Yes, this has to do with Media Production… in a way. It has to do with work. And my work tends to revolve around media production. And stuff.
Anyway, here’s the deal: I’ve lost my motivation. And drive. I procrastinate through my days. I don’t finish my projects, and I fail the ones I join. I put off changes. And I’m lonely.
It all started very unexpectedly. As I’ve written before, for my Daily Uploads photo project, I go through my archive each month to upload all that’s worth showing. And a few weeks ago, I went through my July archive. July 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010… Usually, I don’t have enough days to upload all the photos I have to show that were made the same month in a previous year. Last month, I even started uploading two photos per day so I have enough days to upload all the photos worth showing. But July… No, no photos there. A dead month. Nothing happened in my life, at least nothing worth documenting. I didn’t go anywhere, at least nowhere worth documenting. I do have a few photos – but they are pretty much the most boring ones in the project so far.
So I started to ask myself: What is it about July? 8 years since I’ve been taking photos, and I can’t even find 15 decent July shots? There has to be a reason for this…
What is July? It’s the month after you finish school / uni. It’s the month before you go to holiday (if you do). It’s two months before you go back to school / uni. It’s the month everyone is preparing to relax, and pretty much no actual work is done.
See, in my life, work has a very big role. I don’t have a life – I have skills. And I apply them. And I improve them. And people ask for help. And I go and help them. And I feel important. I use work to meet people. Most people I know and have some kind of attachment to are people I’ve had a project to work with. Including school and university. I mistakenly take ‘working in a social environment’ for ‘having a social life’. So when there’s work to be done, I’m around people. I’m in a ‘social environment’. But guess what: after the work is done, there’s no more reasons for us to stay in touch. We don’t have any more ‘social functions’ and we don’t need to be in the same context. You don’t need to see old colleagues just because you did a great (or not so great) job with them. For friendships, you need more – you need an actual emotional bond.
Friends, it turns out, are the people you hang out with to do things (or nothing at all) ‘just because’. If there is a purpose, it’s not friendship – it’s a project; it’s work. OK, maybe that’s not exactly accurate. Maybe it’s just the difference between ‘work’ and ‘play’.
For the last few years, when I needed to be with someone (that is, when I was feeling lonely), I would try and come up with a project, or something of interest – a reason for them to be with me. I would literally pitch myself or the event or the place – ensuring the person that there would be a benefit for them to participate… Also, because of the way I was doing this, people started approaching me with projects they need help with only ‘because I have the skills and I can do it well’. Some of them don’t like me that much as a person – they only care about my skills. So I would take on projects I didn’t believe in and didn’t feel motivated enough to do, so I can make the person believe ‘I’m valuable’, it’s ‘worth the time and effort’ to be with me. Low self-esteem? Probably.
Maybe living in a foreign country has made the problem worse. Maybe it’s the fact the job I do has to do with all these issues – I’m an assistant to a personal development mentor. So we deal with these things to develop a programme to help others. And I’m the unofficial guinea pig in this process. I have these problems – and I can talk and write and think about them and we use that in our working process. The irony isn’t lost on me.
But another big factor in this mess is my computer. Or my relationship with it. 99 % of my life happens in front of the computer. All my work is computer-related. All my hobbies, interests and passions. My university degree depends to a big extent on computer skills. My communication happens online (Twitter, Facebook, Skype, email, Flickr, blog). Even my depressive moods have an online presence. But all this is a symptom.
