It's worse than you think
June 23, 2022 3:12 AM   Subscribe

... when you grasp the sense in which your situation is completely hopeless, instead of just very challenging, you can unclench. You get to exhale. You no longer have to go through life adopting the brace position, because you see that the plane has already crashed. You're already stranded on the desert island, making what you can of life with your fellow survivors, and with nothing but airplane food to subsist on. And you come to appreciate how much of your distress arose not from the situation itself, but from your efforts to hold yourself back from it, to keep alive the hope that it might not be as it really was. From Oliver Burkeman's newsletter, The Imperfectionist. posted by Bella Donna (29 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is an interesting idea. And as someone with treatable but impossible to cure autoimmune disorders, also a concept I struggle with.

On one hand, there is relief in acceptance, profound relief, and also the ability to build a new life for yourself in the constraints/circumstances you find yourself in. On the other, the struggle not to be defeated and to seek new ways to improve or survive your circumstances is also the reason I can still walk...so...where to draw that line?

The important part I think is recognizing when it is time for acceptance, which is a heck of a gray area, and a profoundly personal decision. And that's the part I always struggle with, the when, because when you are in the struggle it's really hard to know if you're making a good call. So maybe it's more about considering what sort of world or future you can build a life in that works for you, fight for that and then accept where you end up instead of always imagining the what ifs if you had chosen a different time to accept where you ended up.

Being immunocompromised during this pandemic means I've been thinking about this a lot lately! What kind of life can I build in these circumstances while accepting the new constraints needed to continue existing?

Thanks for the interesting philosophical ideas to think about!
posted by scififan at 3:50 AM on June 23 [17 favorites]


I realized recently that I’d been laboring under the misapprehension that at some point, all the work would be done. I have surrendered to the infinite stream of work, at least a little bit, and it’s helping my stress level moderately, in an existential way, if not as much for the moment to moment crises.

We all do whatever we can do until we run out of time, and that’s that.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:18 AM on June 23 [10 favorites]


Well this is a timely post--just yesterday I finished reading Burkeman's excellent Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. I'm still digesting it, but it's quite brilliant and I've spent a lot of time thinking about it. The takeaway is that you can't do everything you want to do in life--you just can't. Deal with it by allowing yourself to fail at accomplishing certain things, because you simply don't have enough time.

Most time management advice just maximizes the efficiency of your work output so that you can...do more work. Burkeman says hey, there will always be work and always be things to do and there's no way you can do any of it, the workload OR the pleasure. So sit back and choose wisely and don't sweat the stuff you don't do. A good companion to Stoic philosophy, even though I don't think he even brings up the Stoics once.
posted by zardoz at 4:32 AM on June 23 [12 favorites]


Thanks for the comments thus far! I am struggling a fair amount with the consequences of choosing to move to a place that I don't care for in order to be close to my grandchildren. What if I never find friends here and always dislike this town? So what, I guess. I am working on my attitude because that is one of the very few things I can control. This article was useful in that regard.
posted by Bella Donna at 4:33 AM on June 23 [6 favorites]




"Freedom is just another word for nothin' left to lose" - Kris Kristofferson & Fred Foster. (From Me & Bobby McGee)
posted by lalochezia at 5:05 AM on June 23 [3 favorites]


relevant george costanza quote

In text for those who need it:

"I don't want hope. Hope is killing me. My dream is to become hopeless. When you're hopeless, you don't care.

"And when you don't care, that indifference, makes you attractive."
posted by a car full of lions at 5:09 AM on June 23 [4 favorites]


Honestly, I prefer to have something to lose. Having nothing to lose sounds pretty fucking grim.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:24 AM on June 23 [1 favorite]


I have surrendered to the infinite stream of work, at least a little bit

One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
posted by flabdablet at 6:44 AM on June 23 [8 favorites]


a life fully lived just is painfully bittersweet, the joy inextricably intertwined with loss.
Oh, yeah. Am reminded of a couple of things:

1) AA and the idea that you have to come to the conclusion that you're powerless over alcohol and your life is unmanageable and only then can you do something about your drinking. The frequent alternative is what I call "fighting the good fight," IOW trying to overcome utter cataclsmic awfulness by sheer willpower. (caveat I am not saying quitting drinking with AA is the only solution, just the one I found a long time ago and it has worked out well for me)

2( the fact that this morning I thought vaguely to myself, "I need to take my life back," and then talked to a couple of friends and realized that taking care of someone impossible (parent, child, spouse, etc.) appears to be pretty much normal for a lot of people my age and that this is my life. Which realization allowed me to actually get a few things accomplished this morning.
posted by Peach at 7:28 AM on June 23 [5 favorites]


People sometimes give me a funny look when I complacently say "I gave up", and act as though I'm making a joke. I'm not, and while I may not be strictly happy - whatever that means - I'm less unhappy than if I was still "going through life in the brace position" as the FPP says. It's a strange life, but it has its charms.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:16 AM on June 23 [3 favorites]


"Freedom is just another word for nothin' left to lose"

You'll always have one more thing to lose--another sunrise, another breath.

