A note to my younger self: Calm the fuck down
On my 28th birthday, I'm trying to make myself less insane.
I was 22 years old and miserable. Seven months out of college, I was moving into a new apartment in Brookline with my best friend. It was the beginning of summer and I had some money in my checking account. I was also newly out, and for the first time, would actually be able to invite guys over.
And yet, the days were unbearable.
You see, I failed to secure a job right after graduation. I worked a couple of part-time gigs during my senior year — writing columns for the Herald, posting blogs to a semi-obscure website that people could never pronounce — but they both fell through. I spent my days stewing in my garden-level bedroom, begrudgingly heading out to the community pool after spending all morning pounding my fingers into the keyboard — pelting second-hand acquaintances with follow-up emails.
I told myself I would feel better when I started working. Then the freelance gigs lined up, and soon, I was working too much. I had to cut back my hours. After all, I needed to enjoy my summer!
I freelanced for almost 18 months, and was dejected the whole time. I had steady positions and worked for some good brands. But I was missing the full-time job. My roommate got to stuff himself like a sardine on the Green Line every morning; I had to wake up and leisurely walk down the street to Starbucks. I didn’t feel like I was part of society. I needed the morning commute; I needed stability; I needed to be part of a team.
Then it happened. I landed my dream job at WEEI, the legacy Boston sports talk station. I got called into Kirk & Callahan for an hour guest-spot, and was great. It was the best debut in Boston sports talk history, as far as I’m concerned.
I signed a full-time deal with WEEI about two months after my first show. During that time, I also publicly came out as gay. I felt euphoric ... for about six weeks.
My blissfulness didn’t last very long. I became obsessed with my spot in the station’s hierarchy, keeping an ongoing tally of my morning show appearances. The obsession consumed me. When I wasn’t booked, my world fell apart.
Despite landing my dream job in radio, I still managed to make myself miserable. Are we sensing a pattern, here?
I am writing this on the eve of my 28th birthday. I didn’t used to get sentimental on my birthday, because I prided myself on the Puritan tradition of sacrificing enjoyment for work. There were always podcasts to record and blogs to write; games to watch and emails to send.
Growing up, I used my aspiring career as a way to avoid introspection. Booking podcast guests was easier to think about than my feelings for guys.
I’m glad I was able to snap out of it. Solely obsessing over work is the roadway to an empty life. Nobody on their deathbed has ever said “I wish I had spent more time at the office” (or I guess these days, in front of the Zoom). I think about that quote often.
Fortunately, I haven’t been forced to learn many hard lessons in life. I come from a great family and have an incredible support system. As I grow older, I increasingly appreciate my privilege.
But if there is one thing I've learned in my 28 years, it is this: your work can be taken away from you. And when it is, everybody else just moves on with their lives.
So you better find another way to get your self-worth!
We are the Burnout Generation. We were optimized for work, growing up with supervised playdates and overbooked schedules. Everything we do is catered toward productivity: fast-casual dining, online shopping, the athleisure trend.
Let’s be honest: we were ordering from Amazon in our Lululemon pants long before the pandemic. We can’t afford to actually spend time shopping in a store or putting on a belt.
We have to get to work!
And where has that left us? At the bottom of an economic depression. The economic fallout from Covid has been harder on millennials, many of whom entered the job market at the height of the Great Recession. The spring unemployment rate for millennials (12.5 percent) was higher than that of Generation X and Baby Boomers.
We’re already poorer than previous generations. Covid promises to only exacerbate the gap.
I try to keep all of these facts in mind. This is the worst time to be alive in modern times. Anybody who’s still intact right now should feel proud.
Over the last year, I’ve tried to obsess less over my professional life. It is incredibly frustrating to freelance right now, but most of the hardship is out of my control. You couldn’t even meet someone for coffee right now if you wanted to.
Instead, I’ve tried to focus more on my personal triumphs — no matter how small. I finally got into yoga and learned how to cook. I also watched the last season of RuPaul. I’m no longer the worst gay imaginable (just pretty close).
That’s not to say I’m still not insane, or have reached some sort of inner-zen. When I get assigned a story, I struggle to step away from the computer until every last source is confirmed — spending my hours waiting breathlessly for responses to unsolicited Twitter DMs. I get angry, oftentimes over the same things that enraged me when I was freelancing out of college.
It is the definition of insanity.
But now, I’m able to calm down a little bit more. If I could go back in time, I would shake my younger self, and tell him to stop being so uptight. Today, I tell myself the same message. Thankfully, I’m starting to listen.
The challenge is listening consistently. I have a year to work on it.