For the whole of my career, I’ve been running on empty. Fresh out of school, I worked the long hours, took on all the projects just so I could prove myself. With every job or assignment I took, I always maintained a side-hustle–a creative outlet that invariably led me to my next job. Because when you’re interviewing alongside dozens of candidates who are essentially photocopies of one another, anything you can do to set yourself apart was tantamount. I’d never worked in book publishing, but I secured a job in online marketing in 2006 because I’d ran and publish a successful literary magazine, built and marketed a dot.com business from the ground up, and learned the fundamentals in marketing at a corporation where you needed to complete a requisition form in order to get a new pen.
I lived to work.
All those years I never found the fact that I’d sometimes go months without seeing daylight strange. I assumed it was par for the course, this is what you did in order to be successful. Giving the whole of yourself over to somebody else in exchange for a paycheck–you never stopped to think of what would happened if you gave away all the best parts of yourself, put yourself up for auction, what would be left? And is selling yourself and the years worth the paycheck? Because, invariably, you might make more money but the money only funds the distractions that take away from your overworked, anxious life.
When I left a job as a partner in a social media agency, I knew I would probably never make as much as I had but I was okay with that. I learned that I didn’t need things, and as long as I had a shelter, food, books, and the ability to travel and care for my cat, I’d be fine. I didn’t need fancy handbags or clothes each season since I normally wear the same ten items in my closet. I ended up donating and giving away my closet. I ended up making a fraction of what I used to make, but I got my sanity back. I became the friend who listened instead of waiting for her turn to speak. I became the friend who never took out her phone at dinner. I became the kind of friend who stopped cancelling plans.
I was present.
One of the reasons I moved to California was that I craved a quieter, slower life. I knew the risks–fewer friends, meager professional network–but I assessed that if I were going to panic about project work at least I wouldn’t be doing it in six feet of snow. Last year’s thirteen-month winter was relentless; I was tired of the grey mornings and cold that burrowed its way under your blankets and settled. Last year I woke daily to sadness, and I came here hoping to feel less of what I felt then.
What I hadn’t expected, so quickly, is how I’d become allergic to my home. It’s incredible how geography and proximity to stress changes things. Out of the maelstrom of the city, I started to react to calls where people would talk loud, fast and over you. I grew tired of the ubiquitous panic, the urgency, the we-know-we’re-not-curing-cancer-but-we’ll-still-act-like-we-are, anyway. The velocity and intensity with which people worked unnerved me, and yesterday I spent an hour with a wonderful client explaining how we could do great work without having an aneurysm.
Because I’m not living like this. I have this one life and I’m not living it to crawl my way into an early grave.
I know I have this privilege of risk, of turning away work with the knowledge that I may have to put my rent on my credit card. But I’m okay with that. Because if I wanted constant anxiety I would’ve never left my former life. I never would’ve given up a biweekly paycheck and health insurance.
I’ve worked for nearly 20 years and I finally want to choose the way I want to live this one life. For as long as I can, I’m going to try to live it on my own terms. And I’m not going to shoulder unnecessary stress.
My call went better than I expected, and I tucked into this soup late last night spent from the day but happy.
1 shallot, minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
3 large heirloom tomatoes, chopped into fat chunks
1 28oz can of diced San Marzano tomatoes
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil, rough chop
1 qt of vegetable (or chicken) stock, reserve 2 cups of the 1 qt aside
6 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed from stems
1 cup of basil, roughly chopped
1 cup buckwheat groats, rinsed and drained
This is honestly the easiest soup you’ll ever make. Add the oil to a large pot and turn the heat to medium/high. When hot, add the shallots and garlic with a pinch of salt, sauteeing the mixture for 1-2 minutes. Tumble in the heirloom tomatoes and toss with the shallot/garlic mixture for 3-4 minutes. Add the San Marzano tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, stock, and thyme, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook on low heat for 25 minutes.
Five minutes in, fill a small pot with 2 cups of the reserved stock and 1 cup of the rinsed buckwheat groats. Bring to a boil, reduce to a low, cover, and allow to cook for 17-20 minutes.
Add the soup to a blender with the basil (or you can use an immersion blender) and blitz until smooth. Return the soup to the large pot, add the cooked buckwheat groats, stir, and cover. Cook for another 10 minutes on low.
Season with salt/pepper, and chow down.