Back in the day, we stumbled upon a couple of useful ideas:
The journey is the point, not the destination.
Be here now, because you'll never be there then.

I offer two short anecdotes to illustrate my thesis.

1. In jump school, I found out that once you leave the aircraft you will hit the ground; there's no point in dwelling on it. So, work your skill sets, and change jobs if they don't ring your bell.

2. When you are being thrown from your horse, go with it, and try to find the way to hit the ground that hurts the least. Your choices cascade rapidly from very few to zero by each fraction of a second. So, work your skill sets... etc.

This is situational awareness, not accepting defeat. My advice is flawed. It involves choices I would rather have not made but which are predicated by the choices I've already made, some of which I was unwilling to leave to others.
posted by mule98J at 8:24 AM on June 23 [2 favorites]


This was a very interesting essay that I will probably read a few more times. Thanks for posting.
posted by wittgenstein at 8:24 AM on June 23 [1 favorite]


I thought this was kind of depressing, even if I sort of agree with some of it and with the ultimate conclusion that life is life. Cleaning the potty is life. Making lunch is life, just as much as hiking the Grand Canyon is life. They aren't things you do while waiting to hike the Grand Canyon, they are it.

However:
Anything cannot happen at any moment, and life would be wildly different if most really lived like it could. Save for the future? Screw that, I could die tomorrow! Consider my diet? Screw that I could die tomorrow! Wipe a baby's poop? Screw that I could die tomorrow! But we all understand that while things can happen, but they don't happen to most people, and we have to live like most people, because life can be pretty long and hard if we don't.

Not everyone has imposter syndrome. Many people are wildly overqualified for their roles due to circumstance, and even the ones that fit have to make choices because they don't know the exact future, but they can make some pretty good guesses about a whole lot of things. This doesn't preclude them from having imposter syndrome, but it also doesn't mean it's endemic. And they certainly aren't 'winging it', unless your definition of 'winging it' is anything short of psychic powers.

The marriage problem thing may be true, but what person wants to be married to their clone? Or to their servant? [don't answer that] "Smooth sailing, me! I'm glad I already like all the best things! Where to go on vacation! Oh you know! "

The kid thing is also kind of wrong and kind of true - let them be them and appreciate them as they are, and they grow up at the proper speed.
This is obviously anecdotal, but everyone I've ever heard say "they grow up so fast" is someone who wishes they would be 4-6 years old forever, while most of the stuff they do is still cute, and they are too young to talk back and too dependent not to follow orders. At some point, they are kids but also your peers, and some people can't deal with that.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:35 AM on June 23 [1 favorite]


Oh, gosh, when I say "they grow up so fast" I mean they grow up so fast. It's blinding how fast it goes. I watch the grandkid twice a week and from visit to visit he's someone new.

As for growing up, my advice to new parents is to think of the kid as a new roommate you have for the rest of your life and for whom you are utterly responsible.
posted by Peach at 8:58 AM on June 23 [4 favorites]


Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

Tired of lying in the sunshine
Staying home to watch the rain
And you are young and life is long
And there is time to kill today

And then one day you find
Ten years have got behind you
No-one told you when to run
You missed the starting gun

So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

Every year is getting shorter
Never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught
Or half a page of scribbled lines

Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time has come
The song is over
Thought I'd something more to say



also this
posted by flabdablet at 9:43 AM on June 23 [5 favorites]


Anything cannot happen at any moment, and life would be wildly different if most really lived like it could. Save for the future? Screw that, I could die tomorrow! Consider my diet? Screw that I could die tomorrow! Wipe a baby's poop? Screw that I could die tomorrow! But we all understand that while things can happen, but they don't happen to most people, and we have to live like most people, because life can be pretty long and hard if we don't.

Well, first off, anything can happen at any moment. The fact that everything doesn't happen to everyone every second of the day is not a disproval of this. If somehow to this point you've never had the entire landscape of your life alter, irrevocably and unexpectedly, in a single phone call or conversation, you're either extremely young or surreally fortunate.

