What Keeps You Up At Night?

There was a long time, when I was a child and young adult, when money would keep me awake. Or, at least, the lack of it. I’d worry for hours deep into the night whether we’d become homeless, whether I’d be able to afford college, whether I’d lose my job and be unemployable forever more. I traversed all these worries link by link for years until, relatively recently, I realized: money is no longer my problem.

I have been extremely lucky in this regard. High paying jobs and the principles of financial independence have led me to a place where I feel assured we will have enough money to live, to pay the bills, to take care of the kids, etc. We may not be retirement-ready rich, but it’d be silly of me to expect we’d ever be truly poor.

And with this, I felt free.

For a time.

Here’s the thing: chronic anxiety is a strange beast. When the object of the anxiety is gone, the anxiety itself doesn’t just magically disappear. It may seem that way, for a while. There’s a lull, a respite. But there’s always something around the corner or even an infinite number of things to fill the vacuum.

That terrible social faux pas I made last Tuesday, trying to meet my work goals, not being fulfilled by my labor, serious physical ailments befalling my family and friends, political turmoil, families still being separated at the border, the threat of autocracy, the threat of ethnic cleansing, climate change, whether it is amoral to have children in the current age, whether I’d feel if my life had meaning if I couldn’t have kids, the idea of death. The list goes on and on.

And the thing is: all these concerns, though of varying import, are all real and legitimate. But they are also suffocating. This anxiety, at times a useful tool to be harnessed to motivate personal process, can in the worst of times stifle my ability to even move.

This is the key idea that I want to start working through now that I see it clearly: there’s no amount of controlling my environment that will make all these problems disappear (though certainly I should work to help others). For my own sanity, I have to accept that there’s an entire world of problems out there for everyone to suffer through. But what’s keeping me awake at night isn’t the world. It’s me.

What keeps you up at night? How do you deal with anxiety?

Building My Skill Set For The Career I Want

My job is not going to get better. It’s not just the weekend work, though there is that. It’s that I’m not doing the type of work I want. And that’s something I either have to stick out or actively change.

The type of work I want to do has this common thread. Writer, tinkerer, editor, data journalist, director. I want to tell stories. Whether it be through words or visual images or podcasts or objects. Whether real or fiction. A good story makes me feel whole.

To get there, though, I need two things: (1) financial stability to do the work on my terms and (2) the skills to actually be able to tell a story. Become a better writer, learn how to spec out designs, get those audio engineering skills, etc. Whatever it is, I don’t want to find myself eight years from now at financial independence starting from zero. I want to have ideas and the capacity to execute on those ideas. And in order to do that, I need to be putting in the work not just in my finances.

I asked my fiancé where he thought I should start: create a podcast, start writing short stories again, or work on data visualization projects? I need to focus only on one thing at a time. He said I should try the dataviz. It’d be easier on my introversion than an interview podcast. Besides, it’d be pretty.

Honestly, I have the biggest mental block with regard to the dataviz path. Looking up libraries to use, learning a new set of frameworks, etc. It all feels way too much like work. Those initial steps before getting into the flow of coding are always a big on pain and low on pleasure. I’ve also failed at getting myself to focus on this before.

There are benefits going down the dataviz path though. For one, it would be a legitimate career transition. I’d be closer to doing something I like and make good money. For another, I have some skill already. Even if it’s not at the level I want it to be, I’ll be able to see results and level up quicker than through other creative pursuits. Plus I already have a project in mind.

The only question now is how much time I’m going to dedicate. I need to block off chunks of time. Otherwise, mid-task, I know I’m going to feel like things are too hard and get distracted by blogs or YouTube or whatever else. For now, I’m going to schedule two four-hour sessions a week, using Freedom to kick me out of my distraction. Taking it one step at a time.

What is the career you want to have? How do you plan to get there?

Food, Money, And Self-Care

When I was an undergrad, money was tight. My parents didn’t have much in the way of income, so I was able to get a lot of grants and scholarships for school covering my tuition, room, and board. But, fun fact: scholarship money is only tax-deductible if it goes toward tuition and fees. Which meant most of what I earned from my part-time work tutoring and TA’ing had to be saved to pay a multi-thousand dollar tax bill each April.

Now, I was by no means in dire straights, but I had very little money to work with for personal spending. I usually had it all planned by each September, a necessity if I wanted to make my paycheck last until summer. Two cross-country flights– once during winter and once during the summer– made up the majority of my budget. I didn’t wear make-up and I never bought clothes; by senior year most of my tops were company-branded tees I’d gotten at career fairs.

And yet, there was always one thing I made sure I had a little bit of fun money for: food.

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Mmmm, sushi

Starting in my junior year, when I had a little more pocket money from dropping my university’s meal plan, I let myself get takeout once a week on Fridays. I remember, there was a tiny sushi shop right by the engineering buildings where, for right around $12, I could get a feast of a lunch that was more delicious than it had any right to be: chirashi laid over a perfectly seasoned bed of sushi rice, a deeply umami miso soup, a small salad with a light sweet ginger sauce, and a couple of pieces of tempura and shumai to round out the meal. Or on days I was feeling like something really hardy, I’d get a plate as big as my head of unaju-don. Everything delicious and salty and decadent, I’d eat my food at the counters out front looking to the tall trees lining campus as little rays of sunshine streaming through the tall windows warmed my arms and face.

Little moments like these have gotten me through years both good and bad. Making myself chicken ginger soup with spaghetti when I’m sick, getting that french apple pie from the local baker after a rough day, celebrating with friends over hot pot. Even eating a single fried egg over steamed white rice is like experiencing a moment of peace, sending me back to my childhood when meals, like everything else, were simpler, slower, and meant to be savored.

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Tastes like home

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less price sensitive to the types of meals I eat. Which is great insofar as I have been able to have interesting and delightful gustatorial experiences. But it hasn’t been so great from the perspective of my monthly food spending.

Sometimes I wonder how much of this spending comes from the pure joy of food and how much of it is using food to do my emotional labor for me. Like I could deal with my growing sense of burnout at work, or… I could ignore that and cook my CSA box instead. I could map out my next career step, but I think I’d rather go try out the new Mexican-Korean fusion restaurant down the street.

This becomes particularly acute when it comes to bad days. Bunch of deadlines looming? Maybe I should “treat myself” to sushi. Had to sit through a set of emotionally difficult meetings at the office? Well, I was going to get the ground beef but maybe we’ll upgrade to the lamb chops.

To some degree, food is a convenient distraction. Everyone needs to eat, most of us do it multiple times a day. But it’s also something from which I derive great pleasure. It’s no wonder that the food and my emotions would become inextricably linked, both in times happy and ill. Good food is like a friend to me; I’ve never had troubles with eating too much or too little. It’s just always been there, as supportive and comforting as can be, saying, I know things are hard right now but here, savor this, you can always take it slow.

Do you have an emotional connection to food? What sort of hobbies or things do you use for emotional self-care?