A symptom of an unbalanced life. Most people use social networks to extend their offline lives. I use them instead of an actual life. I did genuinely think (until recently) that having work, a computer, and a boyfriend / husband is enough for you to go through life. I mean, the work I do and the hobbies I have and the interests and all that… they’re incredibly interesting to me. But the thing is, I’m reading endless books and articles and theories, and having all these insights (ok, not that many, but anyway), and what do I do with them? I either keep them to myself or I shove them down people’s throats whether they like it or not. People are afraid to talk to me because I always have an answer or a theory lined up that dismisses pretty much all they believe in. So why bother? They could as well just tell me to **** off – and that’s what they do. Oh, and something else: even the most interesting work in the world is something you are looking forward to get over with. In my life, there’s nothing to look forward to after the task – there’s just more work, or something I’d been putting off for months (and sometimes years). And that’s not particularly motivating – so I procrastinate and I don’t do work and I don’t finish tasks on time and I stress myself out for doing them in the last minute…
Which brings me to the concept of having a break. In my life, a break is something abstract. It’s something that happens to other people – because they’ve finished what they were doing and now they can relax. So I’d think I don’t deserve a break – because I haven’t finished what I was doing. Well, it turns out rest is a natural need, and it actually helps you to focus on the task – but only after you’ve had a break. The need for a break is your body telling you that you’re doing something wrong, or too much – and you need to not be doing anything for a while. And not feel guilty about it. Switch your mind off. Go to a ‘relax’ mode. Have a quality break – then have a quality, productive time to finish a task and have another break. Instead of spending three days distracting yourself and procrastinating on your task and feeling miserable, you can actually take one of the days off, then do productive work in a relaxed and happy state, and you are even left with an extra day! Mind-boggling…
But how do you take a quality break when there’s no one and nothing going on in your life? Who do you call and what do you do? If you’ve spent the last 10 years building your online identity, that usually means you’ve wasted the last 10 years not building an offline life. You don’t understand the world outside the web. Or if you do, it’s the one that revolves around work. When there’s structure. But go beyond that, try to do something without structure, and you don’t know what to do. And when something nice happens to you, or someone is friendly, you try to look for a logical explanation and you can’t – because there isn’t one. Because not everything happens for a reason. Not every action has a ‘purpose’. Some things just are. ‘We’re not human doings – we’re human beings’.
Oh, and something else. Money. Not having a healthy relationship with money can make the problem even worse. It has in my case. Money (or the lack thereof) could be a life-saver. When you’ve lost everything else, you still need to survive – so you’d need to focus on money. Not in my case, where part of the ‘deal’ was that I ‘didn’t have to worry about money’. I don’t even have that to cling on. So I had to lose literally everything – friends, trust, motivation, self-esteem, self-worth, everything – so I can feel a lack, so I feel something needs to change.
But that wouldn’t have happened if I’d stayed by myself. I reached out to people. In desperation, but at least I reached out. Using every possible chance to speak to someone. To read blogs, take part in discussions. To share my insecurities and listen to what other people had to say. This gave me perspective. You can’t solve your own problems yourself – you’d just go in the same circles, the same cyclic thoughts which you already know and which have proven unhealthy. Even if you do have a good idea, you need the outside world to test it.
This week, I’ve talked to more people than I have for the previous two months. Yes, it was on the phone / Skype / email – but at least I’m not simply writing status updates – I’m connecting with people. Something a friend told me: ‘There’s two sides to this process – there’s a sending end and a receiving end. You probably need to stop sending (pushing out) and start receiving.’ It did make me stop and think. What do I gain when pushing out so much? Does it make me feel better? Does it help anyone? Also, with all these projects I keep getting involved in – what do they give me? Do they make me feel more confident? Not really.
I’ve started saying ‘no’ this week. I’ve started asking myself ‘Do I believe in this project or I am inclined to join just so I don’t feel lonely?’ I don’t want to be a slave to my computer. I don’t want to be the skilful worker with obsessive perfectionism who would lose her sleep, mind and soul while working on a project. I don’t want to waste my (already depleted) energy batteries. I need to say ‘no’ until I find this one thing I want to say ‘yes’ to, and really go for it. I also need to say ‘no’ to projects I have lined up for myself – so I find this one (or OK, maybe two) things that would matter. A lot of things matter in the world – but the question is: What matters in my life, right now? If it’s not ‘hell yeah’, it has to be ‘no’.
I’ve been ‘simplifying’ my possessions – I literally live in a backpack, only have a few drawers’ worth of stuff and can easily let go of half of them. But that’s just on the surface. I do live in a backpack – but it’s getting bigger and bigger because I carry around all these unfinished tasks that I keep ‘in case I have a few minutes to finish them’. And then I have a few minutes and I don’t do it. And more accumulate. And I carry a heavy backpack.
This post is screaming YOU NEED A BREAK! And I do. I’m going to Bulgaria in less than two weeks. I’ll be making more steps there – meeting people, going to concerts – and not planning everything. I don’t have a ticket for the festival yet. I will only make sure I go there at the right time and right place. No maps, no timetables, no complicated plans, an almost empty handbag. I don’t want to limit the experience to what I can plan. What’s the worst thing that could happen? It’s not really that bad. And it doesn’t have to be that good either – if it’s picture perfect, what’s the idea of experiencing it?
I think the biggest trick would be to also do this here, in the UK. Where I’m a ‘stranger’, a ‘foreigner’, where ‘I don’t know anyone’. Where I don’t have friends – and I need to make some. Is there a ‘friendship for dummies’ book?
Actually, never mind. I’m tired of reading. I need to start living.