The If/Then Paradox
Anybody else out here tired?
It’s that time of year when it feels like everyone is just waiting. For warmer weather, for that dream vacation, for that tax refund — we’re all in a seemingly endless limbo. And if there’s one thing to know about me it’s that patience is not my strong suit. I can never hold out to eat the cookie until after dinner, or read the rest of the chapter without jumping ahead to the end to see what happens. Not to mention that we’ve all spent the better part of two years twiddling our thumbs for the world to “get back to normal.”
But the concept of hurry up and wait is nothing new. Just think about the way the American career trajectory has been packaged and sold to us for roughly the past 100 years. From the day you graduate college (a pyramid scheme discussion for another time) and get your first job, you’re supposed to show up, work hard, and in another 40+ years, you’ll finally get to kick back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. You just need to be patient and put in the hours.
And for a very long time, that was true. Retirement, with all its promises of relaxation, free time, and general well-being, felt like yet another exclusive club we all couldn’t wait to join (like Soho House with more gray hair). Sure, we’d be older and world-weary, but it was just on the other side of a few decades, waiting for us like a shining, sun-soaked beacon. It felt all but guaranteed.
Newsflash: I’m a millennial, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the decade since I graduated college (excuse me while I take a quick shot of tequila to ease that fact down) it’s that I will likely never be able to achieve the things that my parents’ generation — the notorious Baby Boomers — said were in store for me. That applies not only to retirement but, you know, a house with a big yard, 2.5 kids, and a robust savings account.
Nevermind that I only ever wanted one out of the three (it’s the money, to clarify), but the dream I spent four years of college assuming I was allowed to have is not only out of reach with things like inflation, global warming, general political unrest — among others — but I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a much more sinister slant to the whole idea of “if you do X, then you will earn Y.”
It’s the if/then paradox of work that I see starting to split at the seams for my generation as we settle firmly into adulthood. Wide lens: the so-called Great Resignation. Narrow lens: I don’t want to work this hard because I’m sick of waiting for this purported ease of life that I now know will never come. The world is literally and metaphorically on fire. We can’t afford to wait to try to enjoy ourselves, or at least stop running ourselves into the ground day in and day out.
As a wise person once said, “I do not dream of labor.” This is the sentiment I and many of my friends report to feel most distinctly at the moment. Don’t get me wrong — I find a deep sense of satisfaction from my work, and I’ve spent the last decade scratching and clawing my way to get to where I am. But as I look back on little 20-something me, my heart feels especially raw and tender towards her.
I used to think that if I didn’t expend 110% energy on every single facet of my life, I would never get to where I wanted to go. That meant an apartment with a bedroom that had four real walls (shoutout to my Midtown 1-bedroom flex that my roommates and I turned into a 3-bedroom), a career my parents would brag about at parties, and — absolutely no shame here — a shoe collection that would rival certain fictional New York writers. Yes, there are so, so many things I have left on my to-do list, but if 22-year-old me could see herself ten years down the line, she’d be pretty pleased. Until I sat her down and explained everything it took to get there.
It’s not the hustle that NYC requires of you that I regret — that shit builds character — but rather the constant reinforcement the world gives us that, yes, you do need to spend every last ounce of energy you have in order to live a life that is worthwhile. And in a culture where we constantly film and photograph the various spoils of our labor, it’s not hard to think that that argument rings true. But that leaves us so spent, so burned out, that it’s rare I have a Saturday morning where I do anything other than loaf around my apartment, recharging my batteries.
The glorification of hustle culture — coupled with the rah-rah-rah of the Girl Boss era before it — tells us that if you feel like you have no gas left in the tank, you’re doing it right (it being an aesthetically-pleasing version of thriving). And I’m here to tell you right now, as someone who fell for that promise hook, line, and sinker, that it’s not worth sacrificing every scrap of your energy trying to achieve it.
I no longer want my weekends to feel like I’m stopping at the water station during a marathon (as someone who categorically does not run, I’m only guessing here). I do not care to breath a sigh of relief at the end of the workday, close my laptop, and then pour myself a frosty #anxietybeer as a reward. The life I live outside of work is what I’m vowing to prioritize from here on out, because that is the stuff that makes me (and I’m guessing many of you) feel grateful to be alive.
It’s unfortunate that it has taken a devastating and disruptive global pandemic to come to this conclusion, but here we are, sleepy eyes open and ready to try a new manner of existence. Have I figured it out yet? Definitely not — I’ve been a rampant over-achiever ever since I learned what a GPA was in 6th grade. But I’m opening myself up to the idea that maybe I don’t need to have the pedal to the floor in every area of my life aside from those that fill my proverbial cup.
Capitalism, of course, is shuddering at the thought that maybe my markers of success no longer include the season’s new It Bag or a drive to step up another wrung on the corporate ladder. And having lived my entire life in a country that bent over backwards to promise me that if I just allow them to wring out every last ounce of productivity from me, then I definitely won’t be left as a dusty shell of a human being by the time I hit retirement age.
Just grit your teeth and bear it won’t cut it anymore. I’m not waiting to live the life I want to lead until the world finally deems me unfit for labor. Instead, I’ll be over here, trying to figure out what a life filled with balance and boundaries can look like, devoid of unreachable standards that pad the pockets (and fills the cups) of everyone but me.
retail < therapy
Harpoon Rec League Hazy Pale Ale: This easy-drinking 4% ABV beer is quickly becoming my new favorite beer, and is luckily stocked at my go-to bodega in Brooklyn. I’m a sucker for good branding, and the can just looks so damn cute in my fridge, but it’s also the kind of beer that makes you feel like it’s summertime and you’re sitting on a friend’s back porch, laughing and gossiping while the crickets chirp in the background (can you tell I’m a summer-hungry Leo?). If you want something crisp and crowd-pleasing in your fridge, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
2. Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol: I am thoroughly enjoying this romp through ancient and modern history and learning all about how women have shaped everything from our drinking culture to the actual beverages we enjoy today. For instance, did you know that women invented beer, and that our 21st century idea of what a wicked witch looks like (broomstick, pointy hat, cauldron) is actually based on the alewives of the medieval era? I’m a history nerd already, but even if you never stayed awake in your freshman lectures, I promise this deep dive into every facet of the world and the trailblazing women in it will keep your attention. Bravo to the author, Mallory O’Meara on an innovative, riveting read.
3. Chanel Sandals: If you follow me on Instagram then you know I just got back from an unbelievable press trip with Chanel Beauty. I already spammed the internet with content, but I am still giddy over the fact that the brand generously put me up for an extra day in Paris to enjoy myself, and treated me to the 30% corporate discount at the Chanel boutique. I have never bought a designer item that wasn’t secondhand, and I’ve wanted the ubiquitous Chanel “dad sandals” for almost four years, so I strolled into the Rue de Cambon store and plunked down my credit card for this S/S ‘22 pair. I did a happy dance, the lovely store associate thought I was charming — it was a great day all around. All this to say, if you have a pinch me moment, buy the damn shoes. There are so few days when you get to sit back and say, wow, I am absolutely crushing it right now. That’s a reward you’ve most definitely earned.