Since around the time I turned 20, I’ve worked what most people would consider to be … a lot. I don’t think I’ll ever be the kind of person to hold down a regular job, switch off and relax at the end of the day. But the internet might just be the medium to push me over the edge into bona fide workaholism.
It serves as a constant reminder of all the things I could be doing and thinking about. The stimulus flies thick and fast, so that every day I come up with more ideas than I could ever have time to pursue. It also reminds me of all the things everybody else is doing, which often ends up equating to the things I begin to think I should be doing.
Net culture’s emphasis on ”ubiquity” (be everywhere at once! make it shareable! ship!) plays into it as well. People tell me I’m “so prolific”, but I don’t think it would be physically possible for me to produce at the relentless pace of online media sometimes seems to demand. Especially not while maintaining an offline life, career and projects as well (although that seems to be part of the aforementioned ubiquity).
I know I’m not alone in these anxieties. I see it in the posts of Erica Bartle of Girl With A Satchel, when she talks about juggling the demands of her very popular blog with the demands of paying her bills, and Sarah Ayoub of Wordsmith Lane, when she talks about trying to prioritise her YA novel (due in two months), thesis, job and freelancing gigs. “Get the novel done!” I tell Sarah. “All the rest is small change in the scheme of things.”
But I know it’s not that simple. On a practical level, I find that narrowing my focus to the work I think will have the greatest impact (in my case, thesis/book proposal and this blog) helps me manage and prioritise my load. On an emotional level, though, there’s a constant sense of “oh shit, I should be doing something that instead. And that. And that. And that.”
Nor is it all “woe is me” misery. Workaholics don’t chain themselves to their laptops because they hate themselves (well, not always, anyway). They do it because, for them, it’s pleasurable, and the internet doesn’t just exacerbate anxieties about work - it also enhances its pleasures.
My own moods are probably overly influenced by external stimuli - small victories and new possibilities excite me - and every pitch accepted, story published, interesting invitation or well-received blog post has always given me a little high. The internet creates an additional means to access these highs - one which is always available, but impossible ever to fully satisfy. There’s always new stimulus, new inspiration, new things I could or should be doing.
This state doesn’t just apply to work either, as the non-workaholics reading will know well. Last year, when I posted a status update on Facebook asking if anyone else felt crap and inadequate after reading a series of Tweets or status updates, I got upwards of 30 replies.
This constant stream of information invites comparison amongst the externally stimulated and insecure, whether it’s “hey, that person who’s not my best friend likes that other person who’s not my best friend more than they like me” or “why did I stay home on Friday to read journal articles and watch 30 Rock when all those other people were out having fun?”
When I mentioned that I’d be writing a post on this issue to Erica last week, she suggested I take a look at this one, titled ‘Insecurity does not pay the bills’. Indeed. Nor does it provide value to others, or help you get your most important work done. Or help you enjoy your greatest pleasures, for that matter.
One way to beat the anxiety is to be confident in our own choices. I may wish I was doing more work (like I said, workaholic), but I’m also pretty secure that the work I do choose to focus on is the more important and effective for the ends I’m seeking. I’m also secure in my ability to choose which people I want to spend time with, which events look like they’ll be the most fun, what time I want to get there and what time I want to go home.
It also doesn’t hurt to switch off from time to time - to put a break on all that delicious information and inspiration. Just because it’s there to know, respond to, and do, doesn’t mean you have to know, respond and do it all. If you’re overstimulated (I know I have been lately!) put a limit on the stimulus you allow yourself to access.
Is anyone else feeling the pressure to produce? Or just generally inadequate in comparison to the collective weight of other people’s lives? If so, how do you deal with it?