DO NOT WANT
This week, I’m starting a series of user interviews at work, in an effort to develop personas for users of the content we produce. It’s all part of my role as a senior content strategist at a software company, and it is something I have been working toward for a year.
I don’t want to do it. I’m not feeling any anxiety about these short conversations, it’s more of a generalized dread about interacting with other humans. I have to put my metaphorical face on and show up with a level of professionalism. I have to say words out loud and deal with whatever randomness these other humans bring to the table. I have to smile and make them feel safe and comfortable in our Zoom room. Basically, I have to put on a performance fifteen times, and I hate performing.
This morning, I did a 45 minute Peloton ride that I didn’t want to do. Last night I didn’t want to cook dinner, but I did it anyway. Earlier this week I dealt with the detailed tedium of submitting an expense report, which is close to the top of my list of things I’d rather not do.
I’m reworking my personal website, and I’m now stuck in a quagmire of WordPress theme features I don’t fully understand. I don’t want to try to figure it out, but eventually I will Google a YouTube and dive into my frustration.
I don’t want to go to a big party, pretty much ever. But last month I flew across the country to attend a big company party and lean into socializing. Speaking of travel, I’m a fearful flyer, and I don’t want to get on a plane to go anywhere, but it’s the best way to get to far off places, so I put up with the anxiety and discomfort.
I wrote a memoir, and I am now in the process of doing what I really DO NOT want to do: navigating the publishing industry. I’m trying to get an agent, and I don’t want to look at one more agency website to try to parse an individual agent’s potential interest in my project and arcane submission guidelines. It feels like a form of punishment for having created something. How dare I think I’m worthy of a book deal, much less an advocate for my work?
There’s so much of my life that I have to sort of cajole myself into doing, that the rest of the time I really just want to Netflix and chill (literally, not sexily).
I guess this is what they mean by “adulting.” As a 51-year-old I have been pressing myself into indentured servitude to capitalism for more than 30 years. Because capitalism is the infrastructure that keeps me in this cycle of DO NOT WANT.
Things I want to do
To connect with things that I do want to do, I have to go way back. Before I got into the grips of “adulting” and productivity, who was I, and what did I like?
I was funny and bright. I loved to laugh, I loved to read, I loved to be outside. I drew pictures of flowers—tulips and irises were my favorites. I carried a tape recorder and made up songs. I Interviewed family members and wrote whimsical plays.
I was smart, and I knew it early on. One of the “gifted” children, taken aside once a week to solve logic puzzles in a trailer. I liked to read novels that were well above my grade level. I got a cheap camera when I was eight and took photos of sunlight filtering through leaves.
My only close friends were my creative collaborators. We formed bands and recorded silly songs with synths. We made art, and built “haunted houses,” and we wrote letters and stories for each other. We made each other laugh with nonsense. We listened to records and memorized the lyrics and danced and sang along.
I moved my body. I swam all day in the lake during the summer. I climbed around on rocks and explores forest paths. I climbed trees and rode my bike all around the neighborhood. I roller skated around the house and at the skating rink.
You know what I didn’t do? Get paid. OK, well, as a young entrepreneur I would sell my drawings to family members for a quarter. But for the most part, the things I wanted to do were rewarding in and of themselves. No paycheck required.
Somehow, adulthood brought a shift. Almost all I could think about was the paycheck, because if I didn’t get one I was kind of fucked.
What I really, really did not want was to be poor. But somehow even with the paycheck it took me a good decade to break into lower-middle-income. And all that time I stressed about money. I would resort to things like “customer service” and “bookkeeping” in order to get a paycheck, despite the fact that every bone in my body did not want to do those things.
This is all to say that I have plenty of practice sucking it up and doing things I don’t like in service of survival. And now I’ve learned how to like the things I don’t want to do in service of living a full life.
How to like what you do
If you can’t do what you like, then you can learn to like what you you do. I have found that liking even the things I don’t want to do is mostly a matter of mindset. It can be a real challenge to change your mindset, but if it is something you are willing to work on, the rewards are great.
Take exercise (please). Though I loved moving my body, swimming, running, biking, and doing random yoga poses as a child, when you turn movement into a boring routine it becomes unpalatable. I’m still wrestling with will power to get myself onto the Peloton bike or out for a long walk, but once I’m there I can stay until the end. Because I know that when I have finished the workout or taken the walk I will feel much better. Uplifted. Focused. Energized.
Reminding myself of the short term rewards helps me get past the obstacle of not wanting to do it, but I would say the biggest mindset shift is one of identity. I’m not telling myself I “should” exercise, or even that it is good for me. I am telling myself that I am a person who values health and fitness above almost anything. That my body is my most prized possession and I value it enough to endure things I don’t always enjoy. That is who I am.
Another example is social activity. I resist it at all costs (always have), but I now have 50+ years of evidence to verify that I actually kind of enjoy other people. Not all people, and not all the time. But if I go into a social situation open to connection, I find I can usually connect.
If I go in with a “let’s get this over with because I am socially awkward” attitude, I will stand awkwardly in a corner and/ or drink too much. Am I a friendly, funny human who is good at making connections, or a socially awkward introvert who doesn’t like people much? Both are a little true and a little untrue, but if I see myself as the former, my experience in social situations is much better.
Perhaps the most important factor in liking what I do is finding ways to be my authentic self in even very capitalistic environments, while also reserving time and space for pure hobbies and self care. In my work, I find ways to make it creative and intellectually stimulating. In my leisure time, I carve out space for workouts, walks, hot baths, and making art. The more I put my real self into my work, the more money I make, oddly enough.