When we over-index on documenting our lives, or infuse it with the aesthetic of cinema, scoring the climaxes, editing out the in-betweens that make up a life, we risk inverting its utility. Instead of being an existential hedge against dying, it becomes one against living. We end up believing things about our former selves that weren’t quite true, or doing it for the gram, or missing a hike before it’s even over. In our search for meaning we obscure it.
Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.
During the most intense part of a major-depressive episode, what I've felt is nothing at all like sadness. Mostly, it's a kind of numbness, and utter lack of desire and will. Underneath that numbness, there's the sense that something awful is happening - there's a very small voice screaming in the back of your mind, but you hear it only faintly. There's an uncomfortable wrongness to everything, like the world is twisted and broken in some terrible but unidentifiable way. You feel numb, but it's an incredibly bad sort of numbness. This is accompanied by a strange lack of volition - if a genie popped out and offered me three wishes at the depth of my depression, my first wish would be for him to go away and not bother me about the other two. Looking back on this experience, I've conjectured that part of depression might be like some kind of mental "fire sprinkler system" - the brain just floods the building completely to keep it from burning down.
Trying to anticipate what’s best for future you will not help you make decisions, taking care of what’s best for present you will. That’s the person whose needs you can answer.
Another way to frame what I also suspect will be a summer of quitting is this: given the chance, people will buy their way out of burnout. This is both a privilege and a salve. After a year of relative comfort, spent largely observing the impacts of the pandemic without being at risk from the worst of it, what a lot of people want isn’t stuff but relief—from work that is deadening and too much all at once. Meanwhile, the corporate response to burnout has been earnest but superficial: offering meeting-free Fridays and subsidized yoga, plus an extra week or two off—while the Q3 roadmap and OKRs crank along—is like trying to put out a house fire with a glass of pinot. What people really need is months of rest and control and autonomy over their work. What we need is a total reset about what work is for, and who gets to decide how it gets done.
My approach to what I do in my job — and it might even be the approach to my life — is that everything I do is the most important thing I do. Whether it’s a play or the next film. It is the most important thing. I know it’s not going to be the most important thing, and it might not be close to being the best, but I have to make it the most important thing. That means I will be ambitious with my job and not with my career. That’s a very big difference, because if I’m ambitious with my career, everything I do now is just stepping-stones leading to something — a goal I might never reach, and so everything will be disappointing. But if I make everything important, then eventually it will become a career. Big or small, we don’t know. But at least everything was important.