July 2018 Life + Money Report: the crushing existential weight of projects undone
YTD Spending: $9,380.96/ $20,000 maximum goal
(46% of total at 60% through the year)
Unfortunately, this month’s report doesn’t look the way I wanted it to at all.
My birthday was July 7th, and with two freelance projects wrapped up, I expected to use that week to finish the 100 day project, launch a youtube series, and release my annual report. I did one of those three things.
And that began a pattern. This month was taken over by a perpetual state of “those projects will happen tomorrow” – spoiler alert, they didn’t.
In reality, I missed the boat on nearly everything I set out to do this month. My mood dipped as my inbox “unanswered” count got higher. A number of business opportunities came my way that I failed to act on. The more I put off dealing with pressing projects, the worse I felt, and the more overwhelmed about how much I was mucking up my business’s and my own future prospects.
I’m usually an extremely cheerful morning person. But as my pile of to-do’s got longer, I instead would wake up and immediately be covered by a gray cloud made of the crushing weight of my undone tasks. The list would seem so impossible I wasn’t even sure I should get out of bed and start it at all.
And the list wasn’t even filled with impossible tasks. Some sample tasks:
- “email back that person that would like to give you money”
- “edit 5 minutes of audio”
- “write a script”
- “find 10 people who have cool cat accounts on instagram and offer to send them a copy of your book“
- “deal with amazon’s publishing bureaucracy”(okay that last one might be impossible.)
But with each passing day, the more undone tasks I would have pile up, the more I would question if I was even a good person to begin with. Yes, my brain would just jump from “you have too many emails in your inbox” to “you are probably a bad person.”
My brain would just jump from “you have too many emails in your inbox” to “you are probably a bad person.”
And these thoughts would pile up, often before 5AM when I was supposed to get out of bed. Sample thoughts include “Your website is slow so you have clearly failed as a human” and “Why do you even think making things is important, all the good things have been made” and “Maybe you should move to the middle of the woods again”.
Instead of actually getting started on my work, I would wake up, drink three cups of coffee, and google “how to deal with an overwhelming task list” and “Am I burned out?” and “Am I a failure? quiz” and “what to do if you hate yourself, like not in a suicidal way, just in a slightly sad stressed out way” and “how to be less tired” the internet would say:
- Take a break
- Drink water
- Maybe you are mildly depressed?
- You probably have cancer
THANKS INTERNET! And then I would defensively poke at the HuffPo and Inc.com articles and think “Ugh! I already run 10-15 miles a week and bike 40 minutes a day and do yoga and drink water and I’m not depressed I am just stressed out and how can I take a break when I have so much to do and WHO AM I GOING TO DELEGATE TO?! I AM SELF EMPLOYED.”
And then I would somehow end up horizontal on our wood floor, bowled over from the effort of trying to get myself to any effort.
Eventually, I’d make my way from the floor onto the uncomfortable Ikea couch, stuck in a swirling vortex of undone tasks that indicate my uselessness as a human. But at least the couch was pretty uncomfortable, so I could punish myself a little bit for a being a useless couch-lump. I didn’t deserve comfort if I couldn’t answer email.
The only way I would get up was if someone else was requiring my presence at a physical location. But of course, I’m mostly self-employed, so the majority of my to-do’s aren’t externally enforced. And a lot of my to-do’s don’t pay me directly (like writing guest posts and posting on social media and emailing sales leads and prospect calls), further compounding my “why even bother?” frustrations.
So I still showed up to my part-time job at 5:30AM and greeted people far too cheerfully for before dawn, I still hosted the morning radio news, I still shipped packages, I still wrote and recorded the podcast and gave talks. But even when I spent a 14 hour day out of the house working at side jobs or having meetings or dropping things off at the post office I wouldn’t “count” it mentally as work because I only did it because for someone else. Obviously, this is not terribly helpful logic. I didn’t say it made sense.
So the crushing existential weight of being a “useless couch lump” put me into an exhausted, emotional funk most of the month. I don’t often have symptoms from my Rheumatoid Arthritis, thanks to a $3000/month Miracle Drug™ that keeps me functional with one shot a week. But the mental energy of constantly telling myself I wasn’t doing enough would leave me drained and exhausted before I even started.
And my statistically significant other would say “well, you need a break!” but this wasn’t a nice break – I was using up 100% of my available energy in being a couch lump.
This is a full-time occupation, Chief Couch Lump, Vice-President of North American Self-Hatred and Demotivation.
I wasn’t putting things off because I was busy having adventures or bike camping or reading good books or just taking a break. I was putting things off because a 900-lb-crushing-existential-weight-of-the-things-undone had overtaken me and pinned me to the couch. Which of course got me stuck in a loop of even greater crushing existential angst. Relatively simple tasks, like uploading a tracking number, would cause me to retreat back into the couch vortex if it didn’t go even slightly as planned.
At first, waking up with no motivation to do anything, I thought I was maybe deficient in various vitamins (I get a complete blood panel every 6 weeks due to my medication – guess what? I am not deficient), or maybe I was not exercising enough, or I was exercising too much. And after one ill-conceived Dr. Google session – maybe I had cancer (it is a risk with my medication.)
