This essay was republished on Fast Company: “The internet is full of advice on how to get the most out of self-isolation. Ignore it.” →
I’ve seen more and more tweets like this:
If you do not leave quarantine with:
→ New skills
→ Your side hustle started
→ More knowledge
You never lacked time, you lacked discipline.
People write these tweets to motivate others to make the most of the current situation. If this kind of content motivates you, carry on! I’m excited to see what you do with that energy. Personally, tweets like these make me feel like I’m not doing enough—as if I’ve never done enough.
I know better.
But it took over ten years to learn this, in an industry that encourages behaviour that will almost always—almost certainly—lead to burnout. It took a year to recover from the worst burnout of my career.
Tweets like these motivate some people, but they push others down. If they make you feel guilty, read on. I’m writing this to tell you (and myself) why they shouldn’t. Twitter is acting as if this is a normal time.
We aren’t on a long weekend or a sabbatical. We’re in a pandemic. Our world changed overnight, and there’s no saying what’s to come or when it will arrive. We’re adapting to changes week after week, sometimes day after day. These changes upend our jobs, our relationships, and our lives. Adapting is exhausting. Anxiety, even more so. We’re worried about our families and friends. We miss people. We’re tired. The support networks we always turned to aren’t there—and, anyway, are themselves dealing with these same things.
Twitter is acting as if they’ve done this before.
No one on Twitter has gone through this self-isolation and come out older and wiser. We’ve all been in isolation for roughly the same amount of time. That time hasn’t been long enough even to develop a habit, nevermind to become a lifestyle guru. The advice you see on Twitter comes from people who have found something that’s worked for them for a week, maybe two, in these circumstances. They’re working with as much—or as little, depending on your perspective—information as you.
Side note: Yes, Newton might’ve “discovered” calculus while in quarantine, but someone who’s going to discover calculus is probably going to discover calculus whether or not they’re in quarantine. You might discover something new now, or you might discover it later. Quarantine itself isn’t what makes the difference.
Twitter is acting as if we’re all equal.
Sometimes we forget that although we’re in the same “place” online, we’re not coming from the same “place” in the world. Each person comes from a different context with access to different resources. That context and those resources might not even be what they were two months ago. Every day more people are laid off. Those lucky enough to have jobs are learning to do them in new contexts, with fewer resources. Parents are shouldering the role of teachers alongside their day jobs.
You don’t need to shut down Twitter.
Social media platforms are a way for us to connect with the world from our homes. We don’t need to and shouldn’t abandon them because of a few bad apples. Here are a few small shifts I’ve made to stay on Twitter more healthily.
I curate my Twitter feed.
In the last month, I’ve discovered that I don’t agree with some of the people that I follow. We have different ways of motivating ourselves and others. I might’ve looked past a few disagreeable tweets before. These days I’m unfollowing quickly, almost ruthlessly, to keep my Twitter feed positive and inspiring.
I take inspiration instead of comparison.
My knee-jerk reaction to a tweet about “the five books someone read about Ethics in UX this weekend” is to feel bad. Not only did I not read five books, but I didn’t read anything about UX. A more thoughtful reaction—that does admittedly take more work—is to take inspiration from what others are doing. Did they read a book to learn about a new topic or to get a fresh perspective? I’m doing that too. It just might be that my new topic isn’t at all related to UX. I might even be reading fiction.
I do what feels right for me.
Recharging looks different for every person. It might look different for you today than it did two months ago. A few years ago, I spent my free time training for triathlons. It looked like work to everyone else, but I found it rewarding, and it energized me. These days I recharge by drawing. I’ve gotten into sketching comics. It doesn’t matter what my recharging looks like to you; all that matters is that it works for me. The same goes for the activities that fulfill you. Whether you get joy from “starting your side hustle” or from baking your favourite cookies, I’ll cheer you on from over here—on my couch.
This is your time. No one else has had a time like this before. You can come out of it older and wiser, or you could simply come out of it. Both are enough. You are enough. What matters most is you and what you need, right now, today.