my ambitions, is true, I’m hesitant to publish this because I must be wrong, I must not be working hard enough.
That’s why I explained to you what my day looks like. Because this is how insidious this mentality can be. I have myself convinced that the reason I haven’t “made it” as a writer is because I’m not working hard enough. There are a lot of reasons I might not have made it: time; luck; talent; ingenuity in marketing; the market in general; other people’s tastes; biases toward self-published authors; bad SEO on the website; shitty Amazon keywords; a product people don’t like. I mean, there are a bazillion things that could be affecting my sales figures but probably the least likely is how hard I work, yet here I am, convinced that if I just work harder I can turn everything around.
This is a really unsafe mentality to foster in young writers specifically, but I think it’s pervasive in all career paths. Be persistent, and gritty, and work hard, yes, but hard work is not a magic cure to all the ills we face in our lives, and we need to stop acting like it is. We need to stop telling the Great American Lie.
As always, take care of yourselves. ❤ Aimee