But the final diagnosis was simpler than that: I have been pushing myself too hard without a break, and my already compromised body was starting to show the stress through fatigue. It’s that “easy”. What is the recommended solution? Take a break.
So of course, I didn’t take a break. I drank a lot of coffee and left on an 11-day business trip that started with a redeye flight, because that’s an excellent way to fix fatigue and work stress.
Fatigue, coupled with travel expenses and other business expenses (plus two delayed payments #freelancelife) led to my lowest take-home monthly income this year, well below even the cost of my rent.
Barely making money is an excellent way to further reinforce the feeling of useless couchmonster. “No matter how hard I work, I am still exhausted and making about $2 an hour” – that wonderful feeling that strikes the life of a creative entrepreneur every so often. (Luckily I have money set aside for the lean months so I’m not in any acute financial stress – don’t worry.)
But there’s nothing like making crappy money while feeling like crap to make you wonder if you should just give *gestures wildly around her to this glorious box-filled office* all this up and get a mid-level management job with benefits and someone named Linda in HR (what is having HR like? I’ve never had HR.)
In conclusion, July was my lowest monthly total of productive “on-task time” this year (196 hours including 26 hours of travel time) and I missed no less than 4 deadlines I set for myself. I didn’t launch a youtube series. I didn’t write my annual report zine. I didn’t migrate my e-commerce backend. I still have 76 unanswered emails in my inbox. But I did dress up in a cool costume.
Good Things that Happened Despite the Couch Vortex:
- The book finally came out on Amazon (thank you Aaron for fixing it for me.) Please leave a review if you can!
- A nice review of Get Your Money Together came out on The Billfold.
- I gave two talks- one at ACT-W where I was glitter bombed right before I gave the talk, and one at Podcast Movement, where I dressed as David Bowie. I met many cool people at Podcast Movement.
- I pulled off less than $50/day in travel expenses including, per diem ($239.16 total), transit ($38.85), and hotel ($262 total, all hostels) included, for an 11-day business trip where there was no conference food! (These are all business expenses so they don’t show up in this report).
- I also had low-key Oh My Dollar! events in Philadelphia and DC and it was great to see people and pet cats.
- I did a mini-report for my birthday.
- I finished the 100 days of Quantified Self project.
- I was announced as a TedX speaker at TedXMtHood in October.
- I was on the Postcardist podcast – and what a cool podcast!
Anyway, maybe now that it is August I’ll actually start a youtube series and answer some emails.
Full expenses report
Essential Expenses (in descending order): $799.72
Groceries: $104.58 – this is lower than usual due to travel, not because I’m a badass ;)
(Groceries – $82.59, “Treats” – $17.00, Coffee/Tea for Home – $4.99)
Internet: $0 – our internet is paid for by my SSO’s employer due to being a remote employee!
Transport/Bike: $6 (Bike Share)
Household Goods: $12.44
Health Related Essentials (in descending order): $104.97
Health Insurance (after subsidy)*: $37.00
Optometry: $67.97 (new contacts)
Discretionary Food & Drink (in descending order): $74.49
Coffee/Tea Out: $46.04 (WOW! this was 4x my average spending – I had a TON of money carried over in the budget and I treated someone else to coffee 3x, plus I was traveling so I had a lot of traveling coffee)
Restaurants: $9.44 (1 meal in Portland – rest are business travel expenses not reflected in this total)
Bars: $17.50 (5 non-alcoholic drinks when out traveling or at meetings)
Fancy Tea: $1.49
Discretionary (in descending order): $216.99
Clothing: $121.08 (my birthday gift to myself – 2 dresses, 1 used skirt, and 2 pieces of used workout gear)
Charitable Giving: $10
Spending Money: $3.49 (candy)
Money Set Aside in Sinking Funds (Not Yet Spent): $393.50
CSA Farm Share $21.00 ($250 per year)
Renter’s Insurance $11.50 ($140 per year)
Haircut: $11 ($55 every 15 weeks)
2019 Japan Trip Savings: $350 (out of $2500 goal)
Savings: $365.06 (81% – see below explanation)
June Total After-Tax Income: $450.55
Oh My Dollar!: $105.00 (Most business income went to travel/per diem and other business expenses this month)
Part-time Fitness Studio Job: $345.55
My expenses are budgeted through August, meaning I have $958 in allocated towards August’s expenses but not reflected in my “savings total” – this is why I was able to save 80% of my income for the month – previous “high earning” months are covering this month’s very low income.
The savings total reflected is only money set aside specifically as long-term savings/retirement investing, not for future expenses.
*Health Care Subsidy Note
My high-deductible health insurance is super-cheap at $37 a month, thanks to taking the low-income ACA health care subsidy (down from a “sticker price” of $284 per month). This subsidy is based on an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $22,000 – which I hope to exceed, if my business goes well. If I do exceed that, I will have to repay a portion of my health care subsidy, up to $2,964.
Because of receiving the health care subsidy, I’ve switched from putting my retirement savings in my Roth IRA to a Traditional IRA, since Traditional IRA contributions are deducted from your AGI.
This means that if my income goes up by $5,500 and I manage to put that all in my Traditional IRA, I will owe nothing back for my health care subsidy because my AGI will not change (Roth contributions are not deducted from AGI because they are post-tax).