But the point of the essay as I took it was not to live like a hedonist because you'll die tomorrow, it's to learn how to accept the possibility of everything disappearing in an instant, without losing your grip--indeed, to use the knowledge of death and futility and impossibility as a tool that HELPS you keep your grip. To keep changing the diapers, saving the money, going to work, without needing to pretend like we can in fact cheat death and achieve all things, because these things are The Thing.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:27 AM on June 23 [6 favorites]


To some degree I've given up at work. I'm going to get all 1 stars on my reviews for the rest of my career at this point. They've made it clear that the only thing they care about is what I'm worst at (service), that I cannot ever get out of service, and I'll never be good enough for them no matter what adjustments I make to myself. I stop doing A, B, and C and manage to piss them off in new-but-similar ways with X, Y and Z. I get written up every few months. I may process more paperwork than anyone else, but they don't care about this because my interactions with other humans are just so awful by their standards.

So, you know what? I'm only going to knock myself out so much here. I'm focusing on what I know how to do without effing up, and realizing that no matter what I do, I'm going to be bad and wrong. If the super weird hard problems come in and I have no idea what to do about them and they just don't get done, then...they just don't get done. Oh well. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯We don't get in trouble for not getting to every single thing because there's just way too much to do, and that way I don't get in trouble for effing something else up because I tried to help. I'm not giving any extra to this job. I work exactly what I'm paid for and shut off at 5.

I concur with this article that it's freeing once you realize that you're fucked and there's nothing to be done about it, so you just accept it. I'm bad and wrong no matter what I try, so...why try to not be bad and wrong? Accept it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:42 AM on June 23 [3 favorites]


It's not a binary choice - you don't have to be one of either "Nothing matters, so who gives a fuck about anything, actually, so give me a cigarette" and "Nothing matters, so everything is all we have, make the most of it and cherish it all", or as I like to call them, the positive and negative poles of existentialism.

Once I had it in my brain (16-17ish), I never got over that basic mindset of 'Oh, yeah, this actually isn't that fucking important'. Then, after a couple of fairly gnarly depressive episodes, I figured out 'Oh, yeah, it's actually situational and contextual more than anything. Sometimes it's a good idea to remember that, though what's going on is good and fun, it's not here forever. Sometimes it's good to realize when a good time is present and really drink deep in the experience and open up to it as much as possible, 'cause you only get so many of them. Sometimes it's important realize that unless this is the end, most bad things pass, or attenuate, or you adapt to them and carry on with life as well as possible, ie, normal is on its way. And finally, sometimes when things get really bad, you can really lean on the crutch of 'ah, well, none of it mattered anyway.'

Honestly, I prefer to have something to lose. Having nothing to lose sounds pretty fucking grim.

Yeah, but sometimes grim is what you've got. Can you imagine how it would be to not even have grim?
posted by eclectist at 1:36 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]


I dropped my grim membership because I hated going there.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:35 PM on June 23 [3 favorites]


Yes, I’m sure that people who are stranded on desert islands are amazingly unstressed.
posted by Galvanic at 4:36 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


Yes, I’m sure that people who are stranded on desert islands are amazingly unstressed.

I'm equally sure that all kinds of stress are exactly the same, and everyone responds the same way to them.

(Has nobody else ever had an experience of formless, unproductive, wracking future-looking angst suddenly giving way to a real crisis, and finding the real crisis infinitely easier to cope with?)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 6:01 PM on June 23 [5 favorites]


Yes I have. And the lesson I took from that was that formless, unproductive, wracking, future-looking angst was a complete waste of my time and resources, didn't help me at all, felt extremely unpleasant, and was therefore something I'd benefit hugely from teaching myself how to stop doing. Because telling ourselves the stories that seed and fertilize and perpetuate angst truly is a thing we do to ourselves. It's not a state of being we find ourselves helpless but to exist in, and any self-story that angst is such a state of being is a lie.

The future is as fixed as the present and the past: only what did happen did happen, only what is happening is happening, and only what shall happen shall happen. We never get and cannot get complete information about any of those divisions of reality. Of them, the present is easily the most accessible and the future by far the least, so by and large the present is where we benefit from putting most of our attention.

Freedom from angst about the future is a healthy and achievable goal but freedom from concern about the future is not. Don' worry 'bout a thing, but not because evry little thing is gonna be alright: the future shall involve suffering. The trick is to keep on honing the skills that let such suffering as can be avoided be avoided, while accepting the inevitability of the need to deal with the unavoidable as and when it arrives and not now unless it's here now.

When tomorrow looks likely to suck, that will be quite bad enough tomorrow. There's no need and no reason to let it fuck today up as well.

Having been living by that principle for thirty years at this point, it's now almost always the case that if I'm feeling terrible today then what I'm actually dealing with is some physical stressor that's present right now rather than anything I could conceivably fix by spinning endless scenarios about what shall or can or might or should happen tomorrow or indulging in endless regrets about what I could or should or should not have done yesterday.
posted by flabdablet at 8:52 PM on June 23 [3 favorites]


I'm going to get all 1 stars on my reviews for the rest of my career at this point.

If all you ever get is 1-star reviews and yet you never get the sack, that says much more about the people doling out the stars than it says about you.
posted by flabdablet at 8:57 PM on June 23 [3 favorites]


My theory is that it's way too hard for them to hire people (they have not had a fully staffed bare minimum team since 2018 or so) and as long as I don't do something spectacularly awful with proof to give them real cause* to get rid of me, and I am a nice person in general otherwise, and I know more on certain topics than anyone else, it's so far not worth the effort to can me.

* or someone tries to frame me for such, which happened....lack of evidence was the only thing that saved me.

They keep wondering why I can't get another job though. No one will hire me. So the stalemate continues.

As for angst vs. real worries, I usually have both!
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:10 PM on June 23 [1 favorite]


I'm not giving any extra to this job. I work exactly what I'm paid for and shut off at 5.

That strikes me as perfectly appropriate, not bad and wrong.

I'm bad and wrong no matter what I try, so...why try to not be bad and wrong? Accept it.

As long as what you're accepting is that the people handing out the 1-star reviews have consistently failed to give you any actionable feedback to work with, and that uselessly negative reviews from those same people are likely to be all you ever get from them, and that "why try to not be bad and wrong" actually means "why keep on trying to extract more than 1 star from these people", then I think acceptance is fine.

If what you're accepting is their suggestion that you genuinely are bad and wrong, either at your job or in some vague wider sense, not so much.

All human beings are super susceptible to suggestion, especially repeated suggestion, so this is a distinction that's probably worth spending a bit of time on pondering. Acceptance of circumstances doesn't need to involve a dulling of clarity around problem ownership.
posted by flabdablet at 1:29 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


I think the one thing that has helped me keep it together since Trump's election was the fact that I immediately believed the situation was every bit as bad as it looked, if not worse. I did not go through the phases of disbelief, bargaining, etc. that I saw threatening the coping ability of others in my circle. In that sense, accepting the worst was a good thing, and has freed up energy to take action on the few things within my control.
posted by rpfields at 9:02 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


As long as what you're accepting is that the people handing out the 1-star reviews have consistently failed to give you any actionable feedback to work with,

They have actually given me tons and tons and tons of feedback. Problem is I still find NEW ways, along the same lines, to fuck up. Unfortunately they really just need/want someone who...doesn't act or think like I do, who thrives on this stuff instead of getting drained/stressed/upset by it. I dunno on the whole "empath" thing, but other people getting upset at me or in my vicinity straight up upsets me and I can't not take that on in my soul. I'm not cool with being yelled at and I do take it personally, especially when struck out against.

On a related note, I heard from a former coworker today whose usual boss is our current interim boss. She raved about him, said he doesn't make people do what they are bad at and did a lot to fix personnel issues, and I should give talking to him a try. I love the idea but am afraid of getting into trouble for going over two bosses' heads if I did (also they are here for life and he is not) and also I can't transfer out and they would never take service off my plate under any circumstances. So...not sure? Any thoughts?

and that uselessly negative reviews from those same people are likely to be all you ever get from them, and that "why try to not be bad and wrong" actually means "why keep on trying to extract more than 1 star from these people", then I think acceptance is fine.
If what you're accepting is their suggestion that you genuinely are bad and wrong, either at your job or in some vague wider sense, not so much.


Both, really. I'm always going to be bad and wrong in their eyes even if possibly nobody else's. Unfortunately I can't just blow that off and be all "haters gonna hate" because jobs are your life/livelihood. Their opinion of me matters more than anyone else's because if I'm fired, I cannot get another job and there I go.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:24 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


They have actually given me tons and tons and tons of feedback. Problem is I still find NEW ways, along the same lines, to fuck up.

Right. As I said, they're not giving you actionable feedback. If the feedback you got was actually of any use to you, you'd have been acting on it long since.

The feedback you've been getting is useful to them. Its function is to keep you fearful enough and quiet enough not to cause them to need to do any of the work required to address the structural issues that repeatedly put you in impossible positions, and it seems to be working just fine.

Unfortunately they really just need/want someone who...doesn't act or think like I do

You've had this job for quite some time now, yes? If that was what they really needed/wanted, they would already have found some such paragon to replace you.

If they're not firing you then you are what they want.

Their opinion of me matters more than anyone else's because if I'm fired, I cannot get another job and there I go.

Consistent 1-star reviews that somehow never seem to result in firing are their way of gaslighting you into believing both of those questionable assertions.

I love the idea but am afraid of getting into trouble for going over two bosses' heads if I did (also they are here for life and he is not) and also I can't transfer out and they would never take service off my plate under any circumstances. So...not sure? Any thoughts?

Discreetly widening your professional network is pretty much always a good idea.
posted by flabdablet at 9:19 PM on June 24 [2 favorites]


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