San Francisco is an epicenter of a society that values high output results and maximum efficiency.
It’s normal for people to put in 60+ hours a week at work, and if you’re not constantly doing something, you're certainly wasting your time. So how do you tell yourself that you haven’t failed in comparison to everyone else? Is there any value in stopping for a second and doing nothing?
I quit my job at the end of May. I managed a popular, high-volume cafe and was constantly so anxiety-ridden that it became normalized for me. It wasn't until I took my first vacation in a year that I realized how unhealthy I let myself become. It's been a decade since I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression so these aren't new emotions, but my job made me spiral out of control. At work most of my team knew me as their "fearless leader," someone who was always able to separate emotions from work, but in reality I cried about my job more often than any of them could imagine. Recently I saw the person who took my place when I left and they told me that I didn't get enough credit for how much of myself I really put into my job. Is that what defines success now? A measure of how much anxiety work instills or of how many times a week someone cries in the bathroom on their break and then goes right back to work?
When I left I had no other job lined up, no definitive plans, and just enough money to pay one month’s rent. There were (and still are) more days than I’d like to admit where the farthest I’ve gone is from my bedroom to the bathroom. For me, having too much free time leaves me to contemplate what the best use of my time would be, without actually doing anything at all.
To admit that I’m the main thing holding myself back from succeeding is a hard truth to face; it’s frustrating and it’s really fucking embarrassing. Through this I’ve looked to Anthony Bourdain for some twisted sense of guidance because he succeeded whilst carrying his demons with him. He was someone who proved that following the “traditional” paths of life are not the only ways to succeed. This experience has not been an Eat, Pray, Love type of self-discovery. With all this freedom, I’m not traipsing around the world living my best life. Instead, I’m killing time and spending the little money I have left on drinking with my friends. I’m living some Kitchen Confidential shit, where everything is kinda mediocre and I pray that whatever I do, I’ll be halfway decent on the other side.
With the pressure to succeed growing up, academics always took precedence over hobbies, so now that I have all this free time, I feel completely lost. A lot of people my age, especially in the Bay Area, feel the same pressure to constantly surpass their peers and accomplish their five-or ten-year plan on schedule. In my case, I didn't think I'd be alive this long to actually graduate, let alone from UC fucking Berkeley, so I never bothered to plan ahead. Sometimes taking a moment to stop and do nothing can show you that your priorities are in the wrong order. What good is all that money if you don't have the time to use it? Why bother being unhappy five days of week if you're only living for the weekend?
So now I spend my days living as a Sims character; waiting around for an outside force to give me an action, a purpose. This is the first time in my life where I have nothing planned. It’s forced me to realize later than everyone else that the world is not going to hand me opportunities. Go figure.
East Bay native who’s never lived more than an hour from home. Could destroy you in The Office trivia. Interests include natural skincare, tofu soup, and shades of blue. @liljinmei