Depressingly, a Medium post titled This is Your Life in Silicon Valley has been making the rounds, shared by friends on Facebook with comments like “Too true.” There are those who simply acknowledge the dystopian life described as familiar, and those who state they do not like it.
To the latter, I can only say: Stop it. Stop permitting your own suffering. These are human choices, not forces of nature, and you make them every day.
You can always do something else.
Last year, in 2015, I had one New Year’s resolution: I will not permit my own suffering. That resolution served as a lens through which I could find and examine things that made me miserable, and subsequently consider which I could and could not control.
Of course, we cannot control all of our own suffering. We cannot control whether or not we become ill, whether loved ones die and leave us bereft, and the like. But my New Year’s resolution experiment showed that I was permitting most of my own suffering. I was, through all sorts of behavior, teaching people what I would accept and tolerate.
When I answered texts, emails, and calls after work (or immediately), I taught people that they would receive — and thus should expect — responses from me at these times of day. Likewise when I attended early morning and late night meetings to accommodate other time zones, on multiple days of the week rather than one.
When I accepted invitations to meetings without agendas, or for which my presence was not required, I taught people that it was acceptable to waste my time.
When I skipped meals to attend last-minute meetings, I taught people that their lack of planning and panic was more important than my eating and taking a break. I rewarded them for bad behavior.
When people asked me to do things and I said yes by default, and didn’t make them choose a trade-off (i.e. “If I’m going to do that, then something else will have to go”), I taught them to overload me, and to continue to add to that load, every time.
When I repeatedly glanced at my phone at home, I showed my husband that I was not fully present for him. I gave my employer higher priority than my most loved one. My employer didn’t do that: I did. I allowed it.
The somber Medium post (which some people claim to find funny, shudder) opens with: “You wake up at 6:30am after an Ambien-induced sleep.” Stop it. Unless you have a baby, or are poor and must work two or three shifts to survive, you control how much sleep you get. Only you allow others to take sleep from you.
Put your phone in Do Not Disturb mode. Ban screen time (yes, that includes reading on the Kindle and Netflix) a minimum of two hours before bedtime. Take a shower. Have an herbal tea. Read something pleasant, on paper, for a minimum of 30 minutes before you fall asleep. Kick the Ambien and, if your doctor gave you a prescription for more than a few at a time and didn’t advise you to quit your job as s/he did so, kick your doctor, too.
The post describes a person losing an awful lot of allegedly limited time to online content: podcasts, Facebook, what have you. Stop it. Stand up, put the device down, and walk away. Turn it off, put it in airplane mode, avail yourself of the Freedom app, stop looking at it. Hours will magically reappear.
After describing someone who has no time to see his child, the post mentions “You have to decide where to go for dinner tonight.” No, you don’t. Cook something simple — start with spaghetti, maybe — in less time than will be required to choose a restaurant, eat there in protracted fashion, and get home. The sooner you do, the sooner you can start your new process of seeing your child and creating pre-bedtime relaxation.
The post describes a dinner at which “You are all too busy making your own points and citing articles to really listen to each other.” Knock that shit off, then. You yourself can shut up, for starters, and actually listen. If you’d really like to kick the hornet’s nest, you could point out what’s happening. Try “Hey Bill, what’s the last thing Tom mentioned?”
Or, redirect the conversation to something more vulnerable and honest. Ask an interesting question. What was your favorite Halloween costume? Have you ever lived in a place with winter? Do you miss the snow? Who was your favorite family member? What was your favorite book in Junior High? Get to the point.
And on, and on, and on.
This, my dear ones, is why I ultimately had to quit my tech job more than one year ago. When I could finally see, and then began to address, all the various sources and instances of my suffering, I felt like I was playing a wild game of whack-a-mole.
After maddeningly addressing sources of suffering for six months, I had to accept that my tech job required me to suffer. People were indignant and offended when I simply asked “What should I prepare for this meeting?” or “What do you need from me on this call?” They’d reply, “Well, nothing! I just need you to be there.” No.
When I said I would not fly 30 hours round trip to be in an office in Asia for 36 hours, unless someone could tell me why I had to be there physically, I got tsk tsks and warnings (and still no explanation for why this travel was required).
Anything, and anyone, that requires you to suffer unnecessarily has got to go. Don’t allow it for another day more. And if you find, as I did, that a culture or company requires and depends on your suffering, then it has made the decision for you.