How I learned not to overwork (the hard way)

Time to ‘fess up.

I’ve been running on autopilot for a while, working my ass off, sleeping little and eating like a junkie.

Working for 3 different startups eventually takes a toll on you, even if you’re Ibukun Taiwo (good genes be damned).

And so, on Wednesday night, my body called for a strike effective immediately. Headaches turned to fever, turned to vomiting, turned to loss of appetite. I practically did not want to be in my body and my body showed me the feeling was mutual.

Everything job-related took a halt. And I burdened my innocent family with nursing me back to health. Honestly, I just wanted to get better so I could get back to working. But God had other plans.

Relegated to a bed all day for 3 days,  I got the chance to “think about my life”. And I obviously wasn’t heading the way I wanted. My addiction to work wasn’t doing wonders for my health obviously, nor for my relationships especially with God. So right there on the bed, I started making adjustments, canceling appointments, engagements etc. Found the time to connect with a few people over the weekend, went for a retreat, taught a bible study.

I’m grateful for pitstops like these, even though it doesn’t have to be something life threatening to get you to pause.

Work can be invigorating and empowering but ultimately it rings hollow. Even if it is something you “love to do”.

Next time, when you need to channel some energy into something, don’t let work be your first refuge.

The death of conversation; long live social media

social-media-connecting-the-world

Okay, I just had the longest week of my life, and I’m poofed. Need to lie down but then I’m depressed. And when I’m depressed, I write.

Why am I depressed? Well two things actually. The first is a pet peeve, the other is the motherlode.

I just spent the whole of today in the midst of people; talking to them, collaborating on projects together and meeting some new colleagues. I had a swell time, honest, but it left me drained. My personality means I’m more of a, “moments of solitude punctuated with brief spells of interaction with others” kind of person. But today, the script was totally yanked from under me. I had no time whatsoever alone with my thoughts.

I landed on my feet though. And I was in a nice mood all through. But now I’m feeling very, very drained. That’s the peeve.

Two and this is where the real issue is; What ever happened to conversation? You know, the kind that happens between people face to face? Nowadays, people rarely have conversations. They have competitions. One liners and comeback competitions. It’s almost like everyone’s trying to outwit, outsmart and outshine the other.

Who’s the most cynical? Who’s the most sarcastic? Who’s read up more? Maybe because the internet is near ubiquitous, everyone is expected to know something about everything, hence we have people unwilling to admit, “I don’t know.”

It’s a performance and I’m sick of it.

I’ve been feeling like this for a while but when I began working remotely from home, I wasn’t as exposed to what I’ll call Performance Culture as much. So, it was kinda in the background of my mind. But today, being in the midst of so many people, and for so long, I was really dying to connect with someone, anyone. There was none. I couldn’t help feeling isolated.

It’s like the rush hour switch is flipped on perpetually in our heads. No one has time for genuine conversation anymore.

Okay, this is starting to become a rant which is the last thing it’s meant to be. Let’s try to wrap this up.

It’s telling that our already short attention spans are getting even shorter. Twitter, Facebook and (insert whatever social network) have aggravated the situation. There’s a lot of activity and messaging going on there, but that’s not really conversation. To be honest, what we do on social media, for the most part, is marketing.

We present the best part of ourselves, trying to cover up the blemishes or at least, direct attention away from our flaws. This may be good for brands, but for people? Actual human beings with souls? Come on. I’m finding it harder each day to find those who are willing to be genuine and upfront about themselves while including their weaknesses, their doubts, fears, failures, and “worst” of all, their ignorance.

No one, is willing to be ignorant anymore. But I think ignorance is where we all begin. Just reading up on a wiki about a subject or listening to a podcaster talk about it doesn’t change your ignorance. I believe the only true way to knowledge is via interaction.

[Seriously looking for a way to end this post…]

I remember when I was in the University, I had lots of friends in Computer Science. They had this ritual whereby they would sit after class and have roundtable discussions. All the questions they were too scared or confused to ask in the lecture hall, they would ask at that table. And then people would share their thoughts. What impressed on me the most, and hasn’t left me since, is that the ignorance of a lot of people was a huge contributor to the flow of the discussions. People would interject discussions to ask questions and it would expand the scope of the discussion. Everyone was eager to learn and also to teach, if required. A lot of those guys today are currently running startups in Lagos that have gained much traction. Both the then-ignorant and the knowledgable.

Sadly, that’s a practise that is going extinct.

My last thoughts about this tonight hovers around something the Editor in Chief of Time Magazine wrote. There’s no way to say it better than she did so I’m just going to quote her,

And so, many conversations are fast, furious, [and] in binary form—Israel or Palestine? Hillary or Bernie? Taylor or Nicki? When so many sound so certain about so much, there is little left to talk about, no interest, no appetite, just attitude.

True conversation, the analog kind, face to face, ideally around a table, over food and drink, is perhaps the least efficient form of communication. It requires the patience to listen and the courage to learn, to be surprised, to arrive at a conclusion you’d never have foreseen when you set out from your home harbors. And it is fueled by the kind of questions you wouldn’t normally think to ask.

Amen to that.

As for me, I’m going to sleep with the hope that tomorrow, or the day after, or the day after that, there’ll still be people willing to have true conversations. And God will bring them my way.

Why Do You Write? The One Question Every Writer Needs to Answer

It doesn’t matter how many days or weeks (hopefully not months) it takes for you to search deeply and discover the real reason; If you consider yourself a writer of sorts (journalist, poet, novelist, or even satirist), you should have a tangible and truthful response to this question.

Mind you, this reason is for you, there’s no exam where your answers are going to be scrutinized. And I guess that’s a very comforting thought. Since there’s no right or wrong answer, you can answer truthfully. Brutal honesty is what it’s all about.

Answering this question for myself did wonders for my psyche – my motivation levels, my self worth and confidence. So i might be onto something here.

How did I get here? Well, let me start from the beginning.

I had quite a few deadlines this month, which I met . I also submitted my entry for a competition (which I’m confident I’m gonna win). The story didn’t all out suck (thank God), even though it didn’t start out that way.

When I first got the idea for the short story, I started out thinking, “Oh my God, this is going to be a game changing story, a mega rock mover, the invention of the microchip, all over again”. And I guess most story ideas start out that way. From my experience, nothing is more exhilarating than the conception of a new idea, the thrill of the new blank page. This is a huge contrast to the crippling dread that blank pages used to give me about a year ago.

So, I guess I have proved one of those age-long theories – you get better with practice.

What hasn’t changed though is the self deception that this time, the writing process from initial idea to final draft is going to be a slam dunk. By the time I was halfway through the four thousand word story, I was slogging through, tearing out my hair, psyching myself up and out in front of the mirror, pacing so many times around the room, abandoned the story twice and nearly gave up on my writing career. But something kept me coming back to the story, and about three days to the competition deadline, the story came together in a haymaker of an ending.

And then, the strangest thing happened. I finished writing the best story of my life so far and something popped into my head :

This writing thing isn’t so hard, after all.

You’re probably doing this right now:

...from reactiongifs.com

…from reactiongifs.com

Or if you are more conservative:

...from reactiongifs.com

…from reactiongifs.com

Seriously though, I haven’t been able to stop thinking like that since last week. I guess that’s what they mean when they say you are either a glutton for self loathing and self doubt or possess a lot of hubris to want to be a writer. Maybe both.

I’m not sure the process gets easier (we’ll find out soon enough), but I do know that actually finishing one story (or any writing project for that matter) increases your confidence, and makes you a little braver to tackle another project. It’s very handy to have a completed project to point to when the inner critic/bully shows up with his usual ‘you’re a crappy writer’ routine. Just don’t let it look at that completed project too closely otherwise, you’ll either be ripping up the work or jumping off a cliff, whichever one seems palatable at the moment.

Anyways, so, why do you write? It’s a question I’ve also been asking myself (whenever I’m not dressed in the “this writing thing isn’t so hard” garb).

One reason why this question is important is because, it informs all the other decisions on your writing journey, which has implications in other areas of your life as well. If you’re going to be serious about your writing career, it’s going to affect the people in your life, whether friends or colleagues or bosses or spouses or kids.

This is actually just common sense. If you want to buy a car, the first question isn’t how much does it cost, or even how much do I make? Can I afford it? No.

The first question is, what do I need a car for? Is it a lifestyle statement? Is it a necessity purchase? The need determines the compromises you’ll have to make. if it’s a first car, you don’t need to pull out all the stops (unless you’re trying to show that you’re moving up in the world). Second hand cars usually make up the first car purchase, at least for most Nigerians. Unless you’re working in Chevron, which makes my logic redundant in a way.

...from reactiongifs.com

…from reactiongifs.com

I may have overthought this car buying thing.

 

Why do you write? What for?

Answers usually range from ‘It’s a release’ to ‘it’s a hobby’, to ‘I intend to do this professionally’.

The key is to be deliberate about it.

If you’re just looking for a way to release pent up frustration, then you probably won’t obsess over every word. Just let the emotions bleed off on the page. But if you’re seeking critical/literary acclaim, you have to pay your dues.

Personally, I want to be a good writer, first of all. Before making money, before becoming famous, I really truly want to be an excellent wordsmith AND storyteller (they are two separate things BTW). Then, I want to be paid good money for my writing. That’s my reason for writing.

Craft before Cash. I don’t need the awards, it’s not a big deal. But I need the affirmation that I can write and write well. And people usually do that by using their money. Or not using it.

So there. That’s it.

Why do you write? Let’s hear it.

The Pillars of Creativity

creativity support systemsIt’s interesting that something so slender and negligible could be so important. After all, how many times have you walked into a hall and thought, “Wow! Look at that pillar”? Well, unless you’re here.

beautiful pillars and creativityOther than the foundation, pillars are the next most important part of a building. Though, trying to emphasize the significance of pillars in a building is like beating a dead horse, trying to get a reaction, so let’s leave it at – Buildings need pillars.

People also need pillars.

The recent death of famed comedian, Robin Williams, was a horrible reinforcement of the tragic stereotype. Which is just a sad narrative. Creative types aren’t suicidal. Yes, we’re prone to fits of depression and angst but that doesn’t mean we’re meant to consider the business end of gun. What’s more sad is that no one even considered the possibility of him ending his own life. Which is paradoxical. Headline: Funny man Robin Williams commits suicide.

No crying over spilt milk though. He’ll be missed. But what can you as a creative person do?

Pillars. Everyone needs one. (I know I’m sounding like an ad).

When I say pillars, I’m referring to support systems by the way. I’m guessing you’ve heard of them.

In my village, there’s a custom (as in all of Yoruba land). A nursing mother usually has her siblings come over to help with caring for the newborn. The responsibility of a baby can be overwhelming for a first time mother. Coupled with the pain of childbirth and the impending naming ceremony, the woman usually has her hands full.

Juggling cooking, entertaining guests, cleaning house, as well as caring for the baby are responsibilities that would overwhelm any woman. The dad does something, can’t think of any now but he probably does, but the woman does most of the heavy lifting. So, having people come over to help is a lifesaver. It may not look like what you were taught in your blue chip stress management class but that’s actually a support system right there.

The benefits of having a support system are numerous.

Feel like throwing your kids out the window because of their incessant whining and crying. I tell you, those little bundles of joy can be pesky, devious devils. If you’ve not had a baby, you won’t understand the feeling.You need a support system.

Have a 9 to 5, a ‘crazy’ boss and a daily commute the length of the Sahara? No wonder you feel like ending it all. You need a support system.

It’s terrifying how so many people I come across say things like, “I don’t have close friends”. “I’m a loner” etc. They may not be artists, musicians, writers or comedians, but they create one way or the other and everybody gets emotionally overwhelmed now and again.

We all need support systems.

Support systems help with the emotional burden of day to day survival. Suitable candidates you should consider for such roles are people who know how to listen and be in the present. Not someone who updates his/her twitter account every five minutes, even while you’re unloading. We’re talking empathizing, active listeners and loving people. Not drones.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find people who also help with the heavy lifting in your life.

Personally, I have the best support system in the world. My family. A sister who annoys the hell out of me but will be there in a heartbeat when I need her. A mom whose life creed is, Others before me (seriously, the woman is a relentless supporter). And an assortment of friends (benefits of being part of a church community). This really helped me during the last few months when I got several manuscript rejections. Writing life is hazardous; the potholes are rejection slips.

Now, this is important. The moment you find yourself, consciously avoiding your support system, that’s the alarm clock blaring right there. You’re not just depressed. You’re treading the edge of hades, peeking into the abyss. That’s no way to live.

Make that phone call. Make the trip. Get yourself into their mix. Let them get into your head. Get out of yourself and see life; it’s still beautiful, despite your shattered dreams.

And just a parting thought. Life is a two way street. While you’re setting up your pillars, be a pillar to somebody also.

Do you have a support system? Do you have any practical advice for getting one?

Parenting and Epiphanies

Parenting kids career

About that Epiphany.

Had another one; third one this month.

In hindsight, a lot of things that happened and how I responded make sense but getting here was like walking through the shadow of death. The feelings of insecurity, self doubt, confusion, depression (and the list goes on) were nearly too much to bear.

When I saw a lot of my friends getting jobs in banking, PR, in government, it gave me a lot of doubts.

But I’m here, and I’m here body, mind and soul. Writing.

I have my dream job, surrounded by books all day and the lowest point of my job is reading some really horrible manuscripts that land on my desks (last month’s were really really awful). But that’s the dream. At least part one of it. Maybe I should do a post about that too. I’ll think about it.

Meanwhile, here’s something I wished somebody drilled into my parents’ head when I was young(er) – expose your kids to as many career possibilities as possible. A career shouldn’t be just something to make enough money to keep the family sleeping on beds and eating decent meals. Most adults spend a third of their life at a job (if you live in a megacity like Lagos, you’ll spend the next third in traffic).

Your job should integrate with everything else about your life. It should suit your personality. It should drive you to wake up early on Monday morning. It should spur you to get better. It should draw on all your strengths, your individuality and even help you mitigate your weaknesses.

A friend of mine told about a game developer who tweeted sometime ago about working on a new project at the office and looking forward to the weekend to try out a few ideas on the project. I remember thinking, now that is the kind of job I want – something that would make all my synapses function every day, not just weekdays. Because, it’s no more a job. It’s a life passion. A life task.

Here’s where parents should be careful. Look, I know raising kids isn’t easy. There’s no true detailed instruction manual that teaches how to raise kids well. Every parent learns as they go because every kid is unique. And every family is also unique.

But please, don’t shoehorn your kids into careers. Most parents mean well, but the reality of the twenty first century is that some jobs didn’t exist a decade ago. Some are no longer viable jobs. And I believe that the next decade is going to produce so much change – technologically and socioeconomically – that your kids are going to be having cool job titles. Like Social Media Manager (the person with the company twitter password). Or, you know, the guy who annoys people with aggravating posts.

So let your kids live their lives; let them explore as far as possible, read even farther and then let their imagination carry them the rest of the way. Help them learn a new language, a new instrument, a sport. Encourage them to join the debate team. Or the track team. Or take up judo. Travel. Etc.

And if your kid’s gifted, get him/her into a special program. It will save everyone a lot of frustration.

You may be thinking, all these from an epiphany? Well, that’s what happens when you have a lot of free time on your hands and wordpress. So, it is what it is.

Thanks